Low-cost innovation to keep the crops cool in Kenya
Something as simple as coal or wet bricks may become the key to fight one of the main issues that affects agriculture in Kenya: The lack of refrigeration systems, something that causes the loss of a third of the crops.
Over 30% of the crops (around 1,300 million tons of food) goes to waste because they cannot be preserved. According to the latest data from FAO, farmers have to pay for part of the losses and have no resources to fight this problem.
The Kenyan scientist Jane Ambuko, together with her Agriculture students at the University of Nairobi, focuses all her efforts on finding new techniques that improve food safety in her country by creating refrigeration systems that work with no power, which is almost non-existent in rural areas.
Ambuko proudly shows a small chamber built solely with sand and bricks that stay constantly wet. Simple and cost-effective but tremendously effective: inside, the food is kept at 14 degrees, while outside the temperature reaches 25 ºC.
Just a few meters away, another experiment: a room whose walls are covered with coal. By just keeping the coal wet, inside temperatures go down and the cold chamber effect can be achieved.
Both refrigeration systems allow the perfect preservation of vegetables for up to eight days, while inside the correct packaging, with a special bag, can be kept for up to three weeks.
In areas like Makueni, 200 km away from Nairobi, where most of the population work on mango crops, Ambuko is implementing her experiments.
“Están esperando todo el año para poder vender su cosecha. Pero al no tener sistemas de refrigeración o conservación en frío, más del 50% de los mangos se pierden o se venden a un precio muy bajo. Hay que solucionar eso”, asevera.
“They’re waiting for a year to be able to sell their crops. But since they don’t have refrigeration systems, over 50% of the mangoes go to waste and the selling price falls really low. We need to solve this problem”, she states.
Chotukool: refrigeration systems through frugal innovation
Chotukool is an innovative system that tries to solve the food preservation issue in India, a country where around a third of the food goes to waste, and where it is estimated that 80% of the families do not have access to a refrigerator or do not use it.
Chotukool is the creation of Gopalan Sunderraman, Executive VP of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing, with global headquarters in Mumbai (India). He is also the driver of disruptive innovation within his company. Not content with the traditional way of doing things and inspired by the work of Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen about disruptive innovation, he is trying to develop a new business model to meet a pressing social need.
“Instead of trying to constantly improve the performance to become more competitive, the idea is to create a platform that basically meets the needs of consumers”, explained Mr. Sunderraman, with the goal of creating an attractive and cost-efficient solution for food preservation for people who have never used a refrigerator. Chotukool offers a mobile, low-cost, low-consumption refrigeration solution that is ideal to be used in remote low-income communities with little access to electric power.
It is a 45-liter plastic container that allows food refrigeration at temperatures between 8 to 10 degrees through a 12-volt battery. It does not have the compression technology traditionally used in home refrigerators to incorporate a thermal-electric refrigeration system. It can be open from the top to ensure a minimum loss of cold air when opening the container.
Chotukool is improving the quality of life of rural homes in India. Apart from being a low-cost food preserving solution, it is also enabling new possibilities of income. “Small shops and kiosks are using Chotukool, so now they can sell cold drinks and chocolates. This improves their ability to make a living”, said Mr. Sunderraman.
Created in collaboration with the community, Chotukool has been designed to meet user-specific needs. “We wanted to give people something they could use to meet their daily needs. This is what we call the just right philosophy. This approach is not only relevant for India, but it is also valid for the whole world which is the potential market for this product,” Mr. Sunderraman explained.
As the technology continues to improve – Mr. Sunderraman predicts that the next version of Chotukool will bring cooling temperatures down to between 2 to 8 degrees – it will be possible to store vaccines and other medicines.
“My experience in developing Chotukool has taught me that it is not just the technology or the product, and it’s not just about the design, it’s about blending with the business model and reaching out to customers”, he said. “By combining these elements we are actually multiplying the potential of the market in a very big way,” he added.