It is estimated that food spoilage in sub-Saharan African countries accounts for a third of the crops grown by farmers. In Nigeria, food spoilage accounts for almost half the input of small-scale farmers, especially because of lack of access to cold storage systems. This fuels food insecurity and is a major contributor to climate change.
There are very few farmers in most sub-Saharan African countries who can afford to buy and install cold storage systems. Refrigeration is both expensive and inaccessible for millions of African farmers who live in rural areas and have a per capital income of less than $2 per day. Currently, the spoilage rates stand as high as 45 per cent for fruits and vegetables, and account for a total food loss of $4 billion in Africa annually according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Ecotutu co-founder and Growth Lead Babajide Oluwase wants to improve the lives of farmers by enabling them to store their produce for longer periods of time.
“When farmers can store their produce for longer, it reduces waste, which is good for their pockets and the environment,” he said.
Ecotutu, is a local Nigerian start-up that has found a way to mitigate the problem of food waste. It delivers 100 per cent solar-powered cold storage facilities to businesses in rural and urban areas especially those in the agricultural sector.
Most regions in Nigeria suffer from persistent power blackouts. Ecotutu addresses this problem by seeking to disrupt the entire cooling industry with new technology that does not require a continuous power supply source (use of electricity). This means that farmers and other users can refrigerate their produce, food products or medical items easily and conveniently.
The firm has been designing and developing innovative clean-tech solutions by assembling affordable, solar-powered cold storage facilities that aren’t affected by unstable electricity supply. Their phase-cooling technology ensures their fridges work for up to three days with either minimal sunlight or no power at all. Their goal is to sustainably secure the food chain.
“Our solutions help keep food fresh for longer, eliminating the risk of freeze damage to foods, and empowering farmers,” said Mr Oluwase.
The firm’s business model is in two parts: Managed services, and original design manufacturer. Under the managed services model, Ecotutu provides cold storage facilities solutions to its customers. For instance, if a customer wants to use a fresh produce cold box to transport tomatoes to the market, they can hire it from the company.
“A customer will pay $0.50 to store a crate of tomatoes per day, which is an affordable rate for most farmers,” he added.
Under the original design manufacturer, the firm provides a customer with a design and after paying, Ecotutu builds the facility built for them based on their specifications.
The firm has taken the high cost aspect on board and offers customers a flexible and affordable solution. Farmers or businesses can pay a subscription fee of as low as $0.50 per day and only when they have produce to store or transport. This eliminates the costly upfront fees for cooling solutions.
In the health sector, Ecotutu’s solar-powered cold storage facilities have enabled uninterrupted end-to-end refrigeration of medical items, while in the retail sector, the company has deployed a platform that creates complete visibility of the cold supply chain.
“We provide a modest temperature monitoring solution with seamless and accurate data acquisition to one central database. We can work with existing cold chain facilities or use as a standalone tracker. We have also been able to eliminate the time spent interacting with temperature hardware, and assisted with reducing risk of potentially hazardous out-of-condition situations,” says Mr. Oluwase.
Rising temperatures driven by climate change are expected to cause an increase in refrigeration demand, while rapid population growth in developing countries will increase the demand for food. Ecotutu’s facilities are designed for use in on-farm cooling and storage after harvest to enable farmers store and preserve fresh perishables until they get to the end consumers.
The company is planning to expand across markets in Africa and Asia, with the ultimate goal of improving the agricultural supply chain and making low-cost storage facilities accessible to 300,000 farmers by 2024.