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The Food Preservation Problem

By Practical Action On 11.12.2023 Food & agricultureBlog

Part 2 of our series of blog posts: A past, present and future Shaped By Ingenuity.

Practical Action’s ethos has remained the same since the days of E.F. Schumacher’s influential book. But our approach and our solutions are continually adapting to the ever-changing world.

Zeer Pots

Keeping food fresh is a huge challenge in hot countries like Sudan. Without refrigeration, crops can begin to spoil within a few days of harvest. In this way, produce and therefore profits are lost.

One of our earliest solutions to the refrigeration challenge was the simple but ingenious zeer pot. A zeer pot is made from one earthenware pot set inside a larger one. The space between them is filled with wet sand. As the moisture evaporates, it creates a significant cooling effect on its surroundings, turning the inner pot into a fridge. This effective technology uses local materials and can hugely extend the life of fresh vegetables, from a few days to a few weeks. A zeer pot can keep 12kg of produce fresh, helping to prevent hunger.

Image: Zeer pots need no electricity to keep food cold.

THEN: Zeer pots need no electricity to keep food cold.

In Malawi, we are solving the refrigeration challenge using solar power. Solar power makes much larger refrigeration units possible. The energy can also be used to power irrigation systems. Farmers can then grow and store much larger harvests. They can demand better prices for their higher quality produce, and move from subsistence to commercial farming.

Victoria manages sales for the farmers: “Part of the reason why our customers buy our produce is because it is high quality, and the shelf life is good. We sell to shops, hotels, restaurants, the larger community, and the number of farmers’ markets we supply within the region is also growing. We’re currently supplying between 100kg to 1,000kg of tomatoes to our customers and we anticipate that the market demand will grow.”

A woman is harvesting tomatoes from a crate.

NOW: Solar-powered refrigeration helps farmers grow their businesses.

Both refrigeration technologies are effective and appropriate for the situations they are used in. But modern solar technology allows farmers to increase the scale of their businesses dramatically.