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Installation of solar array powering a cold room dedicated to smallholder's crops at Lingfield Farm in Gweru

6. Zimbabwe: Walk-in Cooler for Smallholder Farmer Cooperatives

6.1. History and Results

In November of 2019 Winrock International released their Market Needs, KAP and Technology Assessment for Zimbabwe, focusing on providing solar powered cold rooms to smallholder vegetable farmers organized into cooperatives. The study provided some useful grounding in the local situation. However, but there was a general absence of real-world commercial understanding coupled with faulty, unrealistic analysis (e.g. payback models based on a installed cost of $10,000 USD while the real world cost is in the $50,000 to $60,000 USD range). As in Mozambique and Malawi, they did their research, analysis and strategizing before securing an in-country partner. This and the other Winrock studies led the GreenTech Project Manager, to generalize that NGOs like Winrock lacked a real world understanding of  business, especially doing business in Africa.

In July of 2020, one of the potential in-country partners identified by Winrock, Zonful Energy, was approached. In August a formal agreement was signed. Zonful had a compelling vision of commercializing cold-rooms into the smallholder farming community by developing an app connecting farmers with off-takers, eliminating “middleman” aggregators. Concomitantly, SunDanzer had what they thought was an innovative model of building containerized cold rooms entirely in-country. Unfortunately, the GreenTech Project Manager experienced Zonful as unable to mobilize local partner companies to collaborate on building a cold room from a used container. He also came to realize that the app that Zonful touted was “vaporware” and consisted of a few User Interface mock-ups. Consequently, the agreement terminated based on non-performance.

The Project Manager then concluded that projects that required the engagement and coordination of several local entities in a short time frame was likely beyond the capability of most African companies and organizations. The concept of being able to build containerized cold-rooms in-country was too complex. This led to simpler technological approach of building solar powered cold-rooms based on commercially available, off-the-shelf cold rooms that could be “flat packed” and shipped. GreenTech's experience implementing solar powered cold rooms have been compiled in the report: Lessons Learned Implementing Solar Powered Cold Rooms for Smallholder Agriculture in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

In April, 2021 Tafireyi Chamboko, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Department of Agricultural Business Development and Economics, University of Zimbabwe was retained to facilitate finding a partner and moving the project ahead. Mr. Chamboko was the primary consultant and facilitator of Winrock's preliminary work. By May, the groundwork was laid to provide two cold rooms to an IFAD SIRP (Smallholder Irrigation Revitalization Program) project in the Gweru area. This was a team effort led by Odrek Mukokera SIRP National Project Coordinator and William Zirebwa, Country Director of TechnoServe, who were training and providing access-to-market to the smallholder cooperatives in the area. The IFAD Project Manager arrived in-country in June to further facilitate the project, including meeting with Bulawayo cold room manufacturer Ref-Air, pan African solar distributor African Energy, Harare-based solar installer Solar Shack, the Insukamini farmer cooperative and off-taker Lingfield Farm. After the visit, both projects languished for the remainder of the year.

In December, the Managing Director of Lingfield Farm reported that he now the funds for building the electrical room and completing the pack shed where the cold room was to be located. A formal agreement was signed between SunDanzer, TechnoServe and Lingfield Farm. Construction began in January 2022. Ref-Air and Solar Shack were commissioned to design and install the solar powered cold room and weekly team meetings began. By the end of April, the cold room was built and operating, just in time to start storing the snow and snap peas harvest from the smallholders (for which otherwise there was no cold storage). This message was sent by Mr. Zirebwa to the team: “Hope you are all great. 10 tons of peas worth $20k have already been exported. The cold room is making a significant difference.” He also reported that the smallholders were able increase their income threefold on the average with the quality improving (fewer rejections) and post-harvest losses decreased by 50%. In November, the IFAD Project Manager returned to Zimbabwe to tour the cold room and the TechnoServe small holder farmer training/access-to-market project that utilizes it.

Conversely, the pack shed to be built by SIRP team by November 2021 kept getting delayed due to protracted government procurement a lack of leadership and initiative. In mid-March 2022, with permission from IFAD, GreenTech withdrew its support from the Insukamini project and redirected the funds to the bulk milk cooling project at the Rwimbogo Dairy Cooperative. The pack shed was finally constructed in December 2022 and a solar powered cold room installed in March 2023 with reallocated funds from the SIRP program. It leveraged the design, specifications and suppliers of the Gweru facility.

6.2. Current Status

The next crop of peas was planted in February and March 2023 and harvesting will begin again in May. Similar results are expected. In the interim, Lingfield Farm has been utilizing the cold room to store harvests of fresh flowers before they are air shipped to Europe. TechnoServe and GreenTech will be preparing a Case Study to be published in May 2023.

Related Resources

Zimbabwe Market Needs, KAP and Technology Assessment Report

In Zimbabwe, GreenTech’s goal is to specify and commercialize a solar cold room for use by smallholder vegetable farmers. GreenTech seeks to cooperate with IFAD’s 2016-2023 Smallholder Irrigation Revitalization Project (SIRP), which aims to revitalize 5,000 ha of existing smallholder irrigation schemes in four provinces. This report fulfills Activities 1 and 2 of Component 1, and Activity 4 of Component 2, in SunDanzer’s GreenTech contract with IFAD.

The Global LEAP Off-Grid Cold Chain Challenge (OGCCC) was launched in August 2018 as part of
the Ideas to Impact programme to fill information gaps about one component of the off-grid cold
chain (cold storage) with the hopes of contributing to a larger discourse addressing off-grid cold
chains designed to support smallholder farmers. The OGCCC aimed to identify and reward the most
appropriate technologies for off-grid cold storage, and by promoting the technologies and their
associated business models, stimulate appropriate support from donors, investors and government.

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