I am a vegetables farmer, a radio presenter, social entrepreneur, Executive Director of Smallholders Foundation Ltd./Gte. and Founder/CEO of ColdHubs Ltd. I founded Smallholders Foundation, in 2003 at the age of 21 as a rural agricultural development organization that uses radio to inform, educate and improve the livelihood of rural small farmers in Nigeria. My work at the foundation, as a community radio broadcaster on our Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio (FARM 98.0 FM) is to travel to several remote villages to identify challenges and opportunities facing smallholder agriculture. In the course of the work I saw the impact of post harvest losses due to lack of cold storage at key points within the food supply chain. In 2014 we built a solar powered walk in cold room, tested and validated the technology in 11 states of Nigeria. Having achieved success, decided to spin-off the research into a new venture ColdHubs.
ColdHubs – solar powered cold rooms
One-line project summary:
100% solar-powered walk-in cold rooms for growers and vendors to store and preserve fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable food.
Present your project.
We are solving the problem of food spoilage. In developing countries, approximately 50 percent of all horticultural products are lost or wasted before reaching the consumer – intensifying poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. The high rate of post-harvest loss is due to lack of affordable cold storage at key points within the food supply chain. Humidity, ambient temperatures, and poor handling causes fruits and vegetables to spoil.
We are proposing ColdHubs, a 100% solar-powered walk-in cold room installed in farm clusters, horticultural produce aggregation centers and outdoor food markets. The Hubs are used by smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers, to store and preserve fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable foods 24/7, extending their shelf life from 2 days to 21 days.
ColdHubs elevates humanity by eliminating food spoilage due to lack f cold storage completely, increases income for farmers and vendors and makes safe, nutritious food available for local consumption.
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What specific problem are you solving?
According to the Rockefeller Foundation; Food Waste and Spoilage Initiative 2014, approximately 50 percent of all horticultural products are lost or wasted before reaching the consumer in developing countries – intensifying poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. This affects 470 million smallholder farmers, retailers and food supply chain actors
In Nigeria, food spoilage affects an estimated 93 million smallholder farmers and supply chain actors. Reducing post-harvest loss is critical to improve the livelihoods, nutrition, and resiliency of farmers and communities.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) estimates that a 10 percent reduction in global food loss could result in an 11 percent decrease in hunger and a 4 percent decrease in child malnutrition worldwide. In Nigeria, a 35 percent reduction in post-harvest tomato loss alone would create a supply of vitamin A for up 1.1 million children per day. For Nigerian smallholders, this 50 percent loss of fruits and vegetables causes a 25 percent loss of their annual income.
The high rate of postharvest loss is due to a combination of factors, including lack of affordable cold storage at key points within the food supply chain, and lack of knowledge about proper harvesting and postharvest handling.
What is your project?
Our project ColdHubs are 100% solar-powered walk-in cold rooms installed in farm clusters, horticultural produce aggregation centers and outdoor food markets. The Hubs are used by farmers, retailers and wholesalers, to store and preserve fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable foods 24/7, extending the shelf life from 2 days to 21 days.
Each Hub is made up of:
Cold room: a 10 feet length, 10 feet width and 7 feet height, 120mm insulated cold room panel with floor made of stainless steel. This contains approximately 3 tons of perishable food arranged in 150 units, 20kg plastic crates, stacked on the floor.
Refrigeration unit: an R290 - propane refrigerant and energy efficient monoblock refrigeration unit for 24/7 refrigeration, using 658w/h. Temperature is adjustable from -5 to +15° Celsius.
Solar power: provided by rooftop solar panels generating 6kw/h, connected to a set of deep-cycle batteries and inverters. Power generated runs the hub on all weather conditions.
Service: we operate a simple pay-as-you-store model. Farmers and vendors pay 100 Nigerian Naira, to store one 20 kg crate per day. Hubs are operated by our Hub Operators.
Education: We educate users on best practices for the postharvest handling of fruits and vegetables.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
Our project directly serves, smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers of fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable food. They are mostly women, because women are generally small plot gardeners providing 75% of the labor in production and 100% of the labor in the marketing of fruits, vegetables and other perishable food, with $60 monthly income.
We are currently serving 3,517 users, using our 24 installed cold rooms in sites in Nigeria. 30 more ColdHubs are presently under construction, bringing the projected total number of Hubs, to 54 by the end of 2020.
In 2019, our 24 operational ColdHubs saved 20,400 tons of food from spoilage.
It increased the household income of 3,517 small farmers, retailers and wholesalers by 50%, an additional US$60 to the previous US$60 earned, making their monthly income a total of US$120, simply by eliminating the previous 50% food loss.
Created 48 new jobs for women, by recruiting them to work as Hub Operators and Market Attendants.
ColdHubs ensured the safety of 20,400 tons of food, eliminating exposure to harsh direct sunlight, chemical, bacterial or parasitic and mycotoxin contamination, making this safe, nutritious food available for local consumption.
24 ColdHubs saved an estimated 462,528 kg of CO2.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
About two-thirds of the developing world’s 3 billion rural people are smallholder farmers. Many are poor and food insecure and with limited access to markets and services. Their choices are constrained, but they produce food for substantial proportion of the world’s population.
The invest meager economic resources to pay for labor, water, seed with the supporting environmental resources- soil, rainfall, sunlight to grow food.
When food is grown and spoils, the resources that went into production are also lost. By addressing food loss through cold storage, ColdHubs enables farmers to earn more without increasing production.
How did you come up with your project?
The idea of ColdHubs came as I was working as an agricultural Community Radio Broadcaster in Nigeria.
I used to run The Smallholders Foundation, a non-profit that uses radio educational programmes to educate, inform and improve the livelihood of farmers in Nigeria.
My work took me to several rural villages and communities across Nigeria because I needed to interview farmers and identify challenges and opportunities in smallholder agriculture. It was during my trips that I discovered massive losses during harvesting, handling processing and distribution at farms, produce aggregation centers and markets due to lack of cold storage. This posing a major concern for the food security, nutrition, and incomes of smallholders in Nigeria, many of whom operate in inefficient food supply chains.
In 2013, I was doing a story on the "Cabbage" in Plateau State, went to Farin Gada Market, and saw lots and lots of Cabbages going to waste. I asked the farmers what can be done to reduce the waste and they said they will need some form of storage inside the market, to store and sell later. It then struck me that all our markets have no storage for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Why are you passionate about your project?
First, I am passionate about our project because it has several benefits. Installing a ColdHubs within a farm cluster, aggregation center or outdoor food market checks off a lot of boxes. It eliminates food spoilage; it makes safe, nutritious food available for public consumption; it increases the income of farmers and vendors; it creates employment opportunities for youth and women and saves the environment due to renewable energy use.
Secondly, I am passionate about our project because I have a personal connection to the working area. I am a Nigerian, working to improve the livelihood of our own people, bringing together my deep local knowledge of the working environment and the rich and excellent western education, I have acquired over time.
Thirdly, I am motivated to pursue this work, because though I miss producing my daily agricultural education radio programs and being at studio listening to radio station callers and answering some callers questions, ColdHubs gives me the unique opportunity to remain engaged with smallholder farmers and food supply chain actors. I still travel regularly to meet the present users of ColdHubs to understand the challenges and opportunities within the post-harvest value chain and work with them to co-create solutions.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
I grew up from a poor agricultural family. My parents were lowly paid public servants. To supplement their low income, they kept farms, where we cultivated maize, cassava, yam, cocoyam, and potatoes. Then, I never liked working in the farm.
Growing up in Owerri, Imo State we did not have a television at home. My dad had a small battery-operated transistor radio, which served as our window to the world. We listened to BBC, VOA and Radio Nigeria. I was fascinated by radio, I wanted my voice to be heard on radio, I was possessed as a 13-year-old boy to own a radio station someday. In secondary school, I set up the school Press Club and reading local, national and foreign news every morning at school assembly hall. That news I got from listening to my dad's radio.
I wanted to be a journalist but didn't reach the university cutoff mark for the course. I ended up studying History but continued writing for my University Press Club. I cleverly avoided studying any agricultural related courses even after my parents insisted because I felt farmers were poor.
In 2003, at the age of 21, I founded The Smallholders Foundation, and in 2007 I founded the first agricultural community radio station in Nigeria, the Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio (Farm 98.0 FM) which presently informs, educates and improves the livelihood of 250,000 small farmer listeners living in 3 local catchment areas of Imo State, Nigeria.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
In September 2013, I set out to build and test a solar powered walk-in cold room. I made a long list and cost of all the parts, but they were too high and unaffordable for me.
I was determined to achieve this goal, so I started off with as much locally available cheaper parts.
Instead of buying expensive 120mm thick insulated cold room panels, I actually used 0.7 sheet metals, padded it with hard foams and covered these foams with well folded plastic tarpaulins - to retain and hold cold temperature.
I reduced the size of cold room prototype from the initial planned 15 feet length and width with 8 feet height; to 4 feet length and width with 7 feet height, to manage scarce materials.
I used a window unit air conditioner as the cooling equipment, instead of buying very expensive monoblock vapor compressor refrigerating unit. I connected the window airconditioner to a CoolBot, a small device which allows a standard window air conditioner to cool a room to 34 F!
I towed this small solar powered walk-in cold room to 11 states of Nigeria demonstrating it at 35 sites and it was well received by farmers and vendors.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
In 2003, at the age of 21, I founded The Smallholders Foundation, a social enterprise that promotes sustainable agricultural development and environmental conservation for smallholder farmers, through educational radio programs and field practical demonstrations.
In 2007, with support UNESCO, I founded the first agricultural community radio station in Nigeria, the Smallholder Farmers Rural Radio (Farm 98.0 FM). At this radio station, I design and broadcast 10 hours daily agricultural, environmental management and market information radio programs in the local Igbo Language radio which informs, educates and improves the economic and environmental management capacity of 250,000 smallholder farmer listeners, living in 3 local catchment areas of Imo State, Nigeria.
The educational radio messages enable small farmers acquire modern agricultural and environmental management techniques, receive daily market information, advertise their farm products, and learn critical business skills.
I generate feedback from small farmer, through the clustering and formation of farmers into 195 Smallholder Farmer Listener Clubs established in villages within our broadcast coverage area.
Since 2007 65% of my radio programs listeners have increased their agricultural yield by 50% and their household income by 45%.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Owerri, Imo, Nigeria
What type of organization is your project?Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
Our project is innovative because, we operate a simple pay-as-you-store business model. Farmers and retailers pay 100 Nigerian Naira (equivalent of US$0.50) to store one 20 kg crate per day.
Smallholder farmers do not need any additional support to access our technology and use our service because ColdHubs bears the capital cost of deploying the cold rooms. In addition, we operate the cold rooms and rent out 20kg returnable plastic crates (at US$0.50) to farmers to store their produce inside the cold rooms each day. Each Hub can store 150 of these crates. All crates have two tags, the first tag is attached to the crate and stacked inside the cold room and the second tag goes to farmer, for ease of identification, when it’s time to pick up.
Renting the space priced daily per crate allows farmers access to a technology at a price they can afford, and on a scale that makes sense to each individual actor.
We hire and train selected women smallholder farmers or fruits and vegetables vendors, to work as our Hub Operators and Market Attendants in farms and markets.The Hub Operator, who monitors the loading and unloading of crates, collects the fees, and a Market Attendant who builds customer relationship in farm clusters and markets.
What is your theory of change?
The intervention is to install and commission 20 ColdHubs (with dimensions 10 feet in length, 10 feet in width and 7 feet in height) each holding and cooling down 3 tons of food per day, in 10 high potential food production and consumption clusters of Nigeria to serve 2,000 farmers and vendors, 100 users per hub.
The market system change is that smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers will have access to a cold storage to store their fresh fruits and vegetables harvest once they are picked from the field and also once it arrives in the outdoor market.
The improved access of growth of this system is that smallholder farmers will be able to maintain the quality of their fresh fruits and vegetables stored inside the ColdHubs for 21 days or more, while they wait for the truck to come in and pick up the harvest for the outdoor market. They will not sell off their harvest to middlemen to avoid spoilage because the quality will be maintained in our temperature controlled chamber, for a long period of time, they can haggle on prices and sell later when prices increases.
The improved access of growth of this system for the wholesaler and retailer is that the hub acts as a warehouse, once the truck arrives the outdoor market, providing them an opportunity to store and maintain the quality of their fresh fruits and vegetables, for as long as possible, enable them haggle on prices and sell later when prices increase. It also maintains the quality of their un-sold and evening left-over fruits, vegetables and other perishable food for more than 21 days, once transferred inside the hub, after display on the outdoors.
The change which will be derived from the intervention, will increase the income of 2,000 users by 50%, providing US$60 additional income on the present estimated income of US$60, to a total of US$120 per month. This will be achieved by simply eliminating the 50% losses of fruits and vegetables due to lack of storage.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Our project currently serves 3,517 farmers, retailers and wholesalers using our 24 installed cold rooms in 18 farms, aggregation centers and markets within the Southern and Northern Regions of Nigeria.
30 more ColdHubs are presently under construction across Nigeria, bringing the projected total number of Hubs, to 54 by the end of 2020, this will serve atleast 3,000 new users in one year, bringing our project total or users by 2021 to 6,517.
In five years, we will serve atleast 50,000 users using an estimated 500 ColdHubs, we envisage deploying and fully operational by 2020.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Within the next year, we want to install, commission and operate 20 ColdHubs (with dimensions 10 feet in length, 10 feet in width and 7 feet in height) each holding and cooling down 3 tons of food per day, in 10 high potential food production and consumption clusters of Nigeria to serve 2,000 farmers and vendors, atleast 100 users per hub.
Within the next five years, we want to install, commission and operate atleast up to 500 ColdHubs in Nigeria, serving atleast 50,000 smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers of fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable food.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Low availability financing to scale to new regions in Nigeria, currently exists as a barrier hindering us from accomplishing our goals in the next year and in the next five years.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
We are raising grants and low interest debts to overcome the barrier of low financing.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Our technical and scientific design partners is The Institute for Air Handling and Refrigeration Dresden, Germany (ILK, Institut für Luft- und Kältetechnik). ILK is an independent and free research enterprise with the legal status of a non-profit limited liability company that conducts industry-related research, development and technology transfer in the wide range of air handling and refrigeration technologies and their applications including related scientific and technical fields.
On the business side, we partner with All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), at the national, state and local government levels to support us hire a Hub Operator and Market Attendant and to also inform and educate farmers to use ColdHubs in markets and farm clusters. AFAN is the umbrella organization for all farmers associations in Nigeria.
Within AFAN our key partners are, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Dealers Association of Nigeria (FFVDAN), Tomato Producers Association of Nigeria (TOPAN) and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Growers Association of Nigeria (FFVGAN).
Our past and present funding partners are Factor [e] Ventures; All On Energy Impact Investors; Microsoft, USAID, UKAID, Swiss Re Foundation, King Baudouin Foundation, the Government of Japan through International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)The World Food Programme, Global Cold Chain Alliance, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.
What is your business model?
We operate a simple pay-as-you-store business model. Farmers and retailers pay 100 Nigerian Naira (equivalent of US$0.50) to store one 20 kg crate per day. Hubs are operated by a Hub Operator, who monitors the loading and unloading of crates, collects the fees, and a Market Attendant who builds customer relationship in farm clusters and markets.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We bring in money to ensure our financial sustainability by offering daily rental services of 20kg plastic crate and cold storage space inside the ColdHubs.
We also raise grants to build ColdHubs and also looking at raising sufficient investment capital once, we overcome market barriers, achieve robust revenue; gain stronger profit margins and effectively position ourselves to attract low interest commercial sources of financing from venture investors, impact investors, commercial banks and development finance institutions for larger expansion within Nigeria, in the West Africa and throughout Africa.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
In 2015, a US$80,000 grant to build prototype ColdHubs, with ILK Dresden as design support partner.
2015, US$18,000 grant for purchase of refrigerated van from Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.
In 2016 we had a US$270,000 equity investment from Factor [e] Ventures - Factor [e] invests in early stage energy enterprises.
World Food Programme grant of US$48,000 2017
2017, All On Energy Impact Investor US$100,000 (Loan), to pilot 2 ColdHubs for fish storage in the Niger-Delta.
2018, Swiss Re Foundation grant of 200,000 CHF, to build and operate 5 ColdHubs.
2018, Microsoft Airband Program, grant of US$75,000 to use excess energy from ColdHubs to power 4 Farm & Market Connect Centers.
2018, Solar Nigeria Project, grant of 150,000 GBP, to build and operate 7 ColdHubs.
2019, USAID Feed the Future, Partnering for Innovation grant of US$540,000 to build and operate 20 ColdHubs.
2019, King Badoiun Foundation grant of 150,000 Euros 2019, to build and operate 6 ColdHubs.
2020, International Food Policy Research Institute/Government of Japan US$250,000, to build and operate 7 ColdHubs in the North-East of Nigeria.
At the end of the year 2017 we achieved US$32,130 in revenue. We spent US$20,150 on salaries and US$4,800 on operations, a total expenditure of US$24,950. We made a net income of US$7,180.
In 2018, we achieved US$55,534 in revenue, spent US$12,196 on salaries, US$10,302 on operational expenses, a total expenses of US$22,498 with a net income of US$33,036.
In 2019, we achieved US$237,674 in revenue and US$128,134 in net income.
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
We are seeking to raise grant funding of up to US$540,000 to procure all needed parts for the installation, commissioning and operation of 20 ColdHubs (with dimensions 10 feet in length, 10 feet in width and 7 feet in height) each holding and cooling down 3 tons of food per day, in 10 high potential food production and consumption clusters of Nigeria to serve 2,000 farmers, atleast 100 users per hub.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Our estimated expenses for 2020 is US$271,276 to cover salaries and operational costs.
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
I am applying for the Elevate Prize to help overcome the challenge of low funding availability needed to scale ColdHubs technology and service in Nigeria.
I am presently seeking for funding to install, commission and operate 20 ColdHubs (with dimensions 10 feet in length, 10 feet in width and 7 feet in height) each holding and cooling down 3 tons of food per day, in 10 high potential food production and consumption clusters of Nigeria to serve 2,000 farmers, atleast 200 users per hub.
Within the first year, I will accomplish the following:
20 new ColdHubs installed and commissioned, within the largest food production and consumption centers of Nigeria, serving 2,000 smallholder farmers, retailers and wholesalers representing 100 users, per Hub.
The 10 Hubs will save 21,900 tons of food from spoilage per annum, representing 60 tons of food saved per day. This is 3 tons of food saved per day, per Hub.
Increase the income of 2,000 users by 50%, providing US$60 additional income on the present estimated income of US$60, to a total of US$120 per month
Create atleast 40 new jobs for women, by recruiting and training them as Hub Operators and Market Attendants in each new site.
All figures are based on our experience with the 24 operational hubs, the first of which opened in March 2017.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
I need more funding and revenue model partners, and support in marketing and media.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
I do not have any specific names of potential partners, but I will be interested in partnering with marketing and business development companies with experience in marketing and distribution of Base-of-Pyramid products and services. We are looking at developing robust marketing and business development tools for ColdHubs as we go to scale.
- Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu CEO, ColdHubs Ltd