Solar-powered cold rooms enable farmers in Nigeria to store produce at cooler temperatures, reducing food loss and strengthening the region’s agricultural infrastructure.
Each year, nearly a third of all food is lost or wasted — a staggering 1.3 billion tons worldwide, with rotting food contributing to global greenhouse gases emissions. Food spoilage is a major contributor to food insecurity in developing nations, a driver of climate change and major revenue loss for farmers and agriculture workers.
In Nigeria, food spoilage stems largely from a lack of cold storage. Having observed this deficiency firsthand as a former agricultural radio broadcaster in Nigeria, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu decided to do something about it.
Ikegwuonu is the founder of ColdHubs, a Nigerian company that places solar-powered, walk-in cold stations in local markets. For a small fee, farmers can rent space in a cold room to store their produce and prevent spoilage, extending the shelf life of their products and increasing revenue. Since 2019, Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation has supported ColdHubs with critical investment and expert guidance to help with the company’s strategic expansion across the country.
Image credit: ColdHubs
“Most Nigerian markets and produce aggregation centers lack any form of cold storage,” Ikegwuonu said. “This is a very important infrastructural element that needs to be present at all key points along the food supply chain.”
ColdHubs charges $0.26 per day to store a crate of produce, with a typical user storing about 10 crates at a time. For less than $3 per day, farmers can maintain a stock that could be worth as much as $600. Produce that would otherwise spoil can instead be sold later, allowing farmers to generate more income than before.
Recognizing that the idea of “cooling as a service” was a new concept for local smallholders and businesses, ColdHubs, with support from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, developed relationships with farmers’ unions and produce associations to ensure buy-in. The company also provided training and educational resources to farmers to demonstrate how produce loses its value the longer it goes without refrigeration.
“We learned that it would be a better business model for us to own the cold rooms, maintain the infrastructure, and ensure there would always be reliable cold storage available to farmers,” Ikegwuonu said.
As an employer, ColdHubs makes it a point to emphasize gender equity. The company hires and trains local women for everything from day-to-day operations and management, to marketing and business development. In helping them attain stronger economic footing, these opportunities empower local women to be more resourceful within their homes and communities, where they previously lacked an income source of their own.
Image credit: ColdHubs
With backing from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, ColdHubs has built and operationalized 20 of its total 54 cold rooms throughout Nigeria. The company works with leading technical firms to continually improve its product by increasing storage capacity and energy efficiency, which in turn benefits farmers through greater productivity, higher incomes, and strengthened food security.
“Before we started using ColdHubs, we preserved our vegetables under the shade. I felt very bad when our vegetables went bad because, even if we could not sell them, we still had to pay for transportation and the people who helped harvest them,” Joy Franklin, a farmer in Owerri, Nigeria, said. “We started using ColdHubs, and it has been very helpful to us. I would like to say to other farmers to use ColdHubs because I know the losses and how it feels to not be able to make profits when you are working so hard.”
With Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation’s support, ColdHubs is well on its way to achieving a promising future. By 2030, the company aims to scale to 5,000 cold rooms, serving 500,000 Nigerian smallholder farmers and saving some 5.4 million tons of food each year.