Climate & Environment
Kenya’s Small Scale Fishers Find Solace in Solar Driven Freezer.
“Fish waste, if left to rot or is disposed of in landfill will generate methane gas and hence contribute to GHG emissions.” Says Onkangi.
In Kenya’s north coast city of Mombasa sits the picturesque Bamburi beach with its ubiquitous fine soft sand stretching serenely as far as the eye can see, creating a palpable wedge with the calm bluish waters of the Indian Ocean, the third largest body of water in the world, covering about 20% of the Earth’s water surface.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the waters are home to some of the most important fisheries on Earth, accounting for over 14% of global wild-caught fish.
Sadly though, 30% of assessed stocks are being fished beyond sustainable limits.
This is where the workshop of Kuza Coolers Limited (KCL), manufacturers of a continentally recognized award-winning solar-powered freezer, known as Kuza, that is ameliorating post-harvest fish losses by 80 % for small-scale fish harvesters annually is located.
Awards the company has won include the African Continental
Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) caravan prize in 2021, Best solar power solution in BlueInvest event held in Seychelles this September plus the Best food security solution provider in the connected summit 2022 held in Mombasa organized by Kenya’s Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs in collaboration with the Private sector.
“ We interacted with small-scale fishers here in Mombasa for over five years. And we got to understand that post-harvest losses due to the lack of affordable cold storage services singularly were a core challenge. And we felt a sense of responsibility to bridge the cold-chain gap so as to improve the livelihoods of this fishing community,” says Dennis Onkangi, 29, C.E.O of KCL.
To date over 150 units are being used by over 350 small-scale fishers in Mombasa alone, says Onkangi adding that the freezer is also in demand in other parts of the country.
“ Raising capital is a major challenge to us to scale our manufacturing to meet the rising demands from rural fishers. We manufacture our products at small-scale and raise revenue from product sales to expand our business,” says Onkangi.
In 2007, the Kenya Government adopted Beach Management Units (BMUs) in fisheries management in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries to better manage fisheries stock.
But still fisheries management remains a challenge to the central government
When the project initially took off in 2020 Onkangi and his co-founder Purity Gakuo relied on crowdfunding, raising Ksh 250,000 (US$ 2,056) and including bootstrapping.
Coincidentally this 2018 computer science graduate of locally based Rongo University seemed wired prodigiously as his innovation streak was clearly noticeable while pursuing his undergrad, winning several national awards on behalf of the institution.
Its also worth noting that somewhat if one is based in Mombasa, the probability of nurturing their innovation talent is likelier to succeed compared to other counties in Kenya.
With the city emerging as the second most preferred destination for start-ups after Nairobi, the capital, according to a 2021 report by StartupBlink Global Startup Ecosystem Index – the world’s most comprehensive startup ecosystem map and research center, working to uncover the momentum of startup ecosystems globally.
The Nigerian city of Lagos, according to the report, is the top African start-up ecosystem, followed by Nairobi.
The Kuza freezer saves the cost of energy by 70% annually and carries up to 150 kg of load and extends the shelf life of fish harvest to over 30 days.
Meet Oprah Atieno, 36, a fish vendor in Bamburi. She’s the breadwinner in her family and says before purchasing the Kuza freezer about 45 % of her fish went to waste daily. In addition, she would spend a lot of money buying ice to preserve her fish.
“ Today I am able to save money because I no longer depend on power from the grid to preserve my fish. With the money that I am saving I am able to send my children to school, keep some aside, and watch over my aging parents,” says Atieno.
Because the profile of a small-scale fishing community is widely caricatured as one strapped for cash, KCL models its selling system against a pay-as-you-go payment arrangement, for the icebox whose one-off price is Ksh 85,000 (US$ 703), making it arguably affordable to a sizable populace.
With the pay-as-you-go payment strategy, a fisherman is required to part initially with Ksh 15,000 (US$ 124) followed by daily installments of Ksh 250 (US$ 2) running for 15 months to fully own the freezer.
“ Our products are monitored remotely and important data such as temperature and location are collected to improve service quality,” says Onkangi.
Kenya’s fishing industry contributes about 0.5% of the national GDP and about 2% of the national export earnings. The industry employs over 60,000 fishers directly and an estimated 1.2 million people indirectly, according to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), a state corporation that undertakes research in marine and freshwater fisheries here.
“ The main challenges facing Kenya’s fishery sector include environmental change and variability, invasive species, overfishing, declining stocks, and post-harvest loss,” reads a 2020 report by KMFRI titled ‘The status of Kenya Fisheries.’
Contributes about 80% of the fish production in Kenya is Lake Victoria, which supports the largest freshwater fishery in the world, producing 1 million tons of fish annually and employing 200,000 people in supporting the livelihoods of 4 million people.
“ Small-scale fisheries in Africa are important for the food security of more than 200 million people, and for the employment of around 2.3 million fishers targeting fisheries in the various marine, brackish and freshwater environments, “according to, Too Big To Ignore (TBTI), a global research network that addresses issues and concerns affecting viability and sustainability of small-scale fisheries.
According to Onkangi, food loss and waste contribute approximately 8% of the total man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“Fish waste, if left to rot or is disposed of in landfill will generate methane gas and hence contribute to GHG emissions.” Methane is a gas with 25 times more global warming potential than CO2. Our solution avoids food loss and waste (FLW) in fish value chains hence avoiding unnecessary GHG emissions and helping mitigate climate change,” says Onkangi, whose end game is to bridge the cold-chain Gap in the fish value chain in Sub-Saharan Africa.