Kenyans have a refreshing way of refrigerating without electrical power. A box and one and a half liters of water — that is all it takes for the fruit vendor Achieng Mbula to keep her goods fresh for longer. Sales are up, waste is down, and thanks to the FreshBox, Achieng Mbula is helping to tackle a global problem.
A cool solution
Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, has a population of more than 320,000 people. Many of them head downtown every day to stock up on groceries at the Jubilee Market, where 100 or so stands groan under the weight of mountains of melons, tomatoes, carrots, and herbs. A woman with a contagious laugh calls the shots here. A grocer by trade, the 50-year-old Mary Achieng Mbula was elected chairlady by her fellow vendors. This position has earned her the honorific Mama Nyandori, the “lady from Ndori.” And like any good “mama,” she knows all about her charges’ concerns.
It is hot in Kisumu. Soaring temperatures are bad news for market vendors who have no refrigerators to protect their perishables from the heat. Unsold goods often end up withered or rotting in the garbage. This is not just a financial blow for vendors; it is an appalling waste of food for the community. The problem has long plagued Mama Nyandori, but now the chairlady can declaim from her stall: “I have found the solution.” She points to the blue crate sitting next to her — the FreshBox, a simple yet ingenious cooler that works without electricity, ice, or ice packs.
Market-fresh from the FreshBox
Refrigeration without electricity — double walls do the trick
This blue box’s cooling system is borrowed from traditional tech that people in hot, dry regions started using centuries ago. They would pour liquid into a chamber between the double walls of earthenware food storage vessels to take advantage of evaporating water’s cooling effect. A modern take on an ancient principle, the FreshBox is made of lightweight plastic rather than clay, and features a fabric-lined partition wall. Into the cavity between the two walls go roughly one and a half liters of water, and this liquid draws heat out of the box as it evaporates. As a result, the temperature inside drops by up to ten degrees Celsius. This is enough to add as much as five days to some foods’ shelf life.
How the FreshBox helps
...is the capacity of a FreshBox. This is equivalent to more than 125 apples.
Putting an end to food waste
Mama Nyandori’s delight with the cooler is hardly surprising. “The days when I had to throw away piles of fruit and vegetables are finally over,” she says. There is more at stake here: studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest that in Africa alone, almost half the food produced ends up in the garbage rather than on plates. A study by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (SIK) estimates that 1.6 billion metric tons — one-third of the world’s annual food production — is, for various reasons, thrown away uneaten. This is expected to increase to as much as 2.1 billion tons by 2030. One reason for this loss is the lack of cooling technologies in the supply chain, for example, after the harvest or en route from the vendor to the consumer, as was the case at the Jubilee Market. Numerous small-scale initiatives, including the FreshBox made by the Bosch subsidiary BSH Hausgeräte, can help prevent some of this shameful waste.
I always carry the FreshBox with me. Everything I sell, I put in it. That is how important it is to me.
Coaching for cooling
The first vendor on the Jubilee Market to spot the potential of the FreshBox, Mama Nyandori now uses it to cart her goods to the market every day. Other merchants were quick to catch on, and demand has grown to the point where Mama Nyandori devotes two hours a day, Mondays through Saturdays, to coaching others on the ins and outs of the FreshBox. “All the vendors are keen to work with it,” she says, and nobody has any reason to doubt her. That persuasiveness has earned her a new honorary title at the Jubilee Market — Mama FreshBox.
Keep food and drinks cool without electricity
The FreshBox brings the temperature down by as much as 10°C to keep food cool. It works without electricity, requiring just one and a half liters of water a day. Even non-potable water will do.
In hot, dry climates, lower temperature means longer shelf life. For example, food will keep nearly a week longer if the temperature of the ambient air is reduced from 43 to 35 degrees Celsius.
The FreshBox can help reduce the staggering amount of food that goes to waste. According to one study, one-third of the food produced worldwide — 1.6 billion tons — is thrown away every year.