Nigeria’s solar-powered perishable food stores help the poor

Image copyright Dave Jones Image caption Britain is home to the largest coldstorage system in the world, the National Cold Storage Complex in Herne Hill Nigeria is the world’s largest importer of perishable food,…

Nigeria's solar-powered perishable food stores help the poor

Image copyright Dave Jones Image caption Britain is home to the largest coldstorage system in the world, the National Cold Storage Complex in Herne Hill

Nigeria is the world’s largest importer of perishable food, but its cold storage facilities can only hold 1.6% of the country’s arable land space.

That has led to some of the world’s poorest people being forced to rely on costly forage grown by their own communities as well as imports.

The government is looking to change that, thanks to a system that can keep frozen produce cool for months, even in extreme conditions like the Sahara desert.

Developed by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it works by placing four giant solar energy panels on the roof of a supermarket – a side effect of the Jamaican Select supermarket in the country’s capital, Abuja.

Image copyright Dave Jones Image caption These stores were the first in Africa to receive the technology

Each store is fitted with four ice chests, which contain two filters of gelatine that melt the ice from within, and which are then put into water channels to cool and form artificial snow.

One season, the National Airborne Farming Industries Limited store in Abuja will be stocked with 1,800 tonnes of freeze-dried foods, and IRENA hopes that by 2021, it will reach full capacity.

The programme’s success in producing a renewable energy resource at a cost that can’t be passed on to Nigeria’s poorest people has spurred it on in other African countries.

It is now spreading to South Africa and Kenya, where IRENA aims to set up 120 more units and expand the technology to other countries.

Areas that are particularly important to agriculture such as the north-east of Nigeria are projected to need more than 25% more storage by 2040.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development sees the programme as key to combating Nigeria’s current dependence on imports.

Stocks of perishable food often go bad and spoilt because they have been held outdoors in the scorching sun.

“We are trying to sustainably manage our food product-supply chain by reducing the dependency on imports,” according to Babatunde Oyewole, the organisation’s deputy director for projects.

Dave Jones travelled to Nigeria as part of the IRENA 1 Million African Lives project

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