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 Small scale 50 liter fridge, powered by a solar home system, deployed at a Rwimbogo Dairy Cooperative farm

3. Rwanda: Fridges for the Smallholder Dairy Sector

3.1. History and Results

This project began in the summer of 2018 with a Market Assessment and Strategy conducted by Consultant Jim Airola. The study pointed to an opportunity using solar powered farm milk coolers to monetize “evening milk” that was not being collected and sold by local cooperatives. The recommended strategy was to partner with BBOXX, a top-tier supplier of Solar Home Systems (SHSs) in Rwanda. Initial promising discussions did not result in an agreement and the initiative languished.

 In late 2019, Clean Energy Technologies (CET) was approached as a potential in-country partner. In April 2020 a formal distribution agreement was signed. In May and June of 2020, the GreenTech Project Manager and CET spent four weeks on the ground investigating the market. After a few initial sales to stores that wanted to carry fresh milk and extensive time in the field talking to farmers and cooperatives, they discovered the proposed strategy was not based on true market conditions. The “evening milk” market was very limited due afternoon collections in many places and extensive self-consumption. A new, multi-faceted, “community-based”   strategy was developed by realizing that fridge sales were driven geographically and not only by use case. That is, not only did other store owners see the fridges in neighboring stores and desire to purchase one, but the entire community saw possibilities. CET witnessed an organic “clustering” that transpired. For example, in Kageyo Sector, after a couple of sales to village shops:

  • A purchasing fishing co-op saw the fridge as a means to reduce post-harvest losses and gain some leverage with fish traders

  • A local co-op expressed interest in 500 liter solar powered bulk milk coolers for milk collection and the MCC for the dry season when the low volume collected did not justify running their diesel generator and 2500 liter bulk milk cooler

  • Prosperous local farmers (more than 25 cows) purchased 50 liter milk coolers for both evening milk and domestic purposes

  • An entrepreneur purchased two milk coolers for a shop/restaurant he opened

  • A veterinarian expressed interest in a 50 liter fridge for storing animal vaccines and medicines on-site (instead of a grid-powered fridge kilometers away)


As of November 2021, 27 systems were sold with progress being impeded by COVID lockdowns and restrictions. In addition, CET had to build a PAYG-based (Pay-As-You-Go) Last Mile Distribution (LMD) operation to be able to sell and support the products (different from their project-based business). Based on weak demand from the Dairy sector, sales were opened up to include Artisanal Fishing and other Productive Use applications such as women selling animal vaccines.

From September 2021 to May 2022, 22 of the installations and use cases were remotely monitored and researched by Energy Saving Trust and CLASP, on behalf of the Low Energy Inclusive Appliances program, a flagship initiative of the Efficiency for Access Coalition. This was a collaboration between SunDanzer, CET and a Nairobi-based CLASP team, resulting in the April 2023 publication “Field Testing of Solar Powered Appliances in Off-grid and Weak-grid settings: Refrigerators”.

The Solar+Storage rehabilitation agreement with the Rwimbogo Dairy Cooperative (RDC) included making available up to fifty 50 liter solar powered chest fridges to its members at a heavily discounted price of $500 USD (normally $800 USD subsidized price). At this point, the relationship between CET and RDC was well established and the cooperative was open to the potential benefit of having farmers be able to cool evening milk and utilize the fridge for domestic purposes such as cooling other drinks as well as lighting their homes at night and charging their phones. This initiative was successful and provided insight into how fridges could be practically sold to farmers.

RDC promoted the product and agreed to the collection of payments from individual cooperative members in the form of milk. First, a demonstration system was installed at the coop's Milk Collection Center (MCC) for viewing and members were informed that they had two months to take advantage of the special pricing. Whoever was able to pay an initial down payment of $25 USD was eligible for a payment plan of $25 USD per month. Members signed a delivery note and entered into an agreement with the Cooperative. CET then installed the fridges. RDC is now deducting the fridge payment from their milk payment to the farmers, aggregating the payments and making a single payment to CET. CET was able also to deliver fridges and store them at the MCC in bulk. This arrangement enabled the deep discount that made the fridges more affordable to farmers.

In total 40 fridges were sold to famers during the sale price period. Each fridge is powered by a Zimpertec Litio SHS containing a 25 Ah lithium battery and two 120-watt solar panels, 4 LED lights and an adapter cable to charge phones.

The sale of the 50 liter fridges as well as the rehabilitation of a Solar+Storage system at the MCC and installation of two 500 liter bulk milk coolers are covered in depth in the Case Study: Implementation of a Solar Powered Cold Chain at a Rwandan Dairy Cooperative. Broader information is contained in the report entitled “Lessons learned from Piloting Solar Refrigeration in the Rwandan Dairy Sector.”

3.2. Current Status

As of March, 2023, all 55 165 liter fridges have been sold as well as 60 of the 78 50 liter fridges. CET continues to sell the remainder of the 50 liter fridges, but has only been marginally effective as a Last Mile Distributor. As a small African company oriented toward project work, they have operated leanly and shown a commitment to their customers. However, they have failed to be able to adopt most proven Last Mile best practices and processes (such as credit evaluation, resulting in an increasing rate of non-payment). In addition, they have been unable to meet commitments related to GreenTech such as a national training/education program for the Dairy Sector, exhibiting weak operational and financial management. The GreenTech Project Manager is still attempting to obtain customer data as to use cases, location, demographics, etc.

Related Resources

Under the auspices of the IFAD Green Technologies to Facilitate Development of Value Chains for Perishable Crops and Animal Products grant, SunDanzer Refrigeration and its in-country Clean Energy Technologies have been deploying 50 liter and 165 liter solar powered DC fridges into the Dairy section since May of 2020 using a Pay-As-You-Go business model. There currently does not exist, in our assessment, a significant nor sustainable market for solar powered refrigeration in the Dairy Sector of Rwanda. As efforts broaden to other sectors such as Fisheries, we will be better able to assess whether a broader viable market exists at this time.

Case Study: Implementation of a Solar Powered Cold Chain in a Rwandan Dairy Cooperative: The pilot project at Rwimbogo Dairy Cooperative, Gatsibo District, Eastern Province of Rwanda

In the months of May through July 2022, Rwimbogo Dairy Cooperative (RDC), Clean Energy Technologies (CET) and SunDanzer Refrigeration (SDZ), funded by the IFAD grant Green Technologies to Facilitate Development of Value Chains for Perishable Crops and Animal Products (GreenTech), partnered to conceive and implement Rwanda’s first cooperative-wide solar powered cold chain.

Erroneous conclusion from this report: Rwanda presents an ideal setting for the rollout of the FMC to build capacity among smallholder dairy farms. Each of these households could potentially benefit from the transformative nature of refrigeration and the benefit in monetary terms is expected, based on our analysis, to exceed the full cost of providing the unit.

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