In Tanzania, for instance, nearly 40% of all grains are lost due to poor storage, costing the East Africa nation $332 million in revenues every year. In South Africa, despite increased production of food, 13 million people go to bed hungry partly because of inadequate storage facilities.

“Like manufacturing, agriculture needs to be supported by complete functioning systems from production to consumers,” says Calestous Juma, a Harvard professor and author of the book, The New Harvest, about agricultural innovation in Africa. “The solutions lie in building reliable energy, storage, processing, and transportation systems to support agriculture.”

But while there’s need to massively invest and improve the entire food system in Africa, there are small and large-scale technology projects hoping to stop the drain of food waste. The innovations around renewable or alternative energy are also paramount given that access and connection to electricity, especially in rural areas where food is produced, is still a luxury in many African countries.

Last year, the Rockefeller Foundation kick-started the YieldWise program, a seven-year multi-million dollar initiative to strengthen food systems. The foundation will work with governments and companies like Dangote Farms to provide metal silos and hermetically-sealed bags to smallholder farms. In Kenya, the project will promote solar drying and provide cold storage units to preserve crops.

The shift towards preservation is also taking place in rural and desert communities. Back in 2001, Nigerian Mohammed Bah Abba invented a pot-on-pot system that preserved produce for weeks instead of days. The two earthenware pots were fitted into each other, filled with wet sand, and the produce covered with a wet cloth. Bah Abba went on to sell as many as 12,000 pots.

The energy-saving cooling unit.
The energy-saving cooling unit.
Image: Go Energyless

Go Energyless, a Morocco-based social enterprise also developed a natural low-cost cooler that can save food for over 13 days for people in remote areas. Its prototype is made with clay by local potters.

Evaptainers, a project that started in an MIT classroom, has also developed a mobile, electricity-free cooling unit that allows fruits, vegetables, and meat to be stored in one place.

Many of the innovative cooling units available, which could potentially save billions of dollars of food from waste,  are also a reminder of the need to scale innovations with backing from investors in order to have a real impact on Africa’s agriculture ecosystem.

Since its establishment, FreshBox has engaged the services of 10 different vendors in Nairobi, and four different farmers in the neighboring Kiambu County. Mbindyo has also reached out to hundreds of farmers and retailers who say they are willing to purchase his services. “I am hoping to expand our capacity, and to have a number of units across Nairobi to attract more clients,” he said.

These kinds of tech investments, Juma says, is the best way to show communities that not all is lost on agriculture. “The work must start with securing the system in the first place,” he says. “One episode of rotting produce is enough to put off a community from increasing yields for a lifetime.”

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