Rwanda has launched the African Centre of Excellence of Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) to be hosted by the University of Rwanda.
In collaboration with the University of Birmingham, UK and the UN Environmental Programme’s United for Efficiency (UNEP U4E), the Centre brings together multi-disciplinary UK and in-country expertise with commercial partners to develop and demonstrate ways of delivering affordable lowest carbon emissions cooling and cold chain systems. This, while meeting Africa’s social and economic needs.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, Cranfield University, Heriot Watt University and London South Bank University are applying their expertise with rural cooling and cold-chain backed by funding from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
ACES will help to move farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently, reduce food waste, help to boost profits and create jobs. It will also improve cold-chains for vaccines and health, now recognised globally as a key challenge for COVID-19 immunisation.
Associated Living Labs will conduct research and offer technical assistance, demonstrations and knowledge transfer. The first Living Lab is anticipated in rural Rwanda, with others to follow in additional countries.
Rwanda minister of Environment Dr Mujawamariya Jeanne d’Arc: “The Rwanda Cooling Initiative with UNEP U4E has assisted the development of National Cooling Strategy in 2019 and it is now providing the foundation for ACES, which will bring together talent from across Africa to develop and deploy world-class cooling solutions.”
Cold chain system logistics must be sustainable for long term benefits
The project’s first cooling need and gap assessment report is almost complete after in-country interviews with representatives from agricultural co-operatives and communities across Rwanda, as well as key government ministries, private companies and NGOs. Analysing energy consumption and sources, food and value losses, facilities and equipment, refrigerants and cold chain demand will guide the design of ACES.
University of Rwanda acting vice chancellor Dr Papias Musafiri: “We are delighted to announce that the university has designed part of Rubirizi campus as the site for ACES. The layout of the site is under development. The location is ideally situated in the capital of Kigali, with existing facilities and space for demonstration of new technologies and future expansion. We also established an inter-disciplinary cohort of experts from across the university’s colleges to underpin the development of ACES’ cooling solutions.”
Rwanda is one of Africa’s least urbanised countries with 73% of the workforce employed in agriculture. In Sub Saharan Africa, 54% of workers rely on the agricultural sector. A further challenge is that agriculture in Rwanda is dominated by 6 million small and marginal farmers who each rely on less than 0.6 hectares of land on average.
Project co-developer and technical lead, professor of cold economy at the University of Birmingham, Toby Peters: “Farmers need robust means of getting perishable produce to urban markets and medical staff must move temperature-sensitive vaccines to rural communities, but cold chain logistics must be sustainable. The Centre’s progress means we move closer to this goal in Rwanda and the wider continent without using fossil fuels – giving Africa the means to feed millions of citizens effectively and meet export targets to drive growth.”
Intensifying food supply is no longer effective to meet Africa’s growing food insecurity
The project supports the Rwandan National Agricultural Export Development Board’s five-year strategy to double agricultural exports by 2024/5 and significantly increase exports of aqua-culture, beef and other temperature-sensitive products.
At the same time the world will contribute to not only support the efficient and equitable delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines but also to designing solutions which will contribute to long-term cold-chain and energy resilience with a lasting legacy.
Around 40% of Rwandans live below the poverty threshold ($1.90 a day), with women, the disabled, widowed and rural population disproportionately affected. According to the World Bank, food loss represents 12% of annual GDP, 21% of total land and contributes 16% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Traders with access to cooling facilities can access higher-value markets worth up to 10 times the local market prices.
Rwanda’s population is estimated to nearly double by 2050. In a world where climate change has a negative impact on food cycles, simply intensifying food production alone is not a viable solution to respond to the growing food demand. Mitigating food loss however, is key to food security.