It is a hot Friday evening at Kithimani and farmers are strategically positioned along the Machakos-Nairobi-Garissa intersection where there is a fresh produce market.
The traders have various produce including tomatoes, green maize, bananas, chili and French beans.
Majority of them belong to Matuu Farmers Self-Help group and have been farming commercially for years, using water from Yatta canal.
They sell their produce to “Go For Green (K) Limited” which exports them to the United Kingdom and Germany.
Given that the farmers deal with highly perishable produce and the area is relatively hot, for years, they suffered heavy post-harvest losses because they lacked cold room storage facilities.
“I get an average of 30 kilogrammes of okra from a quarter of an acre, and 150 kilogrammes of valore from an acre.
“However, almost half used to go to waste due to lack of cold storage systems. But now we are sorted out,” says Phillip Muange, a farmer at Kondo village.
Muange and hundreds of farmers now have access to a cold room storage facility courtesy of a German company. “The heat in this semi-arid area makes our farm produce go bad very fast. Many a time, we have delivered our produce to Go For Green (K) Limited, but it was rejected because it had started rotting. We suffered millions of post-harvest losses in the past,” Muange says.
But the post-harvest losses will be a thing of the past, thanks to Kithimani Solar Cooling plant initiated by Logicool Limited and co-financed by the German government.
Many farmers now have a place to store fresh produce at no extra cost.
Zacharia Mwaka, 62, grows French beans on his 2 acre-piece of land, is one of the cold room users.
He says, before the cold room was set up, farmers would lose 45 per cent of their produce.
The loss would happen due to rotting and during transportation. They now put their produce in crates to avoid breakages.
Charles Kagiri, director at Logicool Limited, says they erected the plant to help farmers cut down on the post harvest losses that eat into their profits.
“Our aim is to reach farmers who are not covered by grid power to make sure we curb massive post-harvest losses the farmers have been experiencing,” Kagiri says.
Kagiri describes the technology as eco-friendly and saves farmers maintenance costs. The batteries that can last for up to eight years store energy for use at night and on cold days.
“This cold room is solar-powered, whereby the photovoltaic panels are customised to generate 48 volts of direct current. There being no power conversion to alternating current, this reduces power loss by 99 per cent.
“During the day, the cold room is powered directly by these photovoltaic panels and at the same time, charging the 8 batteries which have the capacity to hold power for eight hours without the sun.
“This means that during the night we have enough power to run the cold room,” Kagiri explains.
Extend shelf life
The cold room can hold eight tonnes of fresh produce at 80 per cent loading. It has LED lighting which cuts heat emissions, thus maintaining the low temperatures needed to keep produce farm fresh.
The temperature inside are minus degrees centigrade with 90 per cent moisture content which covers most vegetables and fruits therefore extending the shelf life.
Joseph Muuo, a banana and fruit farmer says the cold room is a profit booster as it helps him keep his produce fresh for longer giving him ample time to search for market. With the cold room, farmers are able to increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables by up to 21 days.
“Now that the issue of storage is sorted out, we have time to concentrate on looking for new markets and negotiate for better prices,” says Muuo who grows tissue culture bananas in Kalelini.
The farmers plan to diversify to new crops that have high value now that post-harvest losses have been addressed.