About 40 per cent of what African farmers produce in their farms is lost before it gets to consumers’ plates.
Estimates put the value of this loss at $1 trillion (Sh103 trillion), and according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the food lost is enough to feed 1.2 billion people.
These losses have the knock-on effect of pushing food prices beyond the reach of millions of others by reducing the supply of food that gets into the market.
It also wastes non-renewable resources like the land, water, energy and fertiliser used to produce, harvest and transport food that no one gets to eat.
At a Nairobi conference last week on post-harvest losses, which brought together more than 300 delegates from across the world, the damning verdict was passed that Africa is yet to significantly tackle losses that occur between harvest and sale.
In Kenya, post-harvest losses are estimated to cost farmers at least Sh60 billion a year, and occur largely when crops are harvested before they reach maturity, are exposed to extremes of temperature, get physically damaged in transit, are poorly stored or are contaminated by micro-organisms.
A Nigerian company has set out to address some of these issues. ColdHubs instals solar-powered, walk-in cold rooms in markets and farms (which are the major food production and consumption centres). Farmers can store perishable produce in these rooms in plastic crates at a daily fee of Sh50 per crate.
According to the firm, the solution extends fruit and vegetable freshness from two days to 21, reducing post-harvest losses by 80 per cent.
According to Sustainia 100, an annual guide on sustainable ideas from across the world, ColdHubs’ rooms are “big enough to walk inside, while insulating panels retain the cold. The cold rooms are equipped with rooftop solar panels, generating electricity that is stored in high-capacity batteries to power the refrigerating unit.”
Cooling slows the rate of deterioration of perishable foods, which gives farmers more time to sell their produce at favourable prices. According to ColdHubs, which is so far only in Nigeria, its cold rooms increase farmers’ incomes by 25 per cent.
Would this idea work in Kenya? We explore the options above.