Agriculture

ColdHubs: solar cold rooms to preserve and store all perishables

Written by Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

Tell us a few words about the founders and how the idea came

Our idea came from Mr. Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu, Executive Director of The Smallholders Foundation and presently Founder/CEO of ColdHubs Limited. Nnaemeka is an agricultural radio broadcaster of the Smallholders Foundation owned Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio (FARM 98.0 FM) since 2003. His work at the radio station was to regularly interact with rural poor farmers in Nigeria to identify challenges and opportunities facing smallholder agriculture. 

In the course of his work, he identified the enormous challenge of post harvest losses facing fruits, vegetables and other perishable food farmers, retailers and wholesalers. In 2012, he put together a small team of colleagues at The Smallholders Foundation to investigate the business opportunities in the problem.

Our innovation ColdHubs; solar powered cold rooms to store and preserve fruits, vegetables and other perishable food for farmers, retailers and wholesalers was a spin-off from The Smallholders Foundation Ltd/Gte. The Smallholders Foundation is a rural development organization established in 2003 which develops, designs and broadcasts agricultural radio programs for smallholder farmers. 

Mr. Nnaemeka C. Ikegwuonu Founder/CEO of ColdHubs is an accomplished farmer, innovator, leading social entrepreneur and also Executive Director of The Smallholders Foundation Ltd./Gte. He is a multi-award winning social entrepreneur who has been recognized all of the world for his groundbreaking innovations that improves the yield and income of smallholders. Nnaemeka is Nigeria’s most prominent young agriculturist. He is an Ashoka Fellow 2008, Laureate of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2010, Nigeria’s Young Person of the Year, 2011, Fast Company USA 100 Most Creative in Business 2012, Laureate of the Niigata International Food Prize, Japan 2012 and 2013 Laureate of the prestigious Yara Prize for Green Revolution in Africa.

Bright Benjamin Igbokwe – COO; Bright is an experienced business development manager with He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Imo State University, Nigeria. As COO, he establishes and maintains control of the entire operating system to ensure the achievement of strategic objectives.

Chukwudi Anyanaso – CTO; Chukwudi is an Electrical, electronics and civil engineer,  He holds a BSc in Civil Engineering and an MSc, Electrical & Electronics Engineering, Federal University of Technology Owerri, Nigeria. As CTO he designs, constructs, installs and maintains the solar powered walk in cold rooms.

Our team members used to work at the Smallholders Foundation Ltd./Gte. Our COO Bright Igbokwe, has been working with the the CEO at the Smallholders Foundation since 2012. He has developed many projects for rural farmers and worked on Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio and Young Farmers Programs of the foundation. Similarly, our CTO Chukwudi Anyanaso, has been working with the Smallholders Foundation and Nnaemeka, since 2010 as Programs Manager for the Smallholders Foundation. Together the team designed and constructed the first solar powered walk in cold room for farmers to store and preserve products. It started as a research project of The Smallholders Foundation and has now been spinned off as a for profit start-up.

 Link to online video (if available) 

Your products and services 

ColdHubs, are modular, solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that provides  24/7 off-grid storage and preservation of perishable foods. They are installed in markets and farms within the reach of farmers and retailers. Fresh produce are placed in clean plastic crates and these crates are stacked inside the cold room. Cold room  temperature of 5°C extends the freshness of fruits, vegetables and other perishable food to about 21 days instead of 2 days without refrigeration.

ColdHubs combines the well-established technologies of photovoltaic energy supply and compressive cold generation with a novel concept of pay-as-you-store model.

The exterior dimensions are : L x W x H: 10’ x 10’ x 7’. The stainless floor is made with 0.8 – 1mm aluminum. The energy efficient  monoblock refrigeration unit with friendly R290 Propane refrigerant, is connected to a set of inverters and batteries that supplies energy. These batteries are charged by solar panels, generating about 5.7 kwh of energy. Each Hub contains approximately 2–3 tons of perishable food arranged in at least 150 units of 30kg plastic crates stacked on the floor. ColdHub are guaranteed to provide autonomous refrigeration 24/7 without grid connection. The daily cooling temperature is 5° Celsius and the cold room’s unique safety door efficiently keeps cold air inside. Markets and farm clusters where the Hubs are installed have highly efficient security, supplemented by our company’s security, as needed.

The key benefits of ColdHubs to small farmers, retailers and wholesalers are:

  • Eliminates losses in fruits, vegetables, and other perishable food, resulting from lack of cold storage systems.
  • Increases the household income of small farmers and retailers, because losses has been eliminated.
  • Creates employment for women small farmers, by recruiting and training them to work as ColdHub operators and 70% of the market managers in markets and farm clusters.
  • Reduces daily labor costs for harvesting and transportation from five hours per day to one hour per day, by eliminating the need to return to the farm to store unsold, harvested produce or to harvest additional produce for sale.
  • Increases food quality and food safety by reducing exposure to harsh direct sunlight, chemical contamination, bacterial or parasitic contamination, mycotoxin contamination, and rapid rotting.
  • Acts as a warehouse, providing farmers, an incredible opportunity to store their products when there is product glut in the market and sell later when prices increase.

 Your success factors 

ColdHubs was developed to help the 470 million farmers and retailers in developing countries (Rockefeller Foundation; Food Waste and Spoilage Initiative 2014), who do not have access to reliable cold storage. It is estimated that small farmers and retailers suffer a 25% reduction in their income due to loss of value in an average of 45% of their vegetable harvests, 35% of their fruit harvests. Our own extensive market research throughout Nigeria identified a very large and urgent need for cold storage in Nigeria, and even greater Africa.

 The current method of solving food spoilage is extremely expensive, unaffordable to most farmers. Presently, groups of smallholder farmers forms a cooperative to buy a refrigerator and diesel generator. The operational costs of the generator is high, approx. 6,000 Nigerian Naira per day (US$37.50) Very few farmers in Nigeria (or elsewhere in Africa) can afford this solution.

With ColdHubs smallholder farmers pay just 100 Naira (US$0.50) per crate per day for the same service.  They only pay when they have produce to store.  The value of that produce is 20-50 times more than the storage costs, and thus are affordable

Your factors differentiating and disruptive compared to the existing 

Cold refrigeration in markets and farms is almost non-existent in Africa. ColdHubs provides farmers and retailers, a cost effective method of cooling goods on a commercial scale solely with renewable energies. Existing solutions are unreliable and very expensive. Moreover, they cannot withstand harsh weather conditions. ColdHubs is rugged and specifically designed to withstand the most harsh weather condition, 100% off the grid.

Your business model (how do you make money?)

 We operate a simple pay-as-you-store model.  Farmers and retailers pay 100 Nigerian Naira (equivalent of US$0.50) to store one crate per day. Hubs are operated by a lady manager, who monitors the loading and unloading of crates, collect the fees, and build relationships in farm clusters and markets.

A few words about your competitors

One of our competitors, SunDazer uses retrofitted ocean reefers. This model is very expensive and out of the reach of small farmers. 

SunChill, is in the research phase of designing a product which transforms solar thermal energy into refrigeration using water-based refrigerants. Though this product is still under research, it seems that ease of use by end users, rural poor small farmers will be difficult. 

Your website 

http://www.coldhubs.com

About the author

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

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