Nigeria’s cold storage project could help women, says researcher

Sixteen commercial warehouses converted to store food and cold drinks in order to help farmers

For years, food and beverages in Nigeria have been rotting on supermarket shelves and factory floors because refrigeration has not been available to preserve the goods.

But now, one of Africa’s largest cities is trying to ensure more of its residents can enjoy hot drinks in the shade or enjoy fresh food in temperatures that fall below 23C.

It all started with cold supermarket fridges. Existing shelving lacks room for frozen foods, so food manufacturers and distributors need special storage warehouses. But this often proved prohibitively expensive.

Then five years ago, the Nigerian government saw an opportunity to find investors for an industry that it had no experience in and is now set to benefit from. After gathering data on food storage, universities and industry bodies got together to come up with a business plan.

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ColdHubs Nigeria Ltd. received a $250,000 (£205,000) grant from the European Union to establish eight warehouses to store frozen food in an attempt to help farmers to grow and sell the same goods at a higher price.

“The EU has helped a lot. We had to do design and construction … we have not budgeted for future costs,” said Semita Bamgbese, managing director of the cold storage project.

The project is unique in not only being managed by foreign nationals, but also in its temperature-controlled space.

ColdHubs opened its first cold storage in December 2012 and now has 16 commercial warehouses under construction in each of Nigeria’s six southern states.

Nigeria is a the continent’s largest rice importer. Before investors began to come in, rice farmers were forced to make terrible sacrifices for a higher price.

Mazen Binty Baikaly, the managing director of Majeer Resilience Ltd., which runs the eight-million naira ($26,000) cold storage warehouse, said that before this year, rice farmers would harvest and suffer with catastrophic yields due to improper storage and lack of access to cold storage. Now they harvest at “home-like temperatures”, he said.

Cocoa growers have also benefited from cold storage. “When you go to the [foam] and have our coffee beans at home-like temperatures [the way we used to], the moisture [levels] would be gone in one day,” said Olufemi Awoyinfa, a cocoa farmer from Abule Egba area of Lagos.

Amotunde Morakinyo, a joint economics and development lecturer at the University of Ife, said the result of the project had been substantial cost savings for importers in Nigeria, who now keep their goods in the cold network for one-third of what they did before. “Before, importers could not store very large quantities of their products because they couldn’t put large refrigerators with good ventilation,” he said.

More than a third of Nigerians – almost 15 million people – live in extreme poverty and the country imports almost 70% of its food.

Some food that formerly perished during the country’s massive flooding is now stabilising in cold storage. “Cotton has been key to stability because we haven’t had prolonged rains for about two years,” Binty said.

Christopher Imhoof, a food security expert and author of the book A Future of Hunger, said that cold storage logistics were crucial because it has the power to directly affect the lives of poor people – including women.

“[Women are] much more likely to consume food … refrigerated food can bring a lot to families, to their dignity,” Imhoof said.

Temperatures in Nigeria start dropping before dawn at around 9am and end at 10pm, with afternoon heat hitting up to 24C.

Shereette Debrah, a London-based researcher on food and development issues, added: “In Nigeria, the majority of people [are] poor. Food is cheap, so anyone who has an idea to improve the quality of life of people, whether through improving packaging or climate-related food shortages, they’re going to do it.”

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