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The Cold Chain Innovation Landscape in Africa

By Della Asiko

In sub-Saharan Africa, more than a third of food produced is lost to waste or spoilage, challenges that can be reduced using cold storage supply chains. But what exactly is cold chain? Think of it as a system designed for storing and transporting temperature-sensitive products like food, medicines and vaccines at controlled temperatures. The system maintains controlled temperatures, ensuring the preservation of freshness and efficacy through refrigerated storage and distribution from production to consumption.

Cold chains in Africa grapple with severe infrastructure deficits. Only about 25% of roads are paved, electricity access is just 57%, and there is limited cold chain expertise. These pose significant hurdles to transporting perishable foods and pharmaceuticals across Africa’s vast landscapes.

Loss of perishable foods alone costs Africa around $4 billion annually according to FAO. A third of vaccines also spoil due to broken cold chains, hindering immunisation efforts.

There are 15+ startups in Africa’s cold chain with key innovations including solar-powered cold storage, intelligent sensors, optimization algorithms, and end-to-end digital platforms. We will explore startups using smart sensors.

Figorr is a Nigerian company that offers real-time cold chain monitoring and analytics solutions for perishable goods in transit and storage. Its platform provides temperature, humidity and location tracking through IoT sensors and cloud-based software.

Key offerings include customizable reports on storage conditions, real-time alerts for temperature excursions, geofencing of logistics vehicles and integrations with insurance providers for policy underwriting. Figorr serves pharmaceutical, agriculture, logistics and insurance verticals across Africa and the US. It tracks over $600 million worth of temperature-sensitive products.

PharmaScout, based in Cape Town with a national reach, specialises in temperature compliance solutions for the medical industry. With over 15,000 active sensors generating 60 million monthly records, the company offers wireless sensors, monitoring, calibration, and mapping services.

The company’s four-pillar temperature compliance solution includes equipment provision, monitoring with alarms and notifications, calibration services, and temperature mapping for storage areas. PharmaScout caters to diverse segments, including doctors, vets, nurses, pharmacies, and distributors, providing tailored, affordable, and comprehensive solutions.

Coldbox Store, based in Enugu State, Nigeria, operates as a solar-powered walk-in refrigeration solution and distribution centre specialising in fruit, vegetable, and meat products for farmers in rural and underserved areas facing electricity challenges.

The company strategically positions fruit and vegetable cold rooms and frozen food freezer rooms as micro fulfilment centres, leveraging smart sensors and an operations analytics system. The approach involves adjustable temperatures, digital sensors to reduce power consumption, insulation for energy preservation, and variable speed compressors for adaptive cooling. Entirely off-grid, Coldbox Store not only addresses the critical need for reliable refrigeration in regions with poor electricity infrastructure but also contributes to sustainability goals by being powered by 100% solar energy.

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