Currently, nearly half of Tanzania’s tomatoes go bad before they even reach markets. Why? A lack of adequate produce storage conditions. It’s not just tomatoes in Tanzania that are going to waste, either–almost a third of all produce grown in Africa also goes bad before it can even reach the consumer (according to the African Postharvest Losses Information System). Millions of households in Africa financially depend on the agribusiness of small farmers to get by, and now most are falling back into severe poverty as post-harvest remains inefficient. With many developing countries and their growing populations, Africa and its governments have struggled with food and policy issues pertaining to produce loss and overall development for a long time.
Some nations in Africa have already been tackling this issue with a technological solution: solar powered cold storage. While these facilities have not quite reached sub-Saharan African regions yet, they have emerged in Nigeria and are a promising solution to postharvest conflicts across the continent. Currently, the main obstacles to implementing solar powered cold storage facilities on a large scale are limited access to the knowledge about this technology–most farmers are completely unaware that this is even an option–as well as the high cost to both invest in and maintain these facilities. In addition, customers in Africa generally tend to prefer non-refrigerated produce for freshness purposes, so farmers have been accommodating their wishes to maintain customer satisfaction and good business. Policymakers are currently looking into developing ways to incentivize sustainable cold storage and increase affordability by making payments more flexible in an effort to boost awareness and interest in small farmers to adapting improved technology that would save them their harvests and make them more money in the long run.
Not only is storage the issue with post harvest produce conditions in Tanzania–many tomatoes also tend to get damaged in the shipping and handling process (they are typically transported long distance via motorbike to their markets). As far as storage goes, these small farmers tend to leave their tomatoes out in the open under shade directly after harvest (when they don’t have preorders), waiting for customers to come by and purchase them. Here, the tomatoes are often sprayed with chemicals to slow down the ripening process before buyers get to them, or they go bad in the rain, which then bumps the spoiling rate to over half of all tomatoes lost.
Interestingly, almost three fourths of households in rural Tanzania already use solar powered appliances despite high costs still being a challenge. However, upfront costs of entire solar powered cold storage facilities (40 feet in size) can cost the equivalent of 20,000 US dollars just to implement, which is not at all feasible for most small farmers in Tanzania. The market for these facilities remains relatively stagnant in Africa due to a lack of foreign investment from developed countries, which would inevitably help bridge the gap for farmers and their economic barriers in adapting these facilities. Solar powered cold storage is a clean and green energy solution that not only benefits tomatoes and Tanzanians but the environment, too.
Written by Carole Wilay (’25)