While food industry giants and software companies have played an important role in creating solutions for reducing food waste, local community members are proving to be just as critical in driving the movement forward.
Efforts to curb food waste in Europe, the UK and North America are on the rise, with new solutions emerging almost daily that encourage more sustainable practices on both consumer and corporate fronts. Yet the problem of food waste is not unique to these regions. Food waste brought on by poor storage infrastructure is a critical problem in Africa. In fact, The Rockfeller Foundation estimates that 50 percent of fruits and vegetables, 40 percent of roots and tubers and 20 percent of cereals are lost in the post-harvest stage or processes. In total, the amount of food currently being lost on the continent is enough to feed 300 million people.
An entrepreneur in Nigeria, where food waste costs the economy around $750 billion a year, has developed a technology that harnesses the power of light to extend the shelf life of food. Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu’s ColdHubs are modular, solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that operate on a pay-as-you-store subscription model. Featuring 120mm insulating cold panels and a solar panel roof connected to high capacity batteries, the system is capable of extending the shelf life of produce and other perishable foods from two day to about 21 days. This allows farmers to cut their losses by around 80 percent. The system uses only 1kW of energy and is capable of running for three days without sunlight.
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“Nigeria is a very large country, with 90 million smallholder farms who do not have access to any form of cold storage,” said Ikegwuonu. “We are home to the largest tomato production belt in West Africa, yet farmers are losing more than 50 percent of their crops due to lack of cold storage. So, we came up with solar-powered, walk-in cold rooms which can extend the life of food up to 21 days, and my goal is to push these hubs to all developing countries.”
In Uganda, Lawrence Okettayot is fighting food waste with dehydration. The engineering graduate has developed the Spark Dryer, an efficient, zero-emissions dehydrator that runs on biofuel. The technology allows farmers to reduce food waste without the use of cold storage and generate additional revenue streams by preserving produce, which can then be used to create new products. For example, one farmer used the technology to dry pumpkins and grind them into a powder that can be used as a recipe base.
Meanwhile, Ohio-based startup Farm Fare is helping drive the farm-to-table movement by connecting family-owned farms with sustainably minded buyers through an online B2B marketplace and logistics service. The platform works by contracting vehicles to distribute produce and other goods from food hubs throughout Ohio to local buyers, such as restaurants, schools and institutions.
Purchases are made through the Farm Fare app and buyers are assigned to a “home hub” based on their location, though they aren’t limited to its offerings.
“Just recently, we had one of the food hubs in Wooster write this really personal note to a school it supplies,” said Cullen Naumoff, co-founder of Farm Fare. “The school was really touched by that. You get to actually know who this food is from and who’s procuring it. Food hubs are such a centerpiece of the local food economy — they act as translators between buyers and growers.”
“We’ve become really disconnected from our food,” said Laura Adiletta, co-founder of Farm Fare. “You don’t know the people who pick up the food, the people who deliver it. The total miles that food is logging from farm to plate, and the middle men involved, makes a highly drawn-out process that saps a lot of value. If you think about what you’re paying as a consumer and what the farmer’s receiving at the very beginning, they’re taking such a small chunk of those sale dollars. In the US, for every $1 retail sale, the farmer only brings home an average of about 7 cents.”
The app has allowed local farms to expand their consumer base and made it easier than ever for community members to buy local. What’s more, the ability to track what’s in demand and adjust production accordingly has helped area farms reduce food waste.
Farm Fare’s positive impact has had a ripple effect on small local trucking businesses. According to Naumoff, the startup is putting more drivers to work and helping generate additional income through its delivery contracts.