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Cold-Chain Technology to Help Small Farmers

Post-harvest losses, produce quality, and shelf life have long been chronic problems for smallholder farmers in warm climates. Post-harvest losses in perishable crops such as tomatoes and green beans can reach 50–70 percent of what is harvested. But recently the Feed the Future Egypt Rural Agribusiness Strengthening Project, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded activity implemented by Abt Global, introduced low-cost, cold chain technology in Upper Egypt and the Delta. It has the potential to reduce post-harvest losses, maintain produce quality, extend shelf life, create jobs, and increase smallholder farmers’ incomes.

The technology, CoolBot, “converts any off-the-shelf, window-type, air-conditioning unit into a turbo-charged refrigeration machine, saving installation and repair costs and reducing electricity consumption,” said Atef Elansari, the Project’s Postharvest Lead. “It is also installed quickly in just one day and represents a sustainable low-cost solution to help us overcome several food safety and hygiene issues.”

CoolBot gives smallholder farmers and processors a relatively inexpensive option to build a cold room for transporting or storing fresh or chilled food products between the farm or packhouse and the market. Farmers can maintain fresh produce quality and extend produce shelf life, thus increasing the final price they receive. The CoolBot is expected to minimize post-harvest losses by 25–40 percent, decrease production costs by 30 percent, and increase smallholder farmer incomes by up to 40 percent. The technology also has less of an environmental impact than conventional cooling systems. Large-scale refrigeration systems use a lot of energy, but the CoolBot offers producer organizations and micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises a cooling solution that requires less energy and is scaled to their specific needs.

To ensure the sustainability of this new technology, the Project partnered with AlexForm, a leading manufacturer of refrigeration units, to commercialize CoolBots within Egypt. AlexForm purchased 10 CoolBot units and worked with the Project team to prepare a plan for promoting the use of CoolBots, including establishing demonstrations in different locations targeting appropriate crops.

The first demonstration was at the Orient Group, a manufacturing and trading company based in Borg Al-Arab, Alexandria, that purchases and exports fresh produce across a number of value chains. The Orient Group launched a successful trial of the technology with two CoolBot devices provided by AlexForm—lowering the temperature of a 36 square meter room filled with 25 pallets of dates (totaling 20,000 tons) from 28° celsius to 6° celsius in just six hours. Since its trial in November 2020, the Orient Group’s CoolBot-cooled room has been operating efficiently—maintaining the desired temperature with low electricity consumption. “Five months after installation, the results are great,” said Ahmed Seada, Operations Manager at Orient Group. “It is a small investment that makes everyone happy and maintains the quality of the produce.” 

Next, AlexForm is moving the CoolBot demonstration to Luxor, where the Project and Egyptian healthy foods company Senawy will demonstrate post-harvest handling technologies appropriate for mangos, including the CoolBot and solar dryers. The Project is using private sector engagement and partnerships as a strategy to ensure sustainable distribution and uptake of these and other technologies.

The Feed the Future Egypt Rural Agribusiness Strengthening Project develops the horticulture industry’s ability to better understand and respond to market signals and helps smallholder farmers in Upper Egypt and the Delta grow high-quality, lower water-consumption crops that meet international and local market demand. Under the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future helps Egyptian farmers and food processors establish connections to domestic and international high-end markets, gain access to finance, and increase their adherence to food safety practices.

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