Growing up in a rural village in Kenya, Dysmus Kisilu witnessed the many problems facing the farmers in his community. Lacking access to electricity and proper storage facilities, small-scale farmers in Machakos were incurring post-harvest losses of 40-60%. As a result, Kisilu saw how middlemen would come to the village and offer expensive prices for produce like tomatoes, avocadoes, mangos that would go bad after a few days. Farmers were thus suffering economically as well as contributing to environmental issues.
Studying post-harvest losses at UC Davis
However, when Kisilu earned a fellowship opportunity at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), he learned that the university was coming up with solutions for the same issues that Kenyan farmers were dealing with. At the on-campus institute dedicated to researching post-harvest issues, Kisilu saw that produce could increase its shelf life through techniques such as adding a wax to slow down the ripening process, solar drying, and cold storage.
Kisilu thought that the latter option would be a viable solution for the farmers in his community. Yet, in some rural areas, farmers often do not have easy or affordable access to electricity to power the cold storage units. As such, using solar energy to power the refrigerators is a smart alternative that can work in off-grid areas.
Solar Freeze is born to help Kenyan farmers
With his educational experience in California behind him, Kisilu formed his enterprise, Solar Freeze, in 2016. Solar Freeze provides solar-powered cold storage to small scale farmers, who only pay Kshs. 10-30 per crate. The company has since employed 10 people and has become KCIC’s newest client.
“We see joining KCIC as something that has huge potential in helping us structure our business well,” Kisilu says. “We are excited for the support we will get in regards to finance, organizational structure, and connections to relevant partners.”
Solar Freeze confronts food waste and climate change
Food waste is both a climate change and economical issue. For the former, Kisilu states that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally.
“When farmers incur significant losses,” he explains, “they end up cutting down more trees to make room for more land to plant extra crops as a compensation.”
Food waste also entails immense water waste- which spells trouble for places like Kenya that contain many arid and semi-arid regions.
Solar Freeze is thus helping to confront these problems. They are also mitigating further greenhouse gas emissions through utilizing solar power in their products.
Community empowerment through solar-powered cold storage
In addition to boosting farmers’ incomes and creating employment, Solar Freeze has even created a youth empowerment program. Called Each One Teach One, the program trains young people from ages 18-29 about renewable energy. They have already trained 50 youth about how to work with the cold storage equipment as well as solar irrigation and water pumps. The trainees learn about the technology in terms of mechanical and electrical issues, which allows them to repair the machinery when it malfunctions. The students then go on to teach others the same skills.
“Although there is a lot of interest in solar energy and renewables, actual skill transfer is quite low,” Kisilu explains. “The technology is usually handed down fully assembled, and it is therefore hard to find someone to fix it when it breaks down. By training youth in this skill, the solar energy systems will last longer because local people will be able to repair it. Furthermore, jobs are created for the youth, which will empower them further.”
Solar Freeze is looking forward to expanding their impact with the help of KCIC.
As Kisulu proclaims, “We want to see Solar Freeze grow not just in Kenya but in larger East African context.”