Photovoltaic technology is becoming more affordable, which enabled ColdHubs of Nigeria to offer low prices for the use of its off-grid cold rooms. This year’s clim@ finalist’s invention is helping farmers and green market vendors preserve fruit and vegetables. Less food waste ultimately means less hunger.
The tragical impression that perishing food makes in a literary sense is nothing compared to the real pain for small producers that have no backup of a corporate system nor a safety net in the form of cooperatives, insurance or government support. A family can be ruined by bad weather and unskilled handling of produce as they can devastate an entire load of vegetables or other goods. ColdHubs stepped in to help with some of the challenges.
The Nigerian startup builds cold rooms and offers farmers and food traders to use them at a subscription. Prolonging the shelf life by as much as three weeks means the world to the clients as heat alone or bacteria could swiftly wipe out all their income.
As photovoltaics become cheaper, business gets more sustainable
ColdHubs found its business model in using solar power, which is getting cheaper by the day, to power its large refrigerators. It enables affordable tariffs for the users. The system is completely independent and it can be set up anywhere as access to the electricity grid is not an issue.
The firm recently won the second prize at the clim@ competition, one in a string of awards this year on a global scale. It includes the UNIDO Global Call, organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
Female emancipation in parallel with solving hunger
Juries recognized the technical advantages and the potential to add value. Moreover, the concept includes emancipation for women, as the hubs have female operators.
The concept can potentially improve living conditions of hundreds of millions of people
The social enterprise was founded with the mission to tackle food waste, just like many other clim@ finalists. Its systems may help hundreds of millions of people that don’t have an electric power connection and are in danger from hunger. Even developed countries have sky-high rates of spoiled food.
Chief Executive Officer Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu said the company saved more than 20,000 tons of food in 2019 alone and that the vendors, farmers and fishermen it cooperates with have increased their profits by a quarter on average.
The cold rooms are also suitable for milk and meat.
Saving fruit, vegetables before they reach ColdHubs’ units
ColdHubs also has a program for farmers and traders in 30 locations in Nigeria. It revealed a plan to train at least 1,500 people to avoid bruising or damaging fruit and vegetables and handle the products so that they last longer.
Propane is one of the least harmful refrigerants
As for the environmental impact, the firm opted for propane as a refrigerant. It is one of the least damaging gases in the industry in terms of global warming and the ozone layer.
After the prototype, Hub 2.0 is being rolled out. The upgrade enabled a bigger capacity, ten tons, and energy savings.
CEO Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu
“At ColdHubs we are consolidating our expansion into new farm clusters, horticultural produce aggregation centers, and outdoor food markets to serve smallholder farmers, retailers, and wholesalers of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other perishable food. We are presently finalizing 30 new hubs that we are building all across Nigeria, to end the year with 54 operational units serving more than 3,000 users.
To have a full cold chain, we are launching ColdHubs Logistics in Q4 2020, to support the movement of food from ColdHubs in the farms to ColdHubs in the markets – thus we will have a full cold chain service which is serving the base of the pyramid, smallholder farmers, for the first time. We are excited about the collaboration with clim@. It has brought us international visibility, funding, and a connection to new partners.”
The canopy is equipped with solar panels of 6 kW in total while 40 kW batteries store excess energy to be used overnight. ColdHubs is responsible for all the segments from planning to the installation and management. It has 24 cold rooms in 18 sites in Nigeria.
Direct benefits for green market vendors
Ahmad Makiala, 22, originally from Kano state in the northern part of the country, is now based in Owerri, Imo, in the east. He sells vegetables at the Obinze green market.
The retailer buys cabbage from wholesalers. He says he had to throw away food several times due to poor handling, rain or sun and a lack of preservation.
Ahmad acknowledged that he often lost 40% of the investment but that ColdHubs helped lower the impact. Products can last longer when sales are slow so income has significantly increased, he stressed.
Clim@ was initiated by the Green for Growth Fund in 2018. Finance in Motion organizes the competition on behalf of the GGF.