Reducing post-harvest food losses in sub-Saharan Africa 

To strengthen the cold chain for fruit and vegetables in sub-Saharan Africa, sustainable measures and the use of precooling are recommended in a review article. 

According to FAO and IIR estimates, more than 38% of food losses occur at production, postharvest handling and processing levels in the sub-Saharan African region. Improving the cold chain could save over 475 million tons of food that could theoretically feed 950 million inhabitants per year.[1, 2] A review article published in Horticulturae addresses the need for adopting and strengthening measures for the precooling and cold storage of fruits and vegetables in sub-Saharan Africa.[2]


As a first stage in the cold chain, the authors recommend precooling, which is the first cooling of food products, just after harvest. If products are left at ambient temperatures, they deteriorate rapidly. If they are put directly into a storage cold room, their temperature will drop too slowly to avoid deterioration.[3] Precooling has been defined as “the removal of field heat from freshly harvested perishable produce in order to slow down metabolism and lower deterioration prior to transport or storage”.[3, 4] 


The authors also highlight the fact that where feasible, the use of off-grid electricity, zero or renewable energy, and natural refrigerants should be highly encouraged.[2] The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that sub-Saharan Africa’s renewable power capacity will almost double between 2022 and 2027. Five countries – South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Angola and Kenya – account for over 60% of all renewable capacity additions. Solar PV and wind make up most of the capacity growth in the region.[5] Therefore, using off-grid and cost-effective green energy sources, such as solar-powered cold storage technologies, could be a suitable way forward in expanding cold chain availability in sub-Saharan Africa.[2] For example, in Nigeria, the social enterprise “ColdHubs” has been operating walk-in, modular, solar-powered cold rooms since 2016. These units can extend the shelf life of fresh produce from 2 to 21 days, as well as provide employment opportunities for women (two women per ColdHub unit being required). It has been reported that in two years of operation, about 5800 tonnes of fruits and vegetables have been saved from spoilage, and over 300 farmers and traders have almost doubled their monthly income.[2] 


In their recommendations, Makule et al. also pointed out the importance of training operators and processing staff to safely operate and maintain cold chain equipment to avoid unnecessary food and energy losses.[2] Other stakeholders should also be trained on in their fields of activity, such as smallholder farmers, transport companies, traders/distributors, processors, end-consumers, policy makers, financial institutions and researchers.[2] 


For more information, the review article is available on FRIDOC, thanks to an agreement with MDPI.  



Did you know? The IIR is currently coordinating a working group of global experts in charge of producing a good best practice guide on the Design and Operation of Walk-in Cold Rooms for agriculture in Hot Climates, commissioned by the World Bank. The future guide will update the IIR’s Manual of Refrigerated Storage in the Warmer Developing Countries (first published in 1990), which is available on FRIDOC




[1] IIR. The Role of Refrigeration in Worldwide Nutrition—6th Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food. International Institute of Refrigeration. 2020.

[2] Makule E, Dimoso N, Tassou SA. Precooling and Cold Storage Methods for Fruits and Vegetables in Sub-Saharan Africa—A Review. Horticulturae. 2022; 8(9):776. 

[3] IIF/IIR. Manual of Refrigerated Storage in the Warmer Developing Countries. 1990.  

[4] Elansari, A. M., Fenton, D. L., & Callahan, C. W. (2019). Precooling. In Postharvest technology of perishable horticultural commodities (pp. 161-207). Woodhead Publishing. 

[5] IEA (2022), Renewables 2022, IEA, Paris, License: CC BY 4.0