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Urban Food Hubs in and around Kinshasa, DRC

Holistic centers for agricultural education and development in urban-peri-urban areas of DRC equipped with cold storage and clean energy.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

DGrid Energy, LLC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Felicite Kamashy, Epsilon Technologies (DRC based, female-owned, engineering firm) John Ulimwengu, International Food Policy Research Institute

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.dgridenergy.com

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Washington, DC, USA

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kinshasa, DRC, and surrounding environs.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

DGrid has begun working in DRC in the last couple of years, deploying 2 systems already with more in the works and in various stages of negotiations. One of our core team members is Felicite Kamashy, a civil engineer who owns an engineering firm in Kinshasa that has become one of DGrid’s strongest partners. Another of our core team members is John Ulimwengu, a Congolese agricultural specialist and researcher based in Washington, DC. We have long recognized the need in DRC for sustainable food and agricultural systems and we’re working to develop our vision of providing empowerment support in cold chain and energy systems to rural smallholder farmers all over the capital region. Felicite and John are the team members who are deeply familiar with the area.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

DRC is a highly diverse place, with dozens of languages spoken regularly around the country. The culture is rich and vibrant, and it’s tragic that these elements have been overshadowed by recent years of conflict and turmoil. The economy is growing quickly but investment has not yet caught up, and many third party external investors are hesitant to enter into a rapidly growing but nonetheless volatile DRC economy.

Energy-wise, DRC has long focused on large scale hydro electric projects, unsurprisingly given the natural resources in this regard. This said, many of these projects have been spectacular failures, and though many of them – some funded by groups like the World Bank – were intended to power industry like mining, energy access remains quite inadequate rurally, and industry remains under-powered.

Most people live rurally, and most of these people rely on agriculture for livelihoods. Their diet is primarily fruit and vegetable based but fisheries are also quite common and their influence and prevalence grows along with the economic development. In particular, dominant crops are tomatoes, cassava, potatoes, aubergines, and onions.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

10000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

15000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current challenges:

Environmentally, global warming plays a large role, as any agriculturally dependent country would face serious challenges with changes in crop cycles, growing seasons, and even the types of crops that are possible to maintain.

In terms of diets, this is a particularly interesting one because as food preferences change, in large part due to increased financial flexibility, the food systems need to change. As Congolese eat more and more fish, cold storage becomes ever more important, and cold chain is enormously impacted by this issue.

Economically speaking, it cuts both ways – people are more able to afford services related to energy and cold storage as their income increases, but at the same time, the shifting preferences for food happens faster than infrastructure is able to be developed. This lag creates a gap in cold chain and energy provision now, even if it may eventually lead toward more investment.

Technologically speaking, energy and cold chain are the two biggest needs for the food system – and this relates not just to the themes mentioned above, but also to policy, because energy and cold storage systems are often a point of investment for governments. This is because they are fundamentally infrastructure investments and governments have always recognized the benefit of infrastructure in economic development. But with low revenue collection, high corruption (historically), and a lot of administrative inefficiency, there are significant policy measures that would help in improving these outcomes.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our system is to improve the cold chain, little by little – and our way of doing that is to create holistic centers for agricultural development with cold chain technologies, clean energy for productive agricultural use, and community agricultural education. The Food Hub consists of: 1) solar  photovoltaic energy, 2) battery storage, 3) water provisioning, 4) combined fish and crop production, 5) food preparation/processing, 6) waste management, 7) marketing and distribution, and 7) training, operations, and maintenance. The holistic approach behind the proposed generally aims for several outcomes: i) Fostering Climate-Resilient and Sustainable Food Supply; ii) Promoting Healthy Diets and Nutrition for All; iii) Building Inclusive and Efficient Markets, Trade Systems, and Food Industry; iv) Transforming Agricultural and Rural Economies; and v) Strengthening Institutions and Governance.

In order to significantly improve African households wellbeing, there are 3 main strategic objectives: i) increasing the productive capacity of poor rural people; ii) increasing their benefits from market participation; iii) strengthening the environmental sustainability and climate resilience of their economic activities. To achieve these targets, rural smallholder farmers must benefit from rapidly expanding demand in domestic and global markets. By triggering home grown agricultural value chains, the proposed concept intends to connect rural farmers to emerging value chains driven by urbanization and rising incomes in urban areas as well as in small rural towns. Which will create significant market and income opportunities for rural smallholder farmers.

The use of aquaponics and hydroponics have some direct benefits for rural farmers as nutrients discarded from fish waste is used to grow vegetables in lieu of traditional farming techniques. In other words, higher yield is expected with fewer inputs and in smaller spaces. Moreover, growing plants in nutrient filled water without soil is more effective because the nutrients are dissolved directly in the water and absorbed by the roots. This process means that there is no negative impact of insects, weeds, pests and soil-borne diseases.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The overall project goals include:

•           Train Youth entrepreneurs as next generation food producers;

•           Spinoff new profitable businesses and create new jobs in each component of the Food Hub; and

•           Continuously assess to determine changes in energy, water and food security for sustainable community development

Expected outcomes include:

A.         Increased fish and crop yields;

B.         Reduced post-harvest losses;

C.         Stronger linkage to the market  through effective alignment of production with demand for defined time periods;

D.         Promotion of climate smart farming;

E.         Improved access to water and sanitation

F.         Improved food safety and health

G.        Increased income through year-round production and better market connection;

H.         Reduce food waste due to spoilage;

I.          Employment growth;

J.         Access to clean and renewable energy;

As such, we believe that our beneficiaries and the broader community will have better agricultural and cold chain systems, a more capable and empowered youth workforce in the context of agriculture, and a more stable food delivery system. We expect to see a dramatic reduction in the level of food waste, which is as high as 40% of edible crops – and we expect that our project will serve as a model and a catalyst for further change.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision is that our target area is full of Urban (and peri-urban, and even rural) Food Hubs by 2050. We think that our solution, which addresses all of the themes and is holistically designed for exactly this purpose, is a highly scalable and replicable model for service delivery.

It incorporates clean energy and thus reduces carbon, while making food systems more stable in the face of a changing climate, it addresses the changing dietary needs of populations while also doubling down on the kinds of staples that assure food availability in tough times or during protracted conflicts. Because food hubs are stand-alone, for example, they can maintain themselves during times of trouble much better than larger interconnected systems (this is true for both the food / cold storage elements and the energy elements – the benefits of distributed systems are well-acknowledged.

It addresses these issues efficiently and incorporates a solid sense of the changing economic circumstances of the population; it also addresses needs in energy and cold chain as cheaply as possible. DRC is known for having a poor grid, with less than 10% of rural inhabitants having access to clean, modern energy. There is no feasible way forward for extending the national grid to all of these remote locations because this would cost a fortune and still fail to serve everyone. The only way to do this economically speaking is to have holistic and distributed centers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that financing isn’t a challenge still. It is. The question of how a broader system such as this is rolled out is a complicated one; our vision is for a blended finance tool that would use a combination of grants and government funding, bonds and other investment instruments, and private capital. Governments already have funding and programs for rural agricultural development, and DRC will not cease to be a recipient of ODA anytime soon; this is one way to continue to fund development projects such as these. Another way is for interested groups to issue bonds – such as green bonds or diaspora bonds, that could allow for a slightly lower-than-commercial return in the interest of meeting social, environmental, or developmental goals. There is also a way to monetize these food hubs – increased productivity, decreased waste, and the ability to commercialize through market development, policy work, and community educational programming, will provide returns, and so as the model is proven in terms of viability, capital investment will become a potential factor.

Our vision is that all of this work is done in concert with local communities – our team believes strongly in human centered design as a principle. Moreover, 2 of the team leaders for executing this project are Congolese and as such have a tremendous level of local expertise and cultural understanding.

Food hubs can be the model for food delivery – they combine education with agricultural development, they combine cold storage with clean energy, and most importantly, they’re capable of functioning as stand-alone entities or (better) as a web of interconnected centers, a network that provides stability in production, processing, storage, and even transportation. They also fit magnificently within the broader scheme of reduced carbonization, economic and social development, and diversification of income generation activities. This is because the hubs will spur not just the industries contained within their properties or walls, but will also spur the creation of supporting industries in the areas around them. In other words, they’ll promote job creation and strengthen local economies, which is central to virtually every economic strategy on earth.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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