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Reduce post-harvest loss with Energy Free Cool Storage

Simple 'root cellar' cool storage technology that optimizes agriculture storage life and quality without the use of electricity.

Photo of Sophie Aigner

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

In Zambia, 60% of the labour force works in the agricultural sector and 80% of people living in rural Zambia depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Many of these farmers grow horticulture produce, which suffers huge losses each year due to a lack of viable storage technologies available. The Energy Free Cool Storage will address this problem among Zambian farmers by providing an affordable, easy to maintain technology that is not dependent on existing infrastructure systems. At a depth of eight to twelve feet underground, the subterranean, 'root cellar' Energy Free Cool Storage will provide a cool storage environment with 90-95% humidity and natural ventilation to keep the proper temperature. The simple technology consists of three parts: (1) a scalable storage “tank” for agricultural output, (2) two ventilation pipes to naturally facilitate air circulation, and (3) an entryway/hatch for easy and secure access. The technology will be further refined from feedback through an HCD process with target farmers and aggregators, then piloted with vegetable farmers in Zambia. After proof of concept, price-point, and specifics are confirmed, the technology will then be scaled and a second version adapted to target marketplaces, who currently have no cool storage facilities. The technology will be sold through inclusive sales models and eventually scaled to other relevant countries throughout Africa. See Attachment 1 for more info on technical details and financing.

WHO BENEFITS?

1. Farmers and aggregators - Rural farmers who grow vegetable crops can now store them in the Energy Free Cool Storage owned by the aggregator. With this technology, they will be able to store produce for an extended period of time, giving them the power to facilitate fair transactions with buyers and transporters. The aggregator is paid per box of produce stored. 2. Marketplaces - Markets currently have no cool storage. This will allow markets to keep produce fresher longer, reducing loss.

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

The Energy Free Cool Storage technology will be piloted and designed for Zambian farmers. After proof of concept is established in Zambia, the technology will be scaled to other relevant African countries.

ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING IN AN ELIGIBLE COUNTRY?

  • Yes

EXPERTISE IN SECTOR

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTATION COUNTRY(IES)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU!

Energy Free Cool Storage is the collaborative research and development effort of a Zambia-based agriculture technology engineer, a Zambia-based agriculture and social enterprise consultant, and a supply chain and operations expert with experience in numerous developing countries.

IS THIS IDEA NEW FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION?

While the team members are all experienced in agriculture technologies, this is the first initiative in which these three specific individuals are coming together to prototype and explore the market opportunities behind energy-free cool storage technology. Sophie Aigner currently works as an agriculture enterprise consultant in Zambia for a small business that is creating an inclusive, easily accessible mobile platform to connect smallholder farmers with the greater agriculture market. She has also done agricultural business development for over 2 years. Festus Hanunkuni is a Zambian agriculture engineer, and has had a hand in creating various agricultural technologies, including drip irrigation equipment and solar pumps. Brendan Somerville is a supply chain and entrepreneur expert, and has worked with various agriculture technology start-ups globally. While the Energy Free Cool Storage is a new idea for us, it is something that has been of interest to all team members for quite some time and aligns naturally with our experience.

HOW IS YOUR IDEA UNIQUE?

Energy Free Cool Storage is unique in the following ways: -Does not require any energy source. This is especially advantageous in southern Africa (namely Zambia and Zimbabwe), where loss of power is up to 10 hours daily. -Minimal operating costs. Once installed, all the farmer, aggregator, or market needs to do is add or remove agriculture items. -Scalability. Model 1 will target aggregators and farmers, while Model 2 will scale to accommodate the needs of markets. -Is the product of a diverse Zambian-American partnership with unique resources. -Aims to disrupt farmer-market trading behavior. We are unaware of underground storage initiatives of similar scale being implemented in Africa. However, the walk-in “root cellar” concept has been around since the 17th century. This Storage will lay the groundwork for small farmers to build their negotiating/decision making power and ways of doing business, and will open them up to a world of agriculture resources. Taking crop to a 'flooded' market will no longer be the only option. Farmers can now choose when to take to market and what market to sell to, as well as have time to negotiate affordable transport.

WHO WILL IMPLEMENT THIS IDEA?

The founding team will implement this idea: Sophie Aigner: A Zambian-based business development, market facilitation and R&D liaison, Sophie will match customer needs with product development and execute on the ground. Festus Hanunkuni: A Zambian engineer, Festus will coordinate engineering, design and installation, and product testing. Brendan Somerville: With ample ag start-up experience, Brendan will work full time on this project and lead fundraising, product development, and expansion.

HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BECAUSE OF BENEFICIARY FEEDBACK?

1. Originally, the Model 1 prototype was planned to target the individual farmer. However, after beneficiary interviews with both aggregators and smallholder farmers, it is clear that farmers prefer to have an Energy Free Cool Storage technology owned by a local aggregator in which they can rent storage space as needed. This will now become Model 1, which serves both aggregators and farmers. 2. The farmers and aggregators interviewed expressed the desire to have stronger relationships with contractual buyers in order to build business and capitalize on the investment that would be made in the Energy Free Cool Storage technology. This will be an aspect that our team will integrate into the business model. 3. Average farmer loss is 25% of crops harvested, and can often go above this depending on resources, transportation, and oversupply of produce at the market. This is even higher than we originally estimated, and gives us an even stronger platform to create demand for the Energy Free Cool Storage, with 100% of interviewees saying they would be willing to pay (various amounts) to rent storage space in a community storage technology.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS IDEA?

1. Which construction material has the appropriate balance of cost effectiveness and structural integrity? 2. What are the highest benefits that farmers and aggregators experience from using Energy Free Cool Storage and how do we best communicate these widely across Zambia? 3. What is the best shape to provide strength against soil pressure and ease of installation, given Zambian soil conditions? 4. What is the ideal installation depth in Zambia to obtain optimal cooling temperatures? What additional inexpensive add-ons can help maintain stable temps (i.e. tents)? 5. How will this technology affect the ways Zambian farmers sell their produce? 6. What financing model works best?

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?

1. Most companies have focused on energy-powered cooling, which is not supported in much of rural Zambia due to off-grid farmers and extreme load-shedding. 2. Small African farmers don't fit into the ideal customer income level for most investors. Building such a technology requires heavy up-front work and funding; it is a long term investment with lengthy ROI periods; and it requires willingness to take on risk - all deterrents to traditional investors. 3. Farmers have adapted to trading without cool storage - for example, growing less produce so they don't lose out on 'flooded' markets. The EFCS aims to disrupt the way farmers trade to drastically increase their market participation.

WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?

The longview is to revolutionize continent-wide agriculture storage in Africa. Underlying this longview is enabling small African farmers to participate in the global agriculture industry. There is huge opportunity for agriculture in Africa and we can help farmers grow their businesses to levels where they can actively participate in the African agriculture trade by equipping them with the needed tools and resources. The next step: obtain funds to build a prototype and get it to market.

MEMBERS OF MY TEAM HAVE BEEN WORKING TOGETHER FOR:

  • More than a year

MY INTENDED BENEFICIARIES ARE:

  • Within 50 km of where our team does most of its work

MY ORGANIZATION'S OPERATING BUDGET FOR 2015 WAS:

  • We didn't have an operating budget

Energy Free Cool Storage delivers cool storage for agricultural outputs by leveraging the root cellar concept and a design which does not rely on coolants, electricity, or solar power. Root cellars are underground structures that provide low and steady temperatures as well as stable humidity. By taking advantage of subterranean geothermal soil properties, root cellars create an effective environment to ensure the stability of three key produce storage variables: humidity, temperature, and ventilation. At a depth of eight to twelve feet underground, Energy Free Cool Storage will provide a cool storage environment with 90-95% humidity and natural ventilation to keep the proper temperature, reduce excess humidity, prevent rot and mold, and remove ethylene gas.

The simple technology consists of three parts: (1) a scalable storage “tank” for agricultural output, (2) two ventilation pipes to naturally facilitate air circulation, and (3) an entryway/hatch for easy and secure access. The storage tank is where farmers, aggregators, or marketplace actors can efficiently store their produce. The pilot version of the Energy Free Cool Storage will be designed for individual farmers, while future versions will scale in size to be sufficient for aggregators and marketplaces. The Model 1 prototype will be built and tested specifically for Zambian tomato farmers and will have a 4,000 liter storage capacity. The ventilation is provided by two simple polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. Although both pipes will initiate above ground, one will terminate at the top of the storage “tank” and one will terminate at the bottom of the storage “tank.” This creates a siphon in which fresh air is introduced and stale air is vented out. Wire mesh and a vent cap will prevent moisture and pests from entering through the ventilation system. A sealable hatch and small ladder will allow entry and exit from ground level. On larger models, a stairway will be introduced. Unlike many storage devices, Energy Free Cool Storage is a closed environment which facilitates the secure storage of crops. Installation method depends on size of the “tank.” The pilot version can be installed with a shovel and manual labor.

While initial models take advantage of the simplest version of a “root cellar,” future models such as the Model 2 for aggregators and markets can include solar-powered ventilation and lighting, thermometers and hygrometers, and advanced shelving and warehousing systems.

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Attachments (2)

Attachment 1_EFCS.pdf

The purpose of this document is to elaborate on questions posed in the comments section and provide additional clarification on key aspects of Energy Free Cool Storage.

UX Map_Energy Free Cool Storage.pdf

This is the early-stage User Experience map for Energy Free Cool Storage.

21 comments

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Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Sophie,
It is a relief to see the 17th century concept of root cellers delivered to Africa.
My experience designing root celler suggests that a roof is needed over the entrance to prevent rain from 50 - 100 year events from entering the hatch.
Extending this roof or any structure or ground cover that reduces the amount of sun reaching the soil in the area above and around the storage tank with help lower ground temperatures and the chance of erosion. The shade is why a root celler is often  incorporated into utility buildings, warehouses etc. 
The floor of the root celler should be designed with a depression or sump that accepts the intake of a pump for emergencies.
Congratulations on suggesting root celler for Africa,
William
Storage Rights To Reverse PHL
Jobs for Youth To Reverse PHL

Photo of Sophie Aigner
Team

Hi William Lanier ,

Many thanks for your helpful comments - we will definitely take those into consideration.  It would be great to get in touch with you as we are finalizing the design of the root cellar as it seems you have experience doing it yourself.   We are looking for all the experience and input we can get.  If you don't mind, please send me an email at aigner.sophie@gmail.com and we can connect further.

Best regards,
Sophie Aigner

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Sophie,
You should see my email and happy to join your team.
William

Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Sophie Aigner,
William (NeverIdle) hopes you and the root cellar are doing well and wish to invite you to the "1st All African Postharvest Congress and Exhibition (March 28 - 31) Nairobi"
<http://africa-postharvestconference.uonbi.ac.ke/>. We hope to meet and discuss more about Moisture meters and testing to Reverse Grain Postharvest Loss."
Regards,
William

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