New sustainability centre in Rwanda supports African farmers

A new African Centre of Excellence for sustainable cooling and cold chain is helping get farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently. Based in Rwanda, it could reduce food waste, boost profits and create jobs. 

The new centre in Kigali is operational and already conducting feasibility studies. It aims to link the country’s farmers, logistics providers and agri-food businesses with a range of experts and investors.

Rwanda’s Cooling Initiative (RCOOL), supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), provides the foundation for the new Centre, which is part of the country’s National Cooling Strategy, launched in 2019, according to a statement.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Heriot Watt University are joining RCOOL to apply their expertise with rural cooling and that can be used for food and medicines. The Centre will build upon their work in India with non-profit, commercial and academic partners investigating cold chain opportunities.

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is funding these efforts. Right Honourable Lord Goldsmith, UK Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment, said: “Sustainable cooling can improve our food security, reduce food waste, protect vital vaccines, and reduce emissions of climate-damaging refrigerant gases. It underpins our mission to promote sustainable development around the world.”

Farmers are often lacking effective ways to manage the distribution of produce after harvest and get it to market. Ineffective delivery systems limit farmers’ ability to sell goods beyond a local area. For example, 25% of the tomato production in Rwanda is lost post-harvest. This is due to lack of temperature management, as tomatoes are stored on the ground covered by canvas instead than modern cooled stores, and transported in poor quality containers.

Project co-developer and technical lead, Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Cold chain itself is about ensuring an integrated, optimised and managed network of temperature-controlled pack houses, pre-cooling operations, vehicles, cold stores, and distribution hubs which seamlessly maintains the safety, quality and quantity of food, delivering it swiftly from farms to consumption centres across geographies.”

“Farmers need robust means of getting perishable produce to urban markets. But we must ensure that cold chain logistics are sustainable. We need local and global “field-to-fork” connectivity to nutritiously feed 10 billion people from hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, all without using fossil fuels.”

Ultimately, with the support of the Centre of Excellence, farmers can benefit from best practices on business models, training facilities, and “Living Labs” where the latest technology is demonstrated and proven with those intended to use it. The Centre will help Rwanda’s policymakers shape a sustainable cold chain blueprint for the country and the continent.

Image credit: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank via Flickr

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