DfID launches competition to stimulate off-grid cold chain technology

The Global LEAP Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge, a competition to develop innovative and energy-efficient off-grid cold storage technology, and part of the UK Department for International Development’s Ideas to Impact programme, launched today in Nairobi. The competition will offer £250,000 in prizes for off-grid cold chain technologies deployed in select Sub-Saharan African countries, including Uganda.

Due to high costs and a lack of access to reliable electricity, reliable cold storage facilities are often out of reach for the most vulnerable links, smallholder farmers and small traders, in the farmer-to-table chain. Yet, these facilities are a crucial link in the chain and ensure that food products such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products stay fresh with minimal waste.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that more than 40% of food losses in developing countries occur during post-harvest and processing. Therefore, creating reliable and extensive cold chains is crucial for food security and economic development. Establishing sustainable and energy-efficient cold chains would enable these countries raise food supply by 15% – about 250 million tonnes.

“Lack of proper temperature management and cold storage causes farmers in off-grid areas to suffer significant post-harvest food loss, leading to reduced profits and increased vulnerability,” said Simon Collings, the energy access technical lead at Ideas to Impact and director of learning and innovation at Energy 4 Impact.

He added: “A commercially sustainable cold chain would allow farmers to diversify production to include high-value perishable crops, link them to regional and international markets, and increase earnings.

“In addition, cold chain facilities would create opportunities for labour, services, and value-added processing for perishable products,”

The goal of the competition is to stimulate innovation and investment in the sector and help to drive market development, bringing prices down for those who need it most. By supporting the development of innovative cold chain solutions that run off clean energy, the challenge aims to catalyse technology innovation and market development.

The main players in the cold chain market are farmers and farmer groups, exporter aggregators that deal in higher-value produce, aggregators that supply local bulk purchasers like supermarkets, more informal produce brokers that supply local markets, and farmer cooperatives that seek to give farmers greater bargaining power and information.

At a project in Kenya, a pilot of cold rooms is demonstrating success by delaying ripening and enabling the fruit to stay fresh for up to three weeks, which enables farmers to harvest and store more produce until they can confirm a buyer or aggregate produce from different farmers to attract buyers requiring huge volumes.

This not only stops crop loss at the farmer level and during transport, but has created efficiencies in transportation costs because farmers can store produce for longer so that trucks are deployed less often for pick up.

Innovation prizes of up to £50,000 will be awarded to cold storage technologies that demonstrate energy efficiency, off-grid appropriateness, scalability and feasibility of deployment, with opportunities for further development.

Shortlisted technologies will receive an innovation prize of £10,000 to cover shipping and set-up costs.

Nominations close 26 May 2018 with shortlisted technologies announced in September 2018 for product testing and verification. The final prize winners will be revealed in March 2019.

Deployment of off- and weak-grid cold storage solutions is also likely to have other social impacts such as empowerment for women, and improvement in health.

Cold storage facilities can be an insulated pre-fabricated cold room, a brick-and-mortar cold room, or a modified shipping container with appropriate air-conditioning or refrigeration system, as long as they can provide cooling and refrigeration for storing produce or dairy products and are powered primarily using renewable energy sources.

The OGCCC has been developed in partnership with Energy 4 Impact with support from Ideas to Impact, a DfID-funded programme that uses innovation prizes to stimulate solutions to development challenges across energy access, climate change adaptation and water, sanitation and hygiene, and Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid initiative.