The Efficiency for Access Coalition and Energy 4 Impact hosted a webinar on 30th June, sharing lessons from the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge (OGCCC), highlighting the need for additional support for companies developing high-quality and affordable cold storage technologies suitable across the agricultural value chain.
The OGCCC was an international competition to identify and promote the most energy-efficient, sustainable and cost-effective technologies that can meet the cold storage requirements for fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products in sub-Saharan Africa. Launched in 2018, the Global LEAP Awards OGCCC competition was run by Energy 4 Impact and CLASP, as part of the UK aid-funded Ideas to Impact programme, which is delivered by an IMC Worldwide-led consortium.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, which is home to over 230 million people suffering from chronic undernourishment according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 30-50% of food production is lost before it reaches the market. Of the 10 million smallholder farmers in Africa who are farming fresh produce that needs cold storage, 36% of smallholder farmers have access to electricity and 62% cannot afford cooling technology.
Off-grid cold storage technology solutions still remain nascent with business models and technologies are largely untested. The OGCCC sought to stimulate off-grid cold chain refrigeration for farmers and small traders in sub-Saharan Africa, enabling better commercialisation of agricultural produce.
The webinar, Insights from the Global LEAP Awards Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge, presented by Ruth Kimani from CLASP and Maria Knodt from Energy 4 Impact, provided an overview of the cold chain market opportunity in emerging economies and presented lessons learned from the competition's four finalists, FreshBox, Ecolife, ColdHubs, and Ecozen Solutions, in implementing their business models by commercially deploying cold storage technologies in Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya.
FreshBox, an off-grid cold storage solutions provider based in Kenya leveraged the Challenge to pilot and improve its cold room technology. The exposure and learning gained through the OGCCC helped FreshBox form three new partnerships with farming cooperatives in Kenya, and win a tender to install solar-powered cold rooms in Somalia.
The OGCCC programme has been instrumental in validating their business model and in enabling the company to prove its viability. In the last 12 months, FreshBox has installed 21 cold rooms across Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan all without additional grant funding.
The Competition revealed the need for continued R&D investment and support for companies developing high-quality and affordable cold storage technologies suitable across the agricultural value chain. Of the 10 finalists selected to move on to the final stage of the Challenge, six were able to set up their cold storage units on location. Of these, only four could put their cold units to productive use. Three out of four were local manufacturers. In order to develop suitable solutions for disparate cold storage use cases, more support is required for pilots that test workable business models for scale.
Other key lessons and recommendations can be summarised as follows:
- Encourage provision of more favourably designed financial product offerings that can be accessed by early stage businesses.
- Direct more support towards building both technical and business capacity for companies that are early movers.
- Direct more investment and support towards enabling technologies, i.e. digital platforms and quality monitoring equipment.
- Undertake assessments and analysis of product target markets.
- Build partnerships with other relevant actors operating in the broader agricultural and cold chain ecosystem.
- Advocate for more business enabling policy frameworks among governments, especially for nascent technologies aimed at productive use.
- Consumer awareness creation will help demystify solar-powered cold room storage innovations especially in off-grid target markets.
- Conduct more and extensive field test evaluations for solar powered cold storage innovations with substantially longer periods.
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