My name is Dysmus Kisilu, founder and CEO of Solar Freeze, a company that provides access to solar powered cold storage solutions for small-scale farmers, refugees and off-grid communities.
Solar Freeze consists of a team of a new young generation of Africans ready to solve the challenge of climate change through local solutions to global problems. Growing up in rural Kenya, I watched my parents and grandparents and those before them work tirelessly toiling and moiling in the rural farms only for a huge chunk of their fresh produce to rot away due to lack of proper cold storage units. Often, middlemen would quickly swoop in and offer dirt-cheap prices and farmers would be forces to sell for a song out of desperation and fear of post- harvest loss. Lesson number one I learned in early life: Don’t do agriculture! It’s a backbreaking endeavor that will leave you with crusty hands and empty pockets. Like many young people in rural Africa, I voted with my feet and opted for a better life in the big city. That was then, now the only hope I see for our generation to make an impact is through agriculture and I have decided to found Solar Freeze and utilize graduates who had skills in Renewable Energy, Engineering, Agriculture, Business Management, ICT and communication to make a difference for smallholder farmers and off-grid communities. Currently, an estimated 470 million smallholder farmers in developing countries lose an average of 45 per cent of their income to food spoilage. The environmental effects of food loss and waste are enormous; the total carbon footprint of food wastage, including land use change, is around 4.4 GtCO2eq per year. Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land — 28% of world’s agricultural area — is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted. We cannot afford to allow these losses to continue.
Today, as a result of the innovation that Solar Freeze has pioneered in the field of solar-powered cold storage, we have been able to serve more than 3,000 smallholder farmers and rural communities in Kenya and helped them reduce food loss by more than 95 percent. However, this is not the end of our story. My journey as a social entrepreneur crossed with a refugee named Daniel right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had talks on the need for Solar Freeze to go deeper and serve people living at the margins of life in refugee camps, and then Covid-19 happened. I realized the critical need of cold storage and refrigeration, not only for agricultural produce, but also for the storage and preservation of vaccines. In Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), less than 20% of healthcare facilities have reliable electricity. This leads to serious problems, including the spoiling of medicines and the inability to use essential medical and diagnostic devices. We innovated around producing small solar-powered chest freezers ideal for the healthcare sector for the storage and preservation of Covid19 vaccines. This innovation has helped serve more than 120,000 people providing them with a solution in the safe storage and dissemination of critical vaccines and temperature sensitive medication.
On a mission to scale renewable energy in Africa, I realized that part of the solution is also to train and up skill more young people especially women in technical skills geared towards creating the next generation of renewable energy leaders. The Solar Freeze project has participated in mentoring and training 100 women aged 18-29 years old in the field of renewable energy. Through a program called “Each One, Teach One — Train to Earn,” rural and refugee community-based youth gain practical, hands-on technical skills and are guided on how to operate equipment powered by renewable energy.
The future is bright, and I feel that Solar Freeze will make a difference in the lives of those living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. I have great hope that, in due time, more climate-smart solutions will spring forth as a result of the work that I have started. My mission is to inspire other innovators to tackle climate change today by providing practical solutions.