How solar-powered freezers could feed developing countries

What are the social benefits of cold storage?

Nearly 150 countries have adopted the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This measure, negotiated in 2016, is driving changes in the cooling energy sector by requiring nations to phase down use of HFCs.

The global cold chain market is worth $160 billion today and is projected to reach $585 billion by 2026. Solar-powered cold storage is a niche market today, but is poised for growth.

In addition to minimizing food loss and waste, increasing incomes, curbing land degradation and reducing greenhouse emissions, sustainable cold storage offers great benefits for women, who produce 60 to 80 percent of crops and are responsible for postharvest activities in most developing countries.

Research in climate finance shows that women may be disproportionately burdened by poverty because they have less access than men to assets and financial resources in many countries.

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However, since women play key roles in farming and managing food supplies, they are positioned to participate in the food cold chain business in remote and rural areas if the international community provides financial and technical support, thus improving their economic status and livelihoods.

Second, much of the region lacks food cold chains. Investing here offers the opportunity to bypass conventional systems and leapfrog straight to sustainable designs.

In my view, a bottom-up approach starting at the farm level is the most viable strategy. Notably, dairy farmers in Uganda are organized into cooperatives, which have invested in cold chain storage.

This made them much more resilient to commercial disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic than other sectors, such as fish and vegetables, which suffered heavy losses when producers could not get their products to markets.

Nigeria has the highest yearly food loss and waste rate in Africa – 415 pounds (190 kilograms) per capita. In northern Nigeria, a six-month pilot project that installed solar-powered cold storage for seven small fruit and vegetable markets preserved the quality of the goods and enabled the markets to charge higher prices.

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These systems generated estimated net profits of roughly $8,000 per year per market. Even at a 7 percent annual interest rate, such a system could recoup its $40,000 capital cost within a decade.

Access to electricity is as low as 55 percent in some parts of Nigeria, and most of its electricity comes from gas and oil. Renewable-powered cold storage offers a cleaner alternative.

Other experiments have produced similar results in northwest Kenya and in Indonesia’s Wakatobi islands, where 78 percent of the population relies on fish as a staple food. Solar-powered cold storage facilities helped these communities save money and reduce waste.

To promote efficient and climate-friendly cooling, air conditioning and refrigeration, the United Nations Environmental Program has organized a Global Cool Coalition that includes cities, countries, businesses and international organizations.

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