TACOMA, Washington — Smallholder farmers produce between 70% and 80% of the world’s food supply. Paradoxically, many of them suffer from poverty and struggle to feed themselves. One challenge for the farmers is the massive losses of produce that ensue throughout the harvest, transportation, storage and retail stages. Since produce has a limited lifetime, it is critical to get them to market quickly and sell them before they decay. Farmers in Africa frequently have to use primitive transportation methods to get their crops to market, during which the products receive damage and spoil.
Produce Waste in Africa
The amount of food produced outpaces the available storage and, left in Africa’s torrid conditions, rots away. An overall lack of refrigeration only exacerbates the issue. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated percentage of post-harvest produce waste is a staggering 37%, according to an article published in Food Policy. The lost crops squander money, time and the precious resources of the already struggling farmers, trapping them in an endless cycle of poverty.
In Noël N’guessan’s home country of Côte d’Ivoire, wasted produce is two to five times the amount of crops that make it to market. Astounded by these losses, N’guessan sought to devise a way for farmers to repurpose their organic waste. That way, the farmers could reduce their losses and pull themselves out of poverty. Thus, he developed KubeKo: a piece of equipment that converts biowaste into liquid compost. Rather than throw their rotten crops away, farmers can put them into the KubeKo machine and convert them into fertilizer for their fields.
KubeKo Decreasing the Losses
Over four weeks, KubeKo turns 400 kilograms of organic waste into 150 kilograms of liquid compost. The process is simple — farmers simply take organic byproducts of harvests and throw them into KubeKo. In addition to their compost machine, N’guessan’s team has also developed KubeKo Biogas — a similar apparatus that transforms biowaste into cooking gas. Five kilograms of waste becomes two hours of cooking gas and 50 liters of liquid compost. The crops that would have been wasted end up as fertilizer that helps the farmer increase their harvest yields and cooking gas for them to use.
KubeKo decreases the losses of farmers and helps them save additional income: rather than buy fertilizer separately, farmers can simply make it in the machine using their own waste.
While the team also sells compost as a product, N’guessan said that it is not their primary intent. In an interview, he stated: “We sell them the equipment that allows them to make fertilizer and apply it to their crops, thereby increasing their income.” Currently, around 50 farmers have purchased KubeKo units for their mango, cassava and cocoa farms. Côte d’Ivoire’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development even asked the team to train farmers to operate the machine.
In 2021, KubeKo won the award from the Royal Academy of Engineering. Since then, N’guessan and his team have continued to improve KubeKo, reducing production costs from $800 to $700, The Engineer reports. Their goal is to make the box as affordable as possible, making it accessible to even the smaller farms. Though KubeKo’s reach is primarily in its home country of Côte d’Ivoire, the team is looking to expand.
KubeKo has the potential to benefit smallholder farmers in Africa — it repurposes their lost crops while simultaneously providing fertilizer. The machine, supporting both sustainable energy and farming, has the potential to revolutionize farming in Africa. “Farmers cannot be perpetually impoverished,” N’guessan stated in an interview with Ventures Africa. Lifting farmers out of poverty also benefits the societies they supply with food.
– Alison Ding
Photo: Wikipedia Commons