Nnaemeka Chidiebere Ikegwuonu, a former master’s student from Nigeria is CEO of ColdHubs, which rents solar-powered cold storage to food producers. He wins 2022 Roy Awards.

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‘ColdHubs’ Enterprise Wins Harvard’s Roy Award for Environmental Partnership

Climate-Friendly Cold Storage Reduces Food Waste and Improves Incomes for Thousands of Nigerian Farmers

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The Environment and Natural Resources Program at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs announced today that ColdHubs Limited is the winner of the 2022 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership. The company—born out of a partnership between the Smallholders Foundation (of Nigeria), the Institute for Air Handling and Refrigeration (ILK Dresden), and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)—uses solar-powered walk-in cold rooms to reduce post-harvest losses for smallholder farmers across rural Nigeria.

The prestigious Roy Family Award is presented every two years to celebrate an outstanding cross-sector partnership project that enhances environmental quality through novel and creative approaches. This year’s winning project pioneered a highly replicable cooling solution to reduce food waste and associated greenhouse gas emissions in Nigeria, while also increasing economic opportunity and food security for smallholder farmers.

In Nigeria, infrastructure issues such as lack of electrification and cold storage along the food supply chain, combined with the country’s hot climate, mean an alarming 40% of food produced every year is lost before ever reaching consumers. According to the World Bank, this food loss equates to 31% of Nigeria’s total land use and 5% of its greenhouse gas emissions. In a country where agriculture employs two-thirds of its labor force, many smallholder farmers in rural areas must race to sell their fresh produce in the morning before it spoils in the midday heat, or else are forced to rely on costly, polluting diesel-powered refrigeration—resulting in slashed profits either way.

ColdHubs provides energy-efficient, solar-powered walk-in cold storage rooms to fill Nigeria’s cold supply chain gaps. Using catalytic funding provided by GIZ, ILK Dresden led the technical research and prototype design while the Smallholders Foundation brought its regional expertise, market access, and technical know-how to the collaborative effort. Farmers pay a flat daily fee per crate of perishable produce stored in the cold room, extending the freshness of fruits and vegetables from 2 to 21 days.

In 2021, ColdHubs’ 54 operational units saved 52,700 tons of produce from spoilage, making more safe, nutritious food available for consumption by Nigerians. By reducing post-harvest loss, ColdHubs also doubled the average household income of the 5,250 smallholder farmers, retailers, and wholesalers it serves, from USD $60 to $120 per month. With the option to store food safely for longer, farmers are able to negotiate better prices for a higher quality product, leading to additional revenue gains.

“ColdHubs provides a technical solution and a self-sustaining business model that could be replicated in different countries and regions to uplift many more thousands of farmers,” said Henry Lee, Director of the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program, which coordinates the Roy Award. “Our committee of reviewers was especially impressed with how the partnership successfully transitioned from nonprofit collaboration to a commercial venture while maintaining its original mission.”

Food waste is not a problem unique to Nigeria: the United Nations estimates that 25-30% of all food produced worldwide is never eaten and generates approximately 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. Over the next two years, ColdHubs will seek to expand its cold storage footprint in Nigeria by commissioning 50 additional cold rooms, while simultaneously exploring opportunities to partner with local investors in Rwanda, Kenya, Senegal, and Benin.

ColdHubs was selected from a pool of high-potential projects from around the world that are striving to address tough environmental problems ranging from reducing human and environmental exposure to hazardous chemicals to decarbonizing the global shipping industry. A committee of both Harvard and outside experts evaluated the nominees against the following criteria: innovation, effectiveness, significance, and transferability.

The award will be presented to the partners during a celebration hosted at Harvard Kennedy School later this year.

About the Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership

The Roy family has been a longtime supporter of the development of cross-sector partnerships to meet social and environmental goals. The Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership provides positive incentives for governments, companies, and organizations worldwide to push the boundaries of creativity and take risks that result in significant changes that benefit the environment.

This year marks the tenth time that the Harvard Kennedy School has bestowed the award. The 2020 award recognized Clean Water for Carolina Kids for protecting children from exposure to lead in water at daycares and schools. The Advancing Green Infrastructure program won in 2018 for implementing a green infrastructure plan that reduces pollution and urban flooding while creating jobs and building climate and social resilience in the City of New Haven.