High losses incurred by horticulture farmers are set to reduce thanks to a new cost effective technology for cooling and storing produce.
The technology, dubbed Zero-energy Cool Chamber (ZECC), is seen as a timely boost to horticulture farmers who have been losing up to 40 per cent of their produce through post-harvest handling.
According to a recent joint assessment of the University of Rwanda (UR), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and National Agriculture Exports Development Board (NAEB), the losses stem from poor agricultural practices and the lack of appropriate materials for handling fruits and vegetables.
“Zero-energy cool chamber is the one solution that can tackle postharvest losses as it…can increase the shelf-life and retain the quality of horticultural produce,” said Dr Christine Mukantwali, a Senior Research Fellow in Post-harvest and nutrition Programme at RAB.
With temperatures ranging between 13 and 18oC, and humidity levels of about 95 per cent, she said, the cool chamber keeps fruits and vegetables safe. Outdoor temperatures usually range between 20-28o C, which drains the water from fruits and vegetables within in a few days.
Constructed through basic technology using bricks, sand and wood, the system does not require electricity to operate, which makes it cost effective for farmers.
Most of the post-harvest losses incurred during handling, transportation, sorting, packaging and storage among other stages.
Keeping produce safe
Vegetables and fruits stored in ZECC can spend up to three months with their freshness, Mukantwali said.
The study, she added, revealed that commodities stored under such temperatures exhibited varying shelf-lives with leafy vegetables such as cabbages lasing between three to 10 days.
Vegetables such as tomatoes and green chilli can last for five to 12 days while roots and tubers, like Irish and sweet potatoes, can last for 92 days. Fruits such as mangoes can stay safe for 10 days in the cold chamber, while orange can last between 50 and 60 days.
While the technology is new in Rwanda, in the East African region it has been used in Tanzania where experts in post-harvest handling have credited it with profits.
“Before, we would take our vegetable produce to Nyanza market where we would sell it at a giveaway price because it is perishable,” said Christine Nibagwire, a farmer and President of Dufatanye Nyanza cooperative, which grows vegetables in Busasamana Sector, Nyanza District.
She added that: “We have realised that the technique is affordable, and can save us from losses through safe storage of our produce,” she told The New Times.
The facility costs about Rwf53,100, all expenses inclusive.