Farmers in Africa and Asia could sell more of the food they grow by carting it round in solar-powered cooling trucks.
A third of the world’s food – 1.3 billion tonnes a year – gets binned before it gets to the table.
In hotter, poorer countries, without easy access to electricity, 50 to 70 per cent of farm-grown food goes to waste. But a freshly funded £770,000 project at Brunel University London cound drive down that amount dramatically.
The minute it is plucked from the field, Britain’s fruit and veg goes into a process called pre-cooling and is transported cold to the shops, so it stays fresher longer. But in poorer parts of the world, such as Africa, India and South America, these slick ‘cold chain’ technologies are non-existent.
“We aim to make these technologies accessible to people in rural areas, with no or limited electricity,” said Professor Savvas Tassou, director of Brunel’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains.
Prof Tassou’s Sol-Tech team is developing mini temperature-controlled fridges that can be pulled along by tractors or small trucks, powered by cheap detachable photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The panels fit together like Lego and fold out like wings from the vehicles’ sides and roofs, and when parked can extend out to make a sheltered canopy.
But poor rural farmers need to be able to afford them. So the next stage of the project after testing the technology is to hatch business plans so people can make or assemble the units locally, then hire them out at farmer-friendly costs.
The aim is to give communities without electricity cheap renewable electrical power and help farmers keep fresh fruit and veg cool, so it lasts longer, they can sell it at a higher price and need to throw less away. That way, farmers can earn more money for themselves, their families and communities, waste less of what they grow and cause less harm to the environment.
The project is funded by UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund Innovation and Commercialisation Programme ‘to fast track promising research findings into real-world solutions’.
“For us, the priority is more income for farmers,” added Prof Tassou. “This also helps create more employment for women, because they do most of the farming. The project will contribute to equal opportunities and gender equality, and increase incomes to enable women to afford to provide better nutrition, health and education for their children.”