It was a confusing conversation this morning. I said that there was more than one way to skin a cat. This led to me having to give a long explanation: “No, we don’t eat cats in Scotland.” “No, we don’t use their coats to make clothes even though, yes, Scotland is very cold compared to Malawi.”

The cat “employed” to keep the rats and mice away at the lodge I’m staying at

The subject was nothing to do with cats, of course. We were talking about the best way to drive up farmer incomes so their kids can go to school, they can improve their homes, or whatever other good thing they might do with the money. The talk was all about finding better markets for farm produce and using improved seed to get better crop yields. These are both good – but then I invoked the cat proverb, and everyone looked confused and concerned for their favourite mouse-catchers.

What I was getting at was the huge extent of post-harvest crop losses which the farmers endure. This is especially true of short-life products like tomatoes, peppers or lettuce. Right now it is very hot in Malawi – a heatwave even by their standards – and salad vegetables only last about 48 hours. It’s a recognised issue across the globe , but especially in Africa, where crop losses run at 35 – 45%. The waste of food is tragic, but it also translates into a 35-40% loss to the farmer’s household income.

But there is a chilling solution to the problem.

Chill Store #2, funded by Sundanzer in the USA

We installed our first solar-powered Chill Store in Mzuzu earlier this year. This became part of a little international project for us with Chill Store #1 funded by the Scottish Government; Chill Store #2 at Rumphi (60km North of Mzuzu) funded by an American company; and Chill Store #3 at Chinteche (80km SE of Mzuzu) funded by IKEA in Sweden!

This sets us up really well to tackle these post-harvest losses. Fresh produce can come straight from our greenhouses in cropping baskets and be chilled within an hour of harvesting. This allows us to aggregate the crop to suit the various buyers and we can extend the shelf life by two weeks, giving much more time to get the precious food to market.

Chill Store #3 has two separate refrigerated rooms, allowing us to select different temperatures for different crops. As I write this, the solar company is on-site adding the panels over the top and 15-year lithium batteries – we are building for the long-term!

MFT is going forward on many fronts and regular readers will know that we are working to bring high-yielding seeds into Malawi (tomatoes, potatoes) and our core work, of course, is the supply of solar irrigation and greenhouses – both technologies that can increase yields. But with generous support from Scotland, Sweden and the US we are doing more, reducing these post-harvest losses so that the farmers can keep more of their income.

The next time I come to Malawi I look forward to seeing each Chill Store bursting with fresh vegetables – no meat allowed, we don’t skin any kind of animal here no matter what impression I may have given my Malawian friends.