A Cold Room for a Warming World

A Chilly Room for a Warming World

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A Nigerian start-up takes on the issue of meals spoilage in any respect steps of the manufacturing chain, one solar-powered chilly room at a time.

OBINZE, Nigeria—

Within the courtyard of Obinze Fruit & Vegetable market, haggling has peaked for the  morning. Retailers, drawn from far-flung villages and suburbs of Imo state, southeast Nigeria and neighboring metropolis of Port Harcourt, crowd the contours of the market trying to find bargains and contemporary fruits. On a wood-framed desk, underneath a buying and selling sales space manufactured from stilts, rusty zinc, and leaky tarpaulin, dozens of distributors show lettuce, Chinese language cabbage, purple cabbage, inexperienced beans, onions, cauliflower, strawberries, broccoli, and cauliflower. 

Three ladies type a semicircle—their waists draped in multicolored Ankara cloth with tiny sq. patterns—in entrance of a half-dozen raffia baskets stacked with tomatoes, dripping with juice. Within the delicate soil, the juice leaves warped trails that change into caked because the morning solar intensifies over town’s 950,000  residents. Owerri’s strategic place and flashy lodges has helped it emerge because the area’s hospitality hotspot, attracting the prosperous  from the close by business cities of Aba, Nnewi, and Onitsha in addition to the oil metropolis of Port Harcourt. Nevertheless, thronging open-air inexperienced markets akin to Obinze, key to feeding Owerri’s visitors, nonetheless dominate the meals financial system. 

Near the exit gate at Obinze, a squad of loaders convey down sacks of cabbage from a semi-trailer within the open discipline. Thirty-two-year-old Muhammed Usman observes his shares among the many rising heaps. Earlier than turning one of many sack’s over, he slashes the strings holding its rim along with a blade.  The bruised cannonball cabbage that rolls out emits a robust and heat stench: its outer layers have change into rotten, unfastened, and yellowish; now not inexperienced and clutchy.

“Many have been broken,” says Usman, as he lifts one of many cabbages. He speaks in hushed tones, however his apprentice picks up on the cue, takes out a pair of pen knives, and begins chopping, layer by layer. A pork farmer approaches, eyeing the heap of rotten cabbage.

“It’s now meals for his pig,” says Usman.


Helen, a vegetable vendor on the Farin Gada market in Jos, the capital metropolis of Plateau state in Nigeria’s center belt area.


1. Adamu Usman, a fruit-seller on the Port Harcourt meals market in Owerri, Nigeria. 2. Promoting okra on the Farin Gada market in Jos, Nigeria.

Like the remainder of the growing world, a big proportion of meals and fruits produced  in Nigeria are misplaced earlier than and after they attain the markets resulting from poor submit harvest dealing with. Vegetables and fruit are notably susceptible. Specialists estimate that farmers lose 3.5 trillion Naira (8.1 million Euros) per yr to meals spoilage. The loss is critical. 

“Fruit-farming and buying and selling is a high-risk enterprise,” says Usman, who was shedding round 300,000 Naira  (700 euros) value of fruit and veggies month-to-month earlier than 2016.  

Usman is hardly alone. Half a dozen farmers and fruit merchants throughout visited markets and farm clusters recount varied scales of their losses. Many have incurred heavy money owed and losses that despatched them out of enterprise and farms. 

Because the losses festered, farmers and merchants contemplated a number of cures. Some settled for water sprinkling as a means of retaining the pores and skin of the fruits contemporary. However it was “midnight cooling” which grew to become hottest. In a single day, leftover shares had been unfold out on naked flooring, rugs, mats, and tarpaulins at Obinze Fruit & Vegetable market and different out of doors markets. “This didn’t work out so nicely,” says Ibrahim Danladi, a fruit dealer for six years. 

Midnight cooling uncovered the fruits to the moist night time breeze, however the produce additionally attracted rodents, snakes, cockroaches and ants. Except for feeding, poisoning and urinating on the fruits, these pests additionally defecate on them and burrow into the delicate shells. In consequence, the fruit and veggies develop dangerous style  and odor, in addition to discoloration and contamination.  “There have been loads of complaints from prospects,” says Danladi. “Many fruits perished, notably inexperienced beans.”


The Farin Gada Market in Jos, in Plateau state, central Nigeria, is a regional hub that draws consumers and distributors from a number of neighboring states. There’s one ColdHubs unit on the market, however native farmers are asking for extra.

Twenty-five years in the past, neither Usman nor Danladi knew Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Government Director of The Smallholders Basis, an NGO in Imo state centered on sustainable agricultural growth for rural farmers. The world of smallholder farmers, notably in rural communities, captivated Ikegwuonu, now the CEO and founding father of ColdHubs.

In 2003, he established a group radio station, which he used to succeed in out to farmers with recommendation. He traveled from one group to a different, studying farmers’ opinions, sharing their considerations, and listening to their tales. Every episode of his “bush radio” broadcasting mentioned his findings. He believed tackling the issues he had witnessed in these markets and rural communities required uncommon motion. After acquiring his Grasp’s diploma in Improvement and Cooperation on the Institute for Superior Research of the College of Pavia in Italy, with promising job gives from Europe within the pipeline, staying in Nigeria to pursue a profession in  clean-cooling in 2015 appeared an odd determination to some in his group. “Some felt I used to be working mad at the moment. It didn’t make sense to my sister,” he remembers. 

Ikegwuonu launched ColdHubs—solar-powered walk-in chilly rooms—in 2015. 


Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, founder and CEO of ColdHubs.

ColdHubs storage rooms lengthen the shelf lifetime of fruit and veggies to 21 days, up from round two days. The social enterprise operates on a ‘pay-as-you-store’ subscription mannequin, the place farmers or merchants pay roughly 48 cents for every 20-kilogram (0.46 euros ) plastic crate of fruit and veggies saved in a single day. Its reusable plastic crates with built-in fingers have perforated edges to enhance air flow. Meat and seafood value $1.3 per night time (1.2 euros).

Every storage chilly room cabin has a three-ton capability. The power produced by its 120-mm insulating panels, that are mounted on the chilly room’s roof, is saved in high-capacity batteries. These batteries, in flip, recharge an inverter, which powers the refrigeration unit. 

ColdHubs now manages 54 cold-room services throughout the nation, a 12-fold  improve since 2018. ColdHubs says it has reached over 5,000 out of doors meals market merchants and created jobs. In 2021 alone, 2,390 431 crates of fruit and veggies had been saved in 54 company-run chilly rooms in addition to 18 chilly rooms constructed for and managed by small and medium-sized enterprises over 3,655 days. Every crate holds as much as 2o kilograms (50 kilos) of meals (multiplied by the variety of crates and days to acquire the figures for saved meals). Ikegwuonu estimates that roughly 62,700 tons of fruit and veggies had been saved from spoiling in 2021. The elevated shelf life permits farmers to make extra income from gross sales and resist panic and low-cost gross sales. “It’s an amazing assist at an inexpensive value,” says Usman.


A ColdHubs unit put in at Reduction Market in Owerri, Nigeria. ColdHubs designs, commissions, installs, and operates “plug and play” chilly rooms positioned at main meals manufacturing and distribution facilities in Nigeria, together with farm clusters and out of doors markets.


1. A basket of tomatoes being taken into the solar-powered ColdHubs chilly room put in on the Farin Gada Market in Jos, a meals distribution hub. 2. Esther Nnwakwe, a Coldhubs chilly room operator and attendant, kinds crates of fruit and veggies on the ColdHubs unit on the Reduction Market in Owerri.

Ikegwuonu and his staff knew from their days in radio broadcasting that getting the expertise prepared can be a battle. 

Nevertheless, driving mass adoption, the lifeblood of ColdHubs, required much more delicate measures: Farmers had their very own inflexible concepts about fruit and vegetable storage, a few of which had been deeply rooted in tradition and expertise. Religious beliefs, linked to the goddess of fertility and fortune, makes farmers  settle for post-harvest losses as destiny. 

“There’s already a tradition in place,” says Terrence Isebe, ColdHub’s chief monetary officer. “It takes loads of effort and credibility to maneuver them away from that tradition. It takes loads of convincing and sensible proof to win their hearts. It occurs step by step.”

Farmers in northern Nigeria, for instance, have lengthy most popular sun-drying tomatoes, regardless of this apply posing a big well being danger. Farmers slice ripe tomatoes and unfold them out within the solar or on a smoking fireplace to dry after harvest. The dried carcasses are stacked and bought at markets in baskets, nylons, and sacks.


Mohammed Sani, a vegetable farmer and vendor on the Deidei Market in Abuja, Nigeria. Sani makes use of ColdHubs to retailer his produce.

Whereas ColdHubs got down to enhance the longevity of fruit and veggies, they quickly found that buyers had a robust habit to spoiled fruit and veggies, or no less than to their cheaper price. Spoiled fruits may be simpler to promote than contemporary ones. “It’s normally less expensive. However low-cost will not be the identical as wholesome,” says Augustine Okoruwa, a meals technologist with the World Alliance for Improved Vitamin (GAIN).

Okoruwa believes that 1000’s of Nigerians die annually from meals poisoning linked to consuming spoiled fruits, greens and different meals, although extra analysis is required to ascertain definitive details and figures. Round 420,000 individuals die annually from consuming meals spoiled by warmth. “Our dream is to supply individuals with contemporary, protected, hygienic, and nutritious meals. Meals without  discoloration. Meals with out  water loss. Meals with out  the  lack of style. Meals with out wrinkles,” says Ikegwuonu. 

In consequence, the ColdHubs staff made educating merchants and farmers on post-harvest dealing with of fruit and veggies, in addition to meals hygiene, a core a part of their consciousness applications. They staged sensible situations to complement seminars. ColdHubs saved fruits totally free in some new places for the primary few days to reveal the efficacy of their cures. 

Customers step by step started to depart constructive evaluations. In early July, Abdullahi Albert, a carrot and tomato farmer in Jos, in central Nigeria, requested extra chilly rooms to fulfill the wants of the Farin Gada market there. “A single farmer can fill the prevailing chilly room. Extra chilly rooms are required,” says Albert, talking by telephone name. Comparable appeals had been made in Owerri’s Reduction Market and Lagos’ Mile 12 Market. “We made sure that our options had been unquestionable,” Ikegwuonu says.


Chidima Ruben purchases fruit on the Reduction Market in Owerri, town’s largest market.

ColdHubs isn’t Nigeria’s first foray into cooling stations. Nevertheless, its mannequin and success, in keeping with Dr Muhammad Imran, a lecturer in Mechanical and Design Engineering at Aston College in England, stay distinctive: “ColdHubs supplied a pathway and a mannequin for commercializing chilly storage.” Its reliance on solar energy made it clear and sustainable, whereas additionally reducing its working prices.

The lifewire of cooling is power. Cooling companies account for about 17% of worldwide electrical energy consumption. Nigeria’s outdated energy grids, that are vulnerable to frequent outages, are barely sufficient to fulfill the nation’s power calls for. This yr alone, the nation’s nationwide grid, which generates lower than 4,000 megawatts of electrical energy for its 200 million inhabitants, has collapsed six occasions. Compared, New York, a metropolis of about 20 million individuals, generates twice as a lot electrical energy as Nigeria.

By utilizing solar-powered cool rooms as a substitute of fossil fuels, ColdHubs estimates that it has prevented emitting 1,040,688 kilograms (2,294,324 kilos) of carbon dioxide. Tackling the cooling deficit with fossil-fuel-powered cooling applied sciences additionally generates extra warmth and accelerates the local weather disaster. However as extra fruits are saved from spoiling, emissions from methane—a robust greenhouse gasoline emitted by burning fossil fuels, elevating livestock, and landfill waste, but additionally by rotting fruits and meals—are lowered. Some research estimate that meals waste accounts for about 7% of human-caused greenhouse gasoline emissions.

Renewable power initiatives in Nigeria, like these in lots of different growing nations, are underfunded.

Moreover, ColdHubs addressed their options to smallholder farmers and small-to-medium scale merchants. This group has been largely priced out of the costly fossil-fuel-powered cool-storage methods. Greater than 80 p.c of Nigeria’s farmers are smallholder farmers, largely restricted to rural communities the place they lack entry to storage applied sciences that may lengthen the shelf lives of their merchandise. Solely 8% of West African rural residents have entry to electrical energy.

Whereas many companies need to emulate ColdHubs’ clear power fashions, the highway forward is tough. Renewable power initiatives in Nigeria, like these in lots of different growing nations, are underfunded. Imran estimates that the start-up capital is no less than ten occasions that of a fossil-fuel cooling station, which discourages “short-term and profit-driven” buyers.

The state authorities will not be encouraging improvements in sustainable and clear cooling. Importing key elements for ColdHubs operations, for instance, has been topic to excessive customs duties and delays. “The sector is uncared for,” says Ogheneruona Diemuodeke, a renewable power professional and lecturer on the College of Port Harcourt in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Reversing the developments, in keeping with Diemuodeke, would require capability constructing, intensive analysis, and elevated funding help for clean-cooling initiatives akin to ColdHubs. Companies that emit few or no emissions must be rewarded with tax breaks, carbon credit, and extra funding from the federal government.

ColdHubs survived Nigeria’s tough enterprise terrain for seven years, throughout which many others have failed. It began on July 30, 2015 , with what Ikegwuono describes as a “humorous wanting” improvised cool room manufactured from plywood, stilts, bolts, planks, and a window-unit air conditioner. Development has reworked—and multiplied—that primary construction into a contemporary model. Every chilly room consists of 5-inch thick, insulated panels, a chrome steel flooring, a security door to maintain chilly air inside, and photo voltaic panels mounted on the roof to cost batteries that provide power for night time cooling.

A white-painted modular cool room now sits within the middle of the open-field market in Owerri. Within the inside, crates of fruit are stacked side-by-side with title tags. A stack of booklets lies on a one-legged desk within the close by container workplace, the place prospects’ names and information are saved. Merchants are available now and again to deposit or accumulate their fruits, fish, or greens because the solar and warmth intensify.


The ColdHubs storage room on the Deidei Market in Abuja.

Esther Nnwakwe, a ColdHubs operator and attendant helps a fruit-seller transfer produce to the solar-powered chilly room put in on the Reduction Market in Owerri.

In fixing one downside, nevertheless, ColdHubs infected the appetites of farmers and merchants, who then requested for extra assist in overcoming post-harvest losses in transit. 

“A whole resolution,” as Dike Chinedu, ColdHub’s head of provide chain and logistics, places it, has to return to the farm. “The solar heats up the fruits and even spoils them earlier than you get to the market,” says Albert, a farmer of 27 years.

Chinedu observes that “a lot time and life” is misplaced earlier than fruits attain the market. Guide crop-harvesting, which is widespread in Nigeria, can take a number of hours to some days. Refrigerated vans for transporting farm produce are scarce and expensive. Moreover, flooded rivers and dams, rising mountains, and rutted roads inhibit entry to 1000’s of food-producing communities and gradual transit time. 


Farmers harvest tomatoes alongside the Kaduna-Jos highway in Nigeria’s Plateau state.


When vans break down on distant routes or in small cities, it may be tough to discover a mechanic on quick discover. The closest city facilities, the place repairmen or auto elements can be found, could also be an extended distance away.  Mechanics are additionally cautious of visiting these routes resulting from rising safety threats and considerations. 

In the meantime, potholes pockmark transit routes. “The roads are useless,” says Zakriah. “There are occasions after I battle for a number of hours to get previous a foul spot.” 

Seasonal conventional festivals and customs could imply that communities shut their roads for a time frame. Truckers not often defend produce from heavy rains, harsh daylight, warmth, and dirt.

In mid-July 2022, ColdHubs launched two solar-powered refrigerated vans.  The vans would decide fruit and veggies instantly from farms and ship them to markets.  “It’s a moveable chilly room,” says Emmanuel Monday, Coldhub’s chief expertise officer. “With the vans, fruits can retain their freshness from the farm to the household desk.”


A truckload of oranges and different contemporary produce on the Reduction Market in Owerri.

The brand new vans are higher fitted to packaging, which was a significant shortfall within the current transport system. Typical vans rely upon tarpaulin to guard the fruit, which is tightly packed in baggage and raffia baskets contained in the truck, with no room for air flow, and sometimes uncovered to rain, warmth and daylight.

Tomatoes, carrots, and inexperienced peppers are stacked in hand-woven baskets manufactured from palm frond fibers. These fibers’ edges are sometimes spiky. In transit, the delicate shell of the produce bruises towards the sharp edges of the basket because the car staggers via potholes. In consequence, the fruits get  cuts and blisters and discolor. In some instances, the fruits packed on the backside of the vans are crushed by the burden of these above.


Tomatoes on the Farin Gada Market in Jos, Nigeria.

The brand new ten-ton ColdHubs vans’ design goals to resolve these points. The vans’ frames are strengthened with additional fasteners, bolts, and grippers to maintain them steady driving round potholes. The produce is saved in plastic crates vertically stacked and string-strapped from backside to high: the burden of the fruit  on high is not going to relaxation on these under.

As quickly because the vans arrived, the distributors on the Farin Gada fruit market within the northern metropolis of Jos burst into raucous celebration. “We had been completely happy to set our eyes on that truck,” says Albert, the carrot and tomato farmer. “We’d like extra of these sorts of vans.” In Nigeria, meals produced within the north is commonly despatched on to cities within the south, the place the  center class pays a better value.  

In the meantime, extra concepts are being developed. ColdHubs will quickly start development on a brand new set of cool rooms aimed toward farm clusters in hard-to-reach communities. Farmers will then have the ability to  deposit their harvests instantly from their farms whereas ready for pick-up vans. “We need to safe each stage of the worth chain,” Ikegwuono explains.


Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, founder and CEO ColdHubs (proper), speaking to Adamu Usman, a fruit-seller on the Port Harcourt meals market in Owerri.

Whereas these different achievements are admirable, ColdHub’s final purpose is to alleviate meals insecurity and poverty by rising the returns farmers and meals distributors get from their produce. Publish-harvest losses recycle poverty. Final yr, Mishack Adamu, a tomato and inexperienced pepper farmer in Kano, northern Nigeria, misplaced greater than half of his crop to warmth. “I’ve been deeply in debt,” Adamu says.

As farmers like Adamu proceed to undergo from these losses, the widespread impact of meals shortage unsettles all of Nigeria. Extra post-harvest losses, in keeping with Terrence, means much less meals obtainable for households. Meals shortage, in flip, drives up costs, reducing family buying energy. Some researchers declare that the value of meals has climbed by greater than 100% simply in the previous couple of years.

Nigeria, a significant meals supplier to West Africa, is discovering it tougher and tougher to feed its individuals. The World Meals Programme mentioned that in 2021, seven out of 10 Nigerians didn’t have sufficient to eat, inserting the nation on the risok of acute meals insecurity. “Each morning, there are 200 million mouths to feed on this nation,” Ikegwuono says, gently stroking his dense and darkish beard, sprinkled with sparse grey strands.


Amaka Clodeth, proper, of the ColdHubs advertising and marketing and technique staff examine the gross sales document and buyer playing cards for ColdHubs unit on the Port-Harcourt meals market in Owerri.

On the ColdhHubs workplace in Owerri, Amaka Clodeth (left) and Uzoamaka Umezuruike of the ColdHubs advertising and marketing and technique staff brainstorm advertising and marketing plans.

Again in Owerri, on the Coldhubs headquarters, Ikegwuono muses on the corporate’s future. A mural of inexperienced and white hues is painted on the wall behind him. A densely leafed star apple tree flutters outdoors the bungalow workplace.

When he received the  concept for this enterprise six years in the past, there have been just a few mates to cheer him on, a few of whom labored as novice laborers to assist out. Ikegwuono‘s ambitions and challenges have shifted as he now operates in 22 states with over 4 dozen workers.

Now, he desires to supply no less than a 100-ton storage chilly room to every of Nigeria’s 36 states, up from the present 3-6 tons. He has additionally begun negotiations with the federal government to construct a solar-powered “all fruit and vegetable market.” The prevailing markets didn’t embrace chilly room areas of their takeoff layouts. 

Securing land for this enlargement might be a nightmare. “It’s one in every of our greatest difficulties,” says Terrence. Accessible areas have gotten more and more aggressive and expensive. Getting land in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous metropolis, took three years of concerted effort. There are additionally many different markets the place negotiations for land and house have stalled, particularly within the nation’s south. 

“We need to resolve these issues profitably,” says Ikegwuono. “We don’t need to represent an additional burden on an already overstretched inhabitants. In all this, we’ve got to maintain our integrity and honor.”   

Any sustainable meals game-changers in your radar? Nominate them for the Meals Planet Prize.



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