Heriot-Watt joins Rwandan project to support farmers and rural communities



A new centre in Rwanda for sustainable cooling and cold chain will help get farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently – reducing food waste, boosting profits and creating jobs.

The new centre, which is operational and already conducting feasibility studies, will link the country’s farmers, logistics providers and agri-food businesses with a range of experts and investors. In future phases, the scope will be expanded to cover interested partners across Africa.

Rwanda’s Cooling Initiative (RCOOL), supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) through its United for Efficiency (U4E) programme, provides the foundation for the new Centre, which is part of the country’s National Cooling Strategy, launched in 2019. 

Professor Phil Greening from Heriot-Watt’s Centre for Sustainable Road Freight and Professor Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham and a senior research fellow at Heriot-Watt, have joined RCOOL to apply their expertise in rural cooling for food and medicines.

The centre will build upon their DEFRA-funded work in India with non-profit, commercial and academic partners investigating cold chain opportunities.

Professor Etienne Ntagwirumugara, the director of theThe African Centre of Excellence in Energy for Sustainable Development, said: ‘‘The African Centre of Excellence in Energy for Sustainable Development is delighted to be part of this important work on sustainable cold chain for food and medicines – energy-efficient, climate-friendly, and affordable cooling and cold chains can improve agricultural efficiency and boost farmers’ incomes, driving real environmental and economic change.”

Lord Goldsmith, UK Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment, said:"Sustainable cooling can improve our food security, reduce food waste, protect vital vaccines, and reduce emissions of climate-damaging refrigerant gases.

“The UK is a pioneer of innovative, climate friendly cooling solutions and we look forward to working with others to advance this important work.”

Farmers often lack effective ways to manage the distribution of produce after harvest and get it to market. Ineffective delivery systems limit farmers’ ability to sell goods beyond a local area. For example, tomatoes are widely produced and consumed in Rwanda, but because of their high perishability and short shelf life, 25% of the production is lost post-harvest. This is due to lack of temperature management, as tomatoes are stored on the ground instead of in modern, cooled stores, and transported in poor quality containers.

Professor Toby Peters said: “Farmers need robust means of getting perishable produce to urban markets. But we must ensure that cold chain logistics are sustainable. We need local and global “field-to-fork” connectivity to nutritiously feed 10 billion people from hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, all without using fossil fuels.”

Professor Phil Greening said: “Most post-harvest losses occur close to the farm gate, where facilities to process perishable produce are lacking, because farmers can’t afford to invest and lack financial expertise and technical knowledge. 

“However, these processes are energy-intensive, often relying on fossil fuel-based power generation and use refrigerants with a high climate impact. The centre will help Rwanda’s policymakers shape a sustainable cold-chain blueprint for the country and the continent.”

RCOOL will be a boost for Rwanda, where farming accounts for some 30% of national GDP and 73% of the workforce is directly employed in agriculture.

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.

Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said: “Efficient, affordable cooling is an important element in efforts to curb climate change.

“The new Centre of Excellence in Rwanda will be a boon for sustainable cold chains that are essential to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic. As we seek to build back better, sustainable cooling can help deliver vaccines, ensure food supply, and reboot the economy by generating employment and investment opportunities.