When COVID-19 quarantines shut down businesses and crowded public spaces, rural communities around the world where food security already teeters on the edge were forced beyond the brink. Empty markets and closed ports shut down access to food in an instant. In Africa subsistence farming provides food for many families, but there is never extra to go around, sometimes not even enough to feed their large families. They rely on food from local markets and imported rice. This spring demand for food drove prices through the roof and when ports closed, the shelves emptied. There was no food to be had.
Access to refrigeration and effective temperature-controlled supply chains could help families and farmers fight against hunger during a pandemic, or really any day. But in under developed regions around the world the challenges to support an effective cold chain delivery method seem to pop up around every corner. Blistering sun, unreliable electricity, broken equipment, transportation issues...all play a role in delivering and storing temperature sensitive product from bananas, tomatoes, or lifesaving medicines.
From India to Rwanda governments are working to improve emerging cold chains to help small subsistence farmers transform their fields into agri-businesses. Empowering farmers to increase their yield boosts local revenue, creates jobs, and provides food to the most vulnerable in their communities. As regions struggle to rebound from the economic impact of COVID-19, cold chain practices could help smallholder farmers build back better. Perfecting cold chains has been thrust into the spotlight recently as countries address complications to delivering a vaccine to widespread rural populations.
In Sierra Leone, we are seeing the realities of transforming a small plot of land into a valuable community resource within our own partner's initiatives to feed hungry children during the most food sensitive month of August. Karim Kamara, the program director of Village Bicycle Project, started a feeding program several years ago at the local school in his community. At the time his biggest expense was importing enough rice from China to feed 100 students for a month.
In an effort to save money, and uplift his own community, he approached a group of local farmers with a proposition. If they would plant and grow rice, he would buy it for his program. It could not have come at a better time. Last month Karim used this rice to feed 130 students in the program.
Karim's dream of empowering and transforming his community is becoming a reality. By supporting this small group of local farmers and encouraging them to plant bigger crops, he is enabling subsistence farmers to turn crops into a business. Next year, these farmers hope to increase their crop tenfold, building this business and allowing Karim to feed even more children with the locally produced rice.
An effective cold chain could help expand money making crops to include food at risk of spoiling, not just corn, rice, or potatoes. Finding sustainable cooling solutions for an efficient cold chain system could help deliver vaccines without decreasing their potency, ensure an ample food supply in the region and reboot the economy by creating jobs and creating vital investment opportunities.