Mobile, sustainable cold storage brings higher incomes within reach of smallholder farmers. Ecozen’s Ecofrost Mini is supported by smart tech and affordable finance.
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Every day, lack of cold storage saps the incomes of millions of India’s smallholder farmers. Without cooling, their produce attracts a lower price from buyers – if it can be sold at all. Many farmers have little hope of selling to customers in big cities.
For years, sustainable cooling pioneers Ecozen have empowered farmers with their EcoFrost portable low carbon cold rooms, and supporting services. The units can be solar powered, and use sustainable energy storage technology to reduce reliance on batteries and diesel generators.
Now, through Ashden’s Fair Cooling Fund, Ecozen has developed and launched the EcoFrost Mini. This smaller is unit tailored to the needs of marginalised farmers – those growing relatively little, with fragile incomes as a result. The EcoFrost Mini is less than half the price of its larger cousin, putting it within reach of many more users.
One of the new units’ first users explains its impact: “We were facing a lot of challenges to sell fresh vegetables at market and thus we were not getting good price. But the solar cold room from Ecofrost changed our lives. We started earning good money now.
“Commodities like tomatoes can be stored for 10 to 15 days, our losses reduced by 20%, and there is an increase in income of at least 30%. There is no electricity cost and units are maintenance free.”
More than 100 people are already benefiting the EcoFrost Mini, with plans for a full launch of the product in 2022.
Like Ecozen’s existing products, the units can be bought or leased by one or many farmers – allowing communities to come together to create access to cooling. One key benefit of access to cold chain is the increased flexibility it gives farmers. They can sell to a wider range of buyers, or wait for a peak in prices to offload what they have grown.
Another early user said: “The Ecofrost unit helped me and my farmers to store loose flowers like Jasmine Mogra fresh for a longer duration – at least two days, instead of six to eight hours. We are very happy to sell flowers both in morning and evening time at the market nearby, which was not possible earlier. The solar cold room also helped us to reduce losses by 15%.”
Ecozen offers servicing and support for farmers, helped by the fact that the internet-connected units can be monitored remotely – allowing technicians to check performance and prevent breakdowns and problems.
Other technical innovation includes artificial intelligence changes the temperature and humidity inside the unit, based on what is being stored. And battery-less energy storage technology gives backup of up to 18 hours in case of cloudy weather or grid disruptions.
There is an urgent need to improve livelihoods in rural India. Life for hundreds of millions of the country’s smallholder farmers is financially precarious. A 2018 study by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development [India] showed that 52.5% of all the agricultural households were indebted, with an average debt of $1,470. In 2020, coronavirus caused the country’s economy to contract by 24% – putting more farmers at risk.
As well as new technology, smallholder farmers also need affordable finance, new selling opportunities and connection with ‘farm to fork’ cold chains. Ecozen’s work to tackle these problems includes linking smallholder farmers with aggregators, and engaging co-operatives and NGOs as customers.
Ecozen’s experience with its larger cold rooms proves that when farmers know they have a reliable buyer for their produce, they feel confident investing in the growth of their business.
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