Africa ClimAccelerator Start-Up Spotlight: Ecotutu

It is estimated that food spoilage in sub-Saharan African countries accounts for one-third of the crops grown by farmers. In Nigeria, food spoilage accounts for almost half the input of small-scale farmers, mostly attributed to cold storage systems being inaccessible. This fuels food insecurity, a major contributor to climate change.

Only a small majority of farmers in sub-Saharan African countries can afford to buy and install cold storage systems. Refrigeration is both expensive and inaccessible for millions of African farmers who live in rural areas and have a per capital income of less than $ 2 per day. In some African countries, the spoilage rates for fruits and vegetables stand as high as 50 per cent, contributing to a total food loss of $ 4 billion in Africa annually according to the UN Environment Program.

Ecotutu Co-Founder and Growth Lead Babajide Oluwase wants to improve the lives of farmers by enabling them to store their produce for longer periods of time.

“When farmers can store their produce for longer, it reduces waste, which is good for their pockets and the environment,” said Oluwase.

Ecotutu is a local Nigerian start-up that has found a way to mitigate the problem of local food waste. It delivers 100 per cent solar-powered cold storage facilities to businesses in rural and urban areas, especially those in the agricultural sector.

Most regions in Nigeria suffer from persistent power blackouts. Ecotutu addresses this problem by seeking to disrupt the entire cooling industry with affordable, solar-powered cold storage facilities that do not rely on a continuous power supply source (use of electricity). This means that farmers and other users can refrigerate their produce, food products or medical items easily and conveniently.

Ecotutu’s phase-cooling technology ensures that its fridges work for up to three days with either minimal sunlight or no power at all. The objective? To sustainably secure the food chain.

“Our solutions help keep food fresh for longer, eliminating the risk of freeze damage to foods and empowering farmers,” said Oluwase.

The start-up’s business model is two-part: Managed services and original design manufacturer. Under the managed services model, Ecotutu provides cold storage facilities solutions to its customers. For instance, if a customer wants to use a fresh produce cold box to transport tomatoes to the market, they can hire it from the company.

Under the original design manufacturer, the firm provides a customer with a design and Ecotutu builds a customised facility based on their specifications.

The firm has taken the high-cost aspect on board and offers customers a flexible and affordable solution. Farmers or businesses can pay a subscription fee of as low as $ 0.50 per day and only when they have produce to store or transport. This eliminates the costly upfront fees for cooling solutions.

In the health sector, Ecotutu’s solar-powered cold storage facilities have enabled uninterrupted end-to-end refrigeration for medical items, while in the retail sector, the company has deployed a platform that creates complete visibility of the cold supply chain.

“We provide a modest temperature monitoring solution with seamless and accurate data acquisition to one central database. We can work with existing cold-chain facilities or use as a standalone tracker. We have also been able to eliminate the time spent interacting with temperature hardware and assisted with reducing risk of potentially hazardous out-of-condition situations,” said Oluwase.

Rising temperatures driven by climate change are expected to cause an increase in refrigeration demand, while rapid population growth in developing countries will increase the demand for food. Ecotutu’s facilities are designed for use in on-farm cooling and storage after harvest to enable farmers store and preserve fresh perishables until they arrive at the end consumers.

The company is planning to expand across markets in Africa and Asia, with the ultimate goal of improving the agricultural supply chain and making low-cost storage facilities accessible to 300,000 farmers by 2024.

Ecotutu was one of 15 start-ups selected to participate in the Africa ClimAccelerator, the first pan-African accelerator focused on scaling the most promising climate-focused innovations. The six-month programme was delivered by partner organisations GrowthAfrica and the Carbon Trust, supported by the Climate-KIC International Foundation and funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH (‘GIZ’) exclusively on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (‘BMZ’).

An original version of this article was published here on 11 April.

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