Cooling Services for Stable Income and Food Security

Innovative cooling-as-a-service for farmers secures increased incomes, and reduces food loss in rural Kenya

Up to 50 percent of all food is lost after harvest, long before it reaches the market. Not only do farmers lose income, but long term post-harvest loss also threatens food security for the world’s population. A small Kenyan company has set out to change this.

The global community has set itself the goal of achieving global food security by 2030, through international initiatives like “Water and Energy for Food” and  “OneWorld–No Hunger”. Zero Hunger is the objective that ranks second on the list of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), directly behind “Zero Poverty”. But after two decades of great progress in the fight against hunger, the World Food Program rang the alarm bell in 2021. About a quarter of all countries in the world, 47 to be exact, are expected to miss the Zero Hunger target by the end of this decade. Most of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, where, with very few exceptions, no country can currently provide enough to eat for its population.

Violent conflicts and social inequalities are at the heart of food crises. But climate change is also a hunger driver, and this will only get worse in the coming years. In addition to this concerning fact, around a third of all food produced worldwide is lost immediately after harvest, with even higher figures in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, up to 50 percent of harvests are lost on the way from the field to the market because they are not processed in time or stored properly.

However, there are companies looking to reduce this food loss. Like in Kenya, where the innovative enterprise SokoFresh is working towards stopping the cycle of post-harvest loss, the growing poverty of food producers, and food insecurity.

Food losses are income losses

The issue isn’t only food waste,” shares Sokofresh COO Arpana Philip, who relocated to Kenya five years ago from India, “in addition to the tons of waste generated by decaying food, producers are losing money that could have been gained by selling their produce. It is critical to address the problem of post-harvest loss in order to achieve food security.”

Founded in 2019, the idea of SokoFresh is quite simple: if fruit and vegetables in remote areas rot shortly after harvesting due to a lack of local refrigeration, there are two options. The first one is to get the yields faster to cold storage. This, however, is impossible for smallholder farmers, especially because Kenya’s big cold storage facilities are meant for the demands of commercial agriculture, and for large agricultural enterprises.

These bigger cold storage units are in close proximity to ports and airports so that items can be exported as soon as they are produced. Smallholder farmers who only pick just a few kilos of avocado or bananas from their fields at a time, find storage to be not only expensive but also inaccessible due to the distance between farm and cold storage.

The second alternative is that refrigeration comes to the produce. The SokoFresh team has designed its operations around this concept. Smallholder farmers in Kenya produce 90 percent of the food grown in the country. As they continue to succeed, a cold storage unit would be installed locally at farmgate, which would be advantageous to many smallholder farms.

Cold-room containers like this one can be used locally by smallholder farmers

The venture uses solar energy to power the cold storage units which are mobile. For the real rural placement of units, it is crucial that the units are powered off grid, due to an unreliable grid.  Although diesel generators would be the alternative – those do run out of fuel, are not climate-friendly, and supply proves to be tricky in remote areas. If more cooling capacity is required, another container can be quickly and easily installed next to it.

SokoFresh’s full service: From the field to the wholesaler

Just maintaining refrigerated containers is not enough for SokoFresh. “We’re providing the farmer with a full service,” says Arpana Philip. “Our business is in that combination of cold storage and market linkage.” What the smallholder farmers need more than anything else is market access – in other words, the opportunity to sell their products as well. But hardly any smallholder farmers produce sufficient yields for the wholesalers, who tend to buy between three and five tons of fruit or vegetables for resale. This is where SokoFresh steps in. “We harvest from the farmers and[…]once we have aggregated enough volume within the cold storage, we put it on a bigger truck and take it to our buyers.” The farmers are paid directly at harvest. Even though refrigerating the harvests costs money -SokoFresh charges two Kenyan shillings per kilo per day – the smallholder farmers earn about 20 percent more through SokoFresh than if they had to trade and sell on their own.

The system works great, but it will take a while before SokoFresh breaks even. “Three years,” estimates Arpana Philip. By this time, they hope to have signed up around 50,000 farmers instead of the current 1,000. The new enterprise is supported through advice and technical expertise from the Water and Energy for Food Program, a joint international initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Union (EU), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Netherlands, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The program promotes the scaling and dissemination of innovative solutions for the use of climate-friendly, energy-efficient and water-saving technologies and innovations. With this support, the area of operation of SokoFresh is to be expanded in the near future beyond Muranga in the north of Nairobi to the areas around Makueni, Meru and Embu.

Watch the video to learn more about innovator SokoFresh!

WE4F Contact Person: 


 Kilian Blumenthal, Advisor in the WE4F East Africa Hub based in Nairobi, Kenya


Kilian holds a B.Sc. in Environmental Engineering of the HAW Hamburg and a M.Sc. in Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics and Subtropics of the University of Hohenheim. His academic research focused on Solar Water Pumping Systems in Bolivia and the Potential Use of Solar Energy in the Maize Value Chain in Benin. He has done numerous trainings on the SPIS Toolbox and gained experience during longer stays in South America and Sub Saharan Africa.