Many farmers in Africa face enormous challenges, such as lack of access to electricity, water, and even roads. They also face the problem of being unable to store their crops, thereby losing the opportunity to sell them at optimal prices, or, worse, losing their harvest altogether. Cold storage solutions can help to extend the shelf life of fresh produce – but these systems often require access to electricity and water, making them too expensive and out-of-reach for poor farmers. What if all farmers in Africa could access solar-powered and accessible cold storage?
Meet BMTA&C, our 2021 TFF Finalist from Morocco. They have created a solar powered, off-the-grid cold storage system that addresses the specific needs and challenges facing African smallholder farmers. Their solar thermal-powered solution works without water and electricity, and their proprietary refrigeration agent does not have negative environmental impacts. They are now working with farmers to help them to store their fresh produce, and have their sights set on providing all parts of the supply chain with a reliable and efficient cooling solution to preserve food quality and prevent food waste.
Off-grid cooling 🌎
An estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of food is lost each year on the farm, according to a new study by the WWF. This is a tragic situation considering the fact that, on our very same planet, we also have some 800 million people facing hunger and food insecurity. In Africa and many other parts of the world, farmers are among the poorest and hungriest people – a cruel irony that demonstrates the inefficiencies and inequities of our food system.
The BMTA&C team saw this challenge and decided to put their engineering skills to use in solving it. The four co-founders met at the EMINES School Of Industrial Management, where, as part of a social entrepreneurship club, they had the chance to visit some farmers to learn firsthand about their day-to-day lives and challenges. In discussing food storage, the team found out that 40% of the Sub-Saharan African population lives without electricity (source: World Bank). These off-the-grid farmers defaulted to using diesel powered generators, which create pollution, are costly to run, and require roads to access fuel.
That’s when BMTA&C knew that building a solar-powered solution was the answer. Recognizing that there are other solar-powered cold-storage solutions on the market, BMTA&C set out to create something that would be better and more effective than the rest. Their solar thermal system is 10% more efficient than others as competitors typically use photovoltaic panels, and they have developed a refrigeration solution that doesn’t require any water or toxic chemicals.
Each of BMTA&C’s cold storage units can hold up to 5 tonnes of produce, which is 264 crates of 25kg of fruits and vegetables. This simple invention can prolong the life of the produce to up to 20 days. If used at full capacity, just one fridge can save up to 314 tonnes of produce – a true game-changer for poor, rural farmers and for preventing food loss and waste across the entire supply chain.
Designed to be off the grid and with easy-use in mind💡
The BMTA&C storage units can function entirely on their own and can be placed far away from amenities like water, electricity, internet or banks. If a farmer has produce to store, they can use a USSD system to check availability and to book a space in a fridge. USSD, or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, works much like SMS. Farmers pay using a pay-and-go system through their mobile network provider.
All of this means the system is moneyless, internet-less and easy to use. Farmers can access the fridge on a daily basis and pay only for the amount of time their produce is stored in it. The team also envisages business models where other companies and retailers pay for the fridge and make it available to farmers.
Farmers win! The technology works to store their crops, they can book the space at short notice, and suddenly they can be in control of when to sell their produce. Adding this flexibility means farmers can plan when to go to the market and they can get better prices for their produce, since they have more bargaining power. This will result in higher income for farmers, less food being wasted, and fewer resources used unnecessarily in the growing of crops.
For the future, BMTA&C is looking at how to add in data analytics for optimized market prices that can also be linked to logistics so that the right produce can reach the right place at the right time. They also see possibilities to work with food companies who want to secure stable supply chains. And, they also want to extend their system’s capabilities to be used for other food products such as meat and eggs, and potentially even medical supplies and equipment.
A local solution for local problems 🎯
Sara, Boutaina, Sofia and Carl are incredibly passionate about what they’re doing. They are driven to make their solar fridge available to people as soon as possible. But, creating something new, that no-one has done before, often comes with its own challenges. Their invention is made of several technical components, and each of these is complex and needs time to be designed, manufactured, and validated. This process has tested not only their scientific skills but also their team spirit. And they have remained just as determined as when they started. They are driven by making a difference and by putting African resources into African solutions.
“We are passionate about the development of Africa based on its own resources. Right now we are working to handle post harvest losses and improve the agricultural situation. But we can work on water access, on energy access, on everything related to African development. We want to create our solutions here because we have natural resources and we have the human potential. ” – Sara, CEO of BMTA&C
The team is now working on their fifth prototype which they will test in the field in Q4 of 2021. They plan to first deploy their fridge in the Ivory Coast where they can work on it with their partner the African Plant Nutrition Institute, APNI.
TFF is working with BMTA&C on their business model, their go-to-market, IP and fundraising strategy, and of course their storytelling. We are also introducing them to relevant contacts and helping them build the roadmap for the next few years.
If you want to find out more about BMTA&C, partner with them or meet the team, please reach out to Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear them pitch at the TFF Summit!
LIVE on October 2nd