Low cost device helps Kenyan farmers reduce waste

University of Nairobi Postharvest Expert Dr Jane Ambuko explaining how the Coolbolt device works last week. [PHOTOS:MAUREEN ODIWUOR/STANDARD]

NAIROBI, KENYA: Smallholder farmers especially those in vegetable and fruit farming face the biggest challenge of maintaining the freshness of their produce until it reaches the market.

Fruits and vegetables are perishable commodities with 50 per cent estimated to be lost due to poor post-harvest handling practices and lack of appropriate technologies.

This is according to a report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition released in June this year, which says most growers in developing countries lack on-farm, cold storage facilities, affecting their produce quality.

To maintain perishable produce quality temperature must be regulated to curb microbial growth, softening and water loss which leads to shriveling.

Maintaining the cold chain from harvest to retail has proved critical in the reduction of post-harvest losses, but smallholder farmers cannot afford conventional cold rooms hence the need for low cost cold storage options.

For this reason, the University of Nairobi in collaboration with USAid has piloted a device called Coolbolt to assist farmers create cold rooms for their produce.

Coolbolt is an electronic gadget that overrides the air-conditioning’s (AC) temperature gauge, tricking it into working harder and hence serving two purposes at the same time by cooling the air below the set point.

This makes it possible for the temperatures to drop to as low as zero degrees without ice building up on the evaporator coils of the AC.

The university’s post-harvest expert, Dr Jane Ambuko, says that the gadget’s installation effectively converts a room fitted with AC into a cold room.

This device is like a thermostat. It has a heater and a sensor so if fitted to an AC, it can lower the temperature down to zero degrees. In normal circumstances, an AC without the cool bolt can only lower room temperature up to 18 degrees Celsius or else ice builds up on the coils,” she says.

She says the Coolbolt device is cheaper than conventional cold rooms because it goes for between Sh63,750 and Sh340,000 while a conventional cold room costs approximately Sh850,000.

“A Coolbolt is simple to install and can be installed even by farmers themselves. It is as effective as conventional cold rooms. Using the device can extend shelf-life of produce thus increasing profits,” Ambuko says.

The device also saves on installation and repair costs and manages the cost of electricity.

The university team has so far piloted the device in Makueni and Homa Bay counties.

“Our challenge with the device is that it becomes difficult to use in rural areas that do not have access to electricity. Although our partners in the US are currently working on a new Coolbolt that uses solar power,” she says.