The new Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) has taken a major step forward in Rwanda with a US$3.5 (£2.4 million) million funding boost from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

ACES will help get African farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently – reducing food waste, boosting profits and creating jobs, as well as looking to improve cold-chains for vaccines and health, now recognised globally as a key challenge for COVID-19 immunisation.

The Centre is bringing together energy, technology, finance and policy expertise from the UK and in-country. It offers an opportunity for commercial partners to develop and demonstrate pathways to delivering affordable, lowest carbon emissions cooling and cold-chain systems while meeting Africa’s social and economic cooling needs. It will provide teaching and industrial collaboration to put into action integrated sustainable cooling solutions into action.

The contribution from DEFRA will support the Centre’s design and technology kit-out, the work of the British university partners (Birmingham, Heriot-Watt, Cranfield, London South Bank), the University of Rwanda and its hiring of the first ACES dedicated academics as host of the Centre, and the UN’s Environment Programme’s United for Efficiency (U4E) whose award-winning Rwanda Cooling Initiative with the Rwandan Government provides ACES’ foundation.

‘Living Labs’ will act as the deployment and implementation armsshowcasinghow solutions developed at the ACES hub in Kigali can be applied by communities and offer on-the-ground technical and business assistance as an enabling environment for sustainable cold chain to thrive. The first Living Lab in rural Rwanda is anticipated for launch in 2022. Opportunities for additional Living Labs are being explored with other African governments to scale-up the reach of ACES.

Cranfield will be delivering its expertise in sustainable and resilient food systems with the objective of reducing food loss and waste and maintaining the nutritional quality of food across the supply chain.

Dr Natalia Falagán, Lecturer in Food Science and Technology in the Plant Science Laboratory at Cranfield University and co-designer of this initiative, said: “Improving the cool and cold supply chain in Africa could be a major boost to both the environment and the economy through reduced food loss and waste. We are delighted to be adding Cranfield’s expertise in postharvest management and food science to this vital project.”

Notes for editors

  • The Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) is led by Rwanda’s Ministry of Environment, the University of Rwanda, UNEP’s United for Efficiency initiative, the University of Birmingham, Cranfield University, London South Bank University and Heriot Watt University and DEFRA to support the roll-out of sustainable post-harvest management (PHM) and cold-chain pan-Africa. The Centre aligns with a portfolio of Rwandan and UK policies, and economic growth strategies as well as international commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement, and Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol.
  • UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP’s United for Efficiency (U4E) team leads market transformation projects on cooling, lighting and equipment with over forty developing and emerging economies. It co-leads the award-winning Rwanda Cooling Initiative and ACES.
  • Rwanda is one of the least urbanised countries in Africa with 73% of the workforce employed in agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa, 54% of workers rely on the agricultural sector. A further challenge is that agriculture in Rwanda is dominated by six million small and marginal farmers, each on average farming less than 0.6 hectares of land.
  • The project supports Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board’s (NAEB) five-year strategy to double agricultural exports by 2024-25 and significantly increase exports of aqua-culture, beef and other temperature sensitive products.
  • At the same time the work will contribute to not only supporting the efficient and equitable delivery of COVID-19 vaccination but also design solutions which can contribute to long-term cold-chain and energy resilience with lasting legacy.
  • Around 40 per cent of Rwanda’s population live below the poverty threshold (US$1.90 a day) – with women, disabled, widowed, and rural populations disproportionately affected. According to the World Bank, food losses represents 12% of annual GDP, 21% of total land and contributes 16% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.Traders with access to cooling facilities access higher value markets – worth up to 10 times the local market.
  • Rwanda’s population is estimated to nearly double by 2050. In a world where climate change has a negative impact on food cycles, intensifying food production alone is no longer a viable solution to respond to the emerging food demand mitigating food loss will be key to food security.