Transforming food value chains: sustainable cooling solutions for agricultural cold chains


A food value chain is the interlinked stages food passes through, from production to consumption. A well-functioning and sustainable food value chain is essential for nutrition, health and overall wellbeing. Many value chains, especially of perishable products, require cooling to prevent rot and spoilage. However, this requires a reliable energy source to power cold storage. In many developing countries, access to electricity is still a major challenge, causing bottlenecks in the value chain, increasing waste and harming farmers’ incomes. Food losses due to lack of proper cold storage are particularly high in perishable products like fruits, vegetables and dairy.

FAO has been collaborating with SEforAll on identifying sustainable cooling solutions for food cold chains that can take advantage of new business models at small and mid-size level. As part of this collaboration, it recently participated in the ECOWAS-Energy Charter Regional Energy Governance Forum and Training Program. Food cold chains are expected to grow rapidly in the near future, resulting in expanding energy demand. If that demand is met by fossil fuel energy, it will further increase GHG emissions, exacerbating climate change. Therefore, it is necessary to identify alternatives to conventional cold chains, based on renewable energy.

The importance of cold storage in food value chains was for example illustrated in a recent assessment conducted by the FAO in Rwanda looking at opportunities for solar energy technologies across all food value chains. One of the chains analysed was the horticulture value chain. Horticulture products make up around 3.2 percent of domestic GDP and 9.7 percent of agricultural GDP in Rwanda. For example, despite their importance to the economy, large quantities of crops are often lost and it is estimated that 56 percent of the tomatoes produced in Rwanda are lost along the value chain, with the lack of cold storage being a major factor.

These results contributed also to the SEforALL Chilling Prospects 2021, which documented the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global access to cooling risks and profiled different solutions in action in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America. SEforALL’s work on cooling focuses on generating the evidence, partnerships, policy, and business solutions necessary to expand access to sustainable cooling solutions, including through training partnerships.

The ECOWAS training focused on the need to support development of a cold chain for food value chains. FAO in the training illustrated the approach and how to identify where cooling is needed to support more efficient and greener food value chains. Establishing collaborative partnerships is fundamental to understanding cooling needs and sustainable and climate-friendly solutions. FAO is committed to working with global partners to advance the transformative food systems’ innovations required to feed a growing population and address the climate crisis. Renewable energy will play a key role in developing a resilient and greener food sector sector while achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030 commitments.