Africa's sustainable cooling centre gets multi-million funding boost

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University of Rwanda facilities earmarked for ACES

The new Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) has taken a major step forward in Rwanda with a $3.5 (£2.4 million) million funding boost.

The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) earmarked this contribution for the Centre’s design and technology kit-out, supporting the work of British universities (Birmingham, Heriot-Watt, Cranfield, London South Bank), the University of Rwanda and its hiring of the first-ACES dedicated academics as host of the Centre, and UNEP’s United for Efficiency (U4E) whose award-winning Rwanda Cooling Initiative with the Rwandan Government provides ACES’ foundation.

ACES will help get farmers’ produce to market quickly and efficiently – reducing food waste, boosting profits and creating jobs, as well as looking to improve cold-chains for vaccines and health, now recognised globally as a key challenge for Covid-19 immunisation.

The Centre is bringing together energy, technology, finance and policy expertise from the UK and in-country. It offers an opportunity for commercial partners to develop and demonstrate pathways of delivering affordable, lowest carbon emissions cooling and cold-chain systems while meeting Africa’s social and economic cooling needs. It will provide teaching and industrial collaboration to put into action integrated sustainable cooling solutions.

In collaboration with core technical partners - the University of Birmingham and UNEP U4E –a range of complimentary funding opportunities are being pursued, from the Green Climate Fund to philanthropic and bilateral development agency support mechanisms. With core resources and infrastructure , the Centre will establish a robust business model that enables long-term growth.

Associated ‘Living Labs’ will act as the deployment and implementation arms showcasing how solutions developed at the ACES hub in Kigali can be applied by communities and offer on-the-ground technical and business assistance as an enabling environment for sustainable cold chain to thrive. The first Living Lab in rural Rwanda is anticipated for launch in 2022. Opportunities for additional Living Labs are being explored with other African governments to scale-up the reach of ACES.

Project co-designer and research lead Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, said: “Farmers need robust means of getting perishable produce to urban markets and medical staff must move temperature-sensitive vaccines to rural communities, but cold chain logistics must be sustainable.

“The long-term plan is that ACES becomes the pan-Africa research/innovation, knowledge and learning Centre of choice for the cooling and cold-chain sectors - securing industrial and other collaborations to develop its research and reputation - in Rwanda, Africa and low-and middle-income countries around the world. It’s an ambitious goal, but we have UK expertise and partnerships in Rwanda and UNEP’s portfolio in the wider region to make this happen.”

The University of Birmingham and UNEP U4E are engaging international partners and industry to formalize a network of collaborators. ACES will be promoted at major international events later this year, including the UN Food Systems Summit, Montreal Protocol Meeting of the Parties (MOP33) and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to raise awareness and encourage participation.

UNEP’s ACES lead and U4E cooling portfolio manager Brian Holuj reflected: “After over three years of strategic planning and development, we are delighted to have a permanent home and world-class team coming into place at the ACES headquarters in Kigali. The first Living Laboratory is being prepared to set the stage for similar collaborative efforts with showcase communities throughout Africa.”

Notes to editors:

  • For more information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.
  • The Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold Chain (ACES) is led by Rwanda’s Ministry of Environment, the University of Rwanda, UNEP’s United for Efficiency initiative, the University of Birmingham and Heriot Watt University, and DEFRA to support the roll-out of sustainable post-harvest management (PHM) and cold-chain pan-Africa. The Centre aligns with a portfolio of Rwandan and UK policies, and economic growth strategies as well as international commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement, and Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP’s United for Efficiency (U4E) team leads market transformation projects on cooling, lighting and equipment with over forty developing and emerging economies. It co-leads the award-winning Rwanda Cooling Initiative and ACES.
  • Rwanda is one of the least urbanised countries in Africa with 73% of the workforce employed in agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa, 54% of workers rely on the agricultural sector. A further challenge is that agriculture in Rwanda is dominated by six million small and marginal farmers, each on average farming less than 0.6 hectares of land.
  • The project supports Rwanda’s National Agricultural Export Development Board’s (NAEB) five-year strategy to double agricultural exports by 2024-25 and significantly increase exports of aqua-culture, beef and other temperature sensitive products.
  • At the same time the work will contribute to not only supporting the efficient and equitable delivery of COVID-19 vaccination but also design solutions which can contribute to long-term cold-chain and energy resilience with lasting legacy.
  • Around 40 per cent of Rwanda’s population live below the poverty threshold (US$1.90 a day) – with women, disabled, widowed, and rural populations disproportionately affected. According to the World Bank, food losses represents 12% of annual GDP, 21% of total land and contributes 16% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Traders with access to cooling facilities access higher value markets – worth up to 10 times the local market.
  • Rwanda’s population is estimated to nearly double by 2050. In a world where climate change has a negative impact on food cycles, intensifying food production alone is no longer a viable solution to respond to the emerging food demand mitigating food loss will be key to food security.
  • ACES is a parallel initiative to the Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Post-Harvest Management and cold chain in India by the University of Birmingham working with the Department for International Trade and British High Commission.