Installing solar-powered refrigerators in developing countries is an effective way to reduce hunger and slow climate change

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(SPEECH) Food loss and waste are major problems around the world. When food is thrown away or allowed to spoil, it makes the economy less productive and people go hungry.

It also harms the Earth’s climate by producing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Food losses and waste account for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter, ahead of India and behind only China and the US.

Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted every year. The world’s population is expected to increase from the current 8 billion to 10 billion by 2050. Many people in food will demand that nations increase agricultural production by more than 70% and reduce food loss and waste.

Extending food cold chains to the world’s least developed countries can have devastating effects. But it also raises concerns that contributing to climate change is not avoided.

Existing refrigeration systems use hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are potent greenhouse gases. Producing electricity with fossil fuels to power these systems also worsens climate change. Therefore, exporting traditional cold chains to developing countries is not environmentally and socially sustainable.

Instead, developing countries need cold chains that run on renewable energy and use alternative refrigerants that have a lower climate impact. As a scholar focused on sustainable development, green growth and climate change, I believe that expanding cold chains in the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, will not only benefit the environment, but also provide important social benefits, such as empowering women.

Spoilage and pollution

To understand why cold chains are so important, think about how food travels from the farm to your table. First, it is collected and sent to the wholesaler. It can then go directly to retail stores or a food processing company for cooking, freezing or canning. Each phase can last from a few hours to a day. If not kept at a safe temperature, food can spoil or become contaminated with bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

In 2021, more than 700 million people were hungry worldwide: 425 million in Asia, 278 million in Africa and 57 million in the Caribbean and Latin America. Many countries in these regions have minimal cold storage capacity to prevent food from spoiling before consumption.

Seafood, meat, milk and vegetables all depend on cold food chains. Especially developing countries of the world lose 23% of perishable products before reaching the markets.

Losses of cereal crops, which also benefit from cold storage, are equally staggering. For example, Ethiopia loses a third of its stored maize after five weeks due to lack of proper storage. In 2019, India’s Ministry of Food Processing Industries estimated that the country lost or wasted 56 million tonnes of food, worth around $10 trillion, mainly due to a lack of cold storage.

Improper post-harvest management can lead to crop contamination and pest infestation. In Uganda, where most maize is grown by small farmers who lack adequate drying and storage facilities, contamination with fungi that produce a dangerous substance called aflatoxin has been a major concern for human and animal health.

Social benefits of cold storage

Almost 150 countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This measure, negotiated in 2016, is driving change in the cooling energy sector, requiring nations to phase out the use of HFCs.

The global cold chain market is currently valued at $160 billion and is expected to reach $585 billion by 2026. Solar-powered cold storage is a niche market today, but it’s poised for growth.

In addition to reducing food loss and waste, increasing incomes, reducing land degradation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable cold storage offers significant benefits to women, who produce 60-80% of crops and are responsible for post-harvest activities in developing countries. most of the time

Research on climate finance shows that women may bear a disproportionate burden of poverty because they have less access than men to goods and financial resources in many countries. However, as women play key roles in agriculture and food supply management, they are willing to participate in the food cold chain business in remote and rural areas if the international community provides financial and technical support, thereby improving their economic status and livelihoods.

Pilot projects show promise

I see sub-Saharan Africa as an ideal candidate for establishing cold food chains for several reasons. First, most food loss and waste occurs during the harvest and post-harvest stages. Installing permanent cold chain systems at these stages can greatly reduce losses initially.

Second, food cold chains are lacking in much of the region. Investing here offers the opportunity to bypass conventional systems and move directly to sustainable designs.

In my opinion, a bottom-up approach starting from the farm level is the most viable strategy. Notably, Ugandan dairy farmers are organized into cooperatives that have invested in cold chain storage. This made them much more resilient to trade disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic than other sectors, such as fish and vegetables, which suffered huge losses when producers were unable to get their produce to markets.

Nigeria has the highest annual food loss and waste rate in Africa: 415 pounds (190 kilograms) per capita. In northern Nigeria, a six-month pilot project that installed solar-powered cold storage in seven small fruit and vegetable markets maintained commodity quality and enabled markets to charge higher prices.

These systems generated net profits of about $8,000 per market per year. Even at an annual interest rate of 7%, such a system could recoup its $40,000 capital cost within a decade.

Access to electricity is as low as 55% in some parts of Nigeria, with most electricity coming from gas and oil. Cold storage with renewable energy offers a cleaner alternative.

Other experiments have produced similar results in northwestern Kenya and the Wakatobi Islands in Indonesia, where 78% of the population rely on fish as a staple food. Solar-powered cold storage helped these communities save money and reduce waste.

To promote climate-efficient cooling, including air conditioning and refrigeration, the United Nations Environment Program has organized a Global Cool Coalition, which brings together cities, countries, businesses and international organizations. I see this partnership as a way to move forward in both sustainable development and climate change. I believe that investing in renewable energy cold chains will help stimulate green growth, protect nature and feed the world’s hungry people.

This article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: 195143 .

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