Bringing Affordable Cold Storage to Honduras with the CoolBot
Smallholder farmers in the United States face some of the same constraints as smallholder farmers in developing countries. For example, refrigeration units can be prohibitively expensive, preventing farmers and aggregators from accessing cold storage that would prevent crop spoilage.
When Ron Khosla, a farmer in upstate New York, found that he could not afford a walk-in cooler to prevent his produce from spoiling, he decided to develop a solution himself. Through trial and error, he invented a small electrical device he named the CoolBot that attaches to a standard window air conditioner and lowers and controls the temperature of the air conditioner, tricking it into getting as cold as one degree Celsius, and turning a well-insulated room into a cold room for less than it costs to buy a refrigeration unit. The CoolBot extended shelf life, maintained quality, and reduced rejection rates for horticultural crops. Khosla started a small company, Store It Cold, and began to sell the CoolBot to other farmers in 2007.
Of course, farmers all over the world are faced with lack of access to cold storage. Worldwide, 50 percent of fruits and vegetables—the most nutrient-dense foods—are lost postharvest. The CoolBot is a basic technology that has been sold to small-scale farmers in the US for years, and its success looks to be replicated in other countries by aggregators that source from smallholder farmers.
To tap into these underserved markets, Store It Cold is partnering with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to commercialize the CoolBot in Honduras—the first time outside the US. To establish a local presence and learn about the market first hand, Store It Cold recently opened a San Pedro Sula-based office, the first international office aimed at commercializing the CoolBot exclusively in smallholder value chains. San Pedro Sula is home to many of the country’s aggregators and exporters, who have access to electricity and source from smallholder farmers. A typical refrigeration unit in Honduras can cost as much as $30,000, which is too expensive for most associations and cooperatives that buy directly from smallholders, but the CoolBot will cost ten time less than this, providing for the first time a refrigeration option that will benefit thousands of smallholder farmers. With cold storage making it possible to wait to sell until prices are favorable, farmers benefit from higher prices and incomes.
In addition, the Feed the Future Horticulture Innovation Lab has been testing CoolBots in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India, and Honduras, and has been working to develop a solar-powered unit and local manufacturing options, further tailoring the product to global markets.
When Store It Cold’s partnership with Partnering for Innovation wraps up in 2018, as many as 9,000 Honduran smallholder farmers will have benefited from increased availability of affordable cold storage, and the technology’s potential to benefit smallholders around the world will be clear.
Watch Jane Ambuko talk about the wonders of the CoolBot here: TEDxNairobi speech.