Life-saving high-tech platform to halt food waste in Nigerian slums

The new station in Lagos saves fresh fruit and vegetables from being wasted in the harsh climate of Africa’s most populous city In a growing urban centre such as Lagos, food waste is a…

Life-saving high-tech platform to halt food waste in Nigerian slums

The new station in Lagos saves fresh fruit and vegetables from being wasted in the harsh climate of Africa’s most populous city

In a growing urban centre such as Lagos, food waste is a real problem. In a slum district on the edge of the city, the residents of Olaiya market use bags containing ripe tomatoes and banana leaves, waiting hours to find a spot at a communal cooling centre for their produce.

But the arrival of a new cold room in Olaiya is starting to change that. The Alpha cold station, which was completed earlier this year, runs from the markets to the city’s train station, and provides cold storage for fresh fruit and vegetables.

The new facility was set up by Blinc Foundation, a non-profit organisation focused on renewable energy solutions, alongside the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Lagos.

The project is being run in partnership with the London-based food charity Hardware Projects. Anthony Hobbs, managing director of Blinc, says the clean and green container is saving fruit and vegetables from being spoiled by the heat of the markets, while cutting energy costs associated with operating larger structures.

“We are running two such cold rooms in Lagos, currently serving 40 farmers. The Alpha cold room in Olaiya opened in May and is fully operational. An expanding network of cold rooms, established in partnership with public, private and community organisations across Lagos, is now providing aid to nearly 600 community food producers,” he said.

A cold room in Olaiya district, Lagos, Nigeria. Photograph: Jon Martin/Blinc Foundation

The Alpha facility will be supplemented by another in Epe district, which will also offer training and financial support to local growers. It is expected to start operating in the new year.

An unemployed father of three, Emmanuel Onwugbenu, 50, said the cold room would help traders save money. “Right now most of the buyers of the products are coming to the stalls and it takes a long time to catch up. Every morning we come and queue from four in the morning until we see a fridge at 7.30pm or 8pm.”

Like most Lagos residents, Onwugbenu’s income depends on his ability to sell fresh food. “Over the years I have been losing so much to weather that I took a loan and bought a dryhouse,” he said.

The use of facilities such as cold rooms is relatively new to much of Lagos. While the local government has created sufficient space in the city for new cold rooms, and this will be part of the work of the newly appointed director of urban development, there is growing resistance to the idea.

“The building of cold rooms in Lagos city is dangerous because there are ongoing conversations about the locations of those cold rooms,” said Mojeed Mustapha, co-founder of Hardware Projects. “The heat that the cold rooms generate is a daily threat to the water supply in Lagos and the safety of workers and residents that interact with the cold rooms.”

Mustapha says the pilot season for the Epe cold room has been successful, with plans for 10 more to open in the district in the next few years. He says the aim is to make the cold rooms more sustainable and sustainable. “We have prioritised delivering cold storage for food growers. That is where we stand – to empower growers to grow and deliver food, to keep it fresh and at home for Nigerians.”

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The adoption of cold rooms by farmers, and the appreciation of these innovations by younger people like Onwugbenu, is beginning to make a difference, he says. “Onwugbenu sees us as an institution, and thanks to us, he was able to train himself as a repairer of coolers.”

In May, Blinc Foundation opened its third facility in Nigeria, this time in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. This project is designed to help farmers, who are often farmers from remote areas, trade locally, and is expected to start operations in the next couple of months.

Blinc says that in every temperature and rainfall zone, more people rely on food that is stored in the cold rooms than on local storage facilities, both as storage and food preservation.

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