Solutions

MUNICIPAL SOLUTIONS FOR STORAGE AND SELLING FRESH FOOD PRODUCTS

In this framework, and following the targets established in the SDGs, especially in SDG 2: “Zero hunger”, different cities are betting on implementing programs that allow maintaining the cold chain, thus increasing farmers’ income and reducing the forced sale of products and waste. These are successful and innovative cases, which demonstrate how the action of cities that also involve the communities can advance in the achievement of the sustainable development goals.

In the webinar held on January 24, 2024, as part of the “SDG local solutions” series of local action for the SDGs, we were able to observe a clear example of two cities, located on different continents, that faced similar challenges in terms of keeping products fresh. Rocha, Uruguay and Rourkela, India presented their experiences on keeping local products refrigerated and working with communities to sustain and incorporate innovative strategies.

The cities and their projects

Rourkela, India

The United Nations Development Program has been supporting the city of Rourkela, in a project to refrigerate products through cold storage managed by the municipality with the help of women’s groups. The Rourkela cold storage project is an initiative that seeks to address the difficult conditions faced by farmers and vendors, who are forced to sell their produce at a very low price at the end of the market day due to the lack of storage facilities.

A pilot survey conducted in Rourkela, India indicates that 83% of the farmers/vendors lack storage options and this is the main factor for selling the products at a very low price, when they cannot sell all the products at the end of the market day. Approximately, 20 – 40% of the vegetables like cabbage or tomato are being sold below the market price. Most farm produce have a shelf life of 4 days.

Aiming at empowering farmer´s and women´s self-help groups through the provision of solar-powered units, Rourkela is developing cold rooms in 5 markets across the city, to increase the shelf life of vegetables from farmers and reduce distress selling. Trained women´s self-help groups operate the cold rooms.

The infrastructure: The cold rooms have a design which responds to the community´s expectations and needs. The city is developing 5 solar cold rooms in vegetable markets owned by the municipality. Each room have 3 independent cooling chambers with thermal storage that gives 24-hour power back-up, with a 5-year maintenance agreement.The chambers storage products such as tomato, cabbage, egg, pumpkin, beans, watermelon, banana and apples.

Impact in farmers life: The project is now showing positive impacts in the daily life of farmers, women and their families:

  • Farmers live outside the city and are charge a minimum price for the storage.
  • Cold rooms are operated by women co-operatives selected by the municipality, each room has 5-7 women working.
  • Each cold room is expected to be used by 120 to 160 farmers
  • The project gives training to women and farmer, increasing their technical and management skills for cold room operations.

Sustainability: identified as key for the project; some successful aspects have been:

  • Steady income source: a financial incentive for cold room operation is given for 18 months.
  • The project has a model which put community at the center: cold rooms are operated by the community and owned by the municipality.
  • Diversification of income sources: multiple income streams other than colds room usage income, including selling vegetables to hotels, institutions and residences. As well as selling organic products and hand craft items.

The project aims to achieve SDG #2, zero hunger, by increasing smallholder farmers’ incomes by 60% by 2025 through increased market linkages and waste reduction, and SDG #5, Gender Equality, by training and employing approximately 25 women to operate cold storage facilities by 2025.

Find more about the Rourkela project here

Rocha, Uruguay

In Rocha there are two traditional fishing communities, one in the Laguna de Rocha and the other in the Valizas stream, which is part of the Laguna de Castillos. The inhabitants of these communities are commercial fishers and shrimpers. During the Penaeus Paulensis shrimp harvest, between February and May, more than 300 fishermen participate in each lagoon. This is a community with high socio-economic vulnerability, without electricity, which meant that they almost had to give away the products to avoid losing them due to the lack of refrigeration.

The Department of Rocha, responding to their needs and working with them, made the investment of 2 containers with cold chambers and one for shrimp and fish filleting and processing. These were made available to the fishermen of the area in order to refrigerate the fish and make the process more hygienic.

The infrastructure:

  • 2 containers with cold storage rooms, 40 feet and a capacity of 29 tons, one for filleting and processing of shrimp and fillets, with a policy for internal use.

The community: with institutional support, the community has made progress in managing the operation of the chambers, in marketing the product, and in improving their skills: 

  • The Ministry of Industry, through the Department of Small and Medium Enterprises, has trained the community’s fishermen.
  • A cooperative was formed and is being trained by the department.
  • The filleting room allows the fishermen to work in a more hygienic way to maintain the quality of their products, which they used to do on the riverbank in small portable coolers.
  • The fishermen now have opportunities and independence, generating added value to their products and eliminating middlemen.

Sustainability:

  • The department financially supports fishermen by offering loans. the national government has also collaborated by providing technical and financial support to empower fishermen in these communities.
  • The “Camarón-Puerto Valizas” brand is being developed to add value to the products.

There are still logistical challenges in ensuring that there are trained personnel to operate, clean and manage the chambers. The department is also working to acquire new resources for solar energy, but the costs are still very high.

Find more about Rocha here

Conclusions – Lessons learned

The experiences of these two cities show that, although they are projects in very different places, they have the same goal: to build and operate cold rooms with the community. They also have their differences; while in Rocha the product is fish and shrimp and the work is mainly done with men, in Rourkela it is groceries storage and the work is done with women. It is essential to take into account the specificities of each place and population in order to guarantee the success of these innovative initiatives.

Some of the common lessons learned that we were able to identify were:

  1. Coordinated work between the municipality and the community: The two local governments were able to listen to the community and work with them to address their needs. Coordinated work has been key in implementing the projects, especially in building community capacity and ensuring that the cold rooms are run by them. This includes regulating the use of the rooms and distributing responsibilities for their use and management.
  • Importance of training on the operation of the cold rooms: training community in the use of the spaces has been a key point. In the case of Rourkela, the focus has been on women, which has had a positive impact on their lives and the lives of their families. There are several challenges related to the cultural changes that these projects represent, which is why institutional support has been fundamental.
  • Sustainability: the two cities have tried to include in their models a fee (even if low) for the use and storage of the products. In addition, they have provided financial support to users so that they can sustain themselves in the early stages. On the other hand, in both projects it has been important to generate products derived from primary products that provide added value.

These experiences show how, by identifying a specific community problem and working hand in hand with them, it is possible for local governments to provide solutions that also aim to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. In this case, the implementation of cold rooms aims to achieve SDG #2: “zero hunger,” with a differentiated and gender approach.

If you missed the event, you can watch the full webinar here in our Youtube Channel. The Spanish version is also available here.