Gbunlung Savulgu is a quiet, rural village in northern Ghana, just north of Tamale and accessible only by dirt roads. The small community is slowly but confidently empowering itself and its women through an environmentally-friendly post-harvest storage technology.
The technology is a Zero Energy Cooling Chamber, which was developed in India and brought to northern Ghana by the World Vegetable Center, which set up numerous demonstration sites. As the name indicates, the technology uses no electricity whatsoever. But it increases the shelf life and quality of vegetables by keeping them in a cool environment.
The vegetables are stored inside a simple chamber built of brick and sand. It’s easy to build and maintain, making the technology highly accessible to small-scale farmers and remote communities across Ghana.
Rahinati Alhassan and Nafisa Alhassan are two women who use the cooling chamber. The 40-year-olds have tripled their vegetable production and emerged as leaders in their community.
Ms. Rahinati Alhassan says: “Initially, I was reluctant to go into vegetable farming. But now that I can store my fresh produce, I have expanded my farm from half an acre to two acres—one for vegetables, one for cowpea.”
Ms. Nafisa Alhassan says the tomatoes she can’t sell are now stored instead of spoiled, meaning she can sell them at the next market, a week later.
She explains: “I started making a profit because of that. So now that I have money, I do not have to talk to anybody when my kids ask me for money for school. I can give them the money myself.”
A Zero Energy Cooling Chamber is often built in the centre of a community. The cooling chamber has a double brick wall, and the space between the two walls is filled with moist sand. The sand cools the chamber as the water evaporates. Farmers store their fresh produce in crates inside the covered chambers, where temperatures can be as low as half of that on the outside.
Ms. Rahinati Alhassan and Ms. Nafisa Alhassan are the only women in a group of 20 farmers who use the village cooling chamber. They have achieved financial independence and set an example in their community for other women, many of whom they are now educating.
Linda Dari is a food and post-harvest engineer from the University for Development Studies in Tamale. She is a consultant on the project which built and oversees the many demonstration sites in Ghana. She says they chose the cooling chambers from many post-harvest storage technologies because of their many benefits. She explains, “We focused on [cooling chambers] because it’s inexpensive, efficient per the cost-benefit analysis, and environmentally sustainable.”
The cooling chambers are designed for farmers and traders alike. As Ms. Dari explains, cooling chambers keep vegetables in their original state of freshness all the way from the farm to the market.
Power outages are common in Ghana and road infrastructure is poor. This causes challenges for both storage and transporting vegetables to market. So technologies such as Zero Energy Cooling Chambers can have a life-changing impact on rural communities such as Gbunlung Savulgu.
Ms. Nafisa Alhassan recalls: “The first time I put my hand into the chamber, it was quite a shocking feeling. It was cool inside, even though outside it was very hot. The difference the chamber makes for our vegetables is obvious and very visible. It doubles the shelf life of tomatoes, eggplants, [and] cucumbers.”
Women such as Ms. Rahinati Alhassan and Ms. Nafisa Alhassan, who traditionally do more selling and trading than farming, can now do both. They plan to work with other women to begin another chamber in the community soon.
Ms. Rahinati Alhassan says: “When we got back from the training with Ms. Dari, other women were asking us what we’ve learned. So we showed them how to use the chamber and we plan to soon teach them how to build their own.”
Main photo: Rahinati Alhassan and Nafisa Alhassan Credit: Anais Voski