Optimising energy efficiency and sustainability in the AgriFood supply chain in Africa

In this article we investigate three technical projects delivered by UK and African partners which explored renewable energy solutions to support AgriFood businesses in Africa.

Posted on: 05/03/2024

The need: Using energy for more efficient AgriFood systems

AgriFood systems and businesses can be made more efficient or productive with the use of energy. Energy can be used to run food processing equipment to improve quality, consistency and shelf life, pumps can distribute water for crop irrigation, and refrigeration can maintain the cold chain to prolong the life and quality of fresh produce (World Bank).

Mains or grid electricity is unreliable or unavailable across the majority of agricultural areas in Africa. Distributed renewables, such as localised solar energy systems, can enable smallholder farmers to use efficiently powered agricultural technologies. In many cases renewable energy systems would enable farmer access to new AgriFood technologies, or in other cases could replace expensive fossil fuels. Often mainstream agricultural technologies must be adapted to suit the needs of off grid smallholder farmers.

The solution

The AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards described below highlight how technologies powered by renewable energy can be more accessible to smallholder farmers. By leveraging the combination of renewable energy and efficient technologies for productive AgriFood uses, these projects have shown potential to drive economic gains and sustainability in the AgriFood sector.

  • Energy balance assessment of agri-waste to power for crop processing

    Productive ways to utilise food and agricultural waste could include it being used generate energy or produce bio-fertiliser. Recognising the challenge of high energy costs and limited access to power for agricultural processing machinery, John Allport of the University of Huddersfield and Peter Nyeko of Mandulis Energy Ltd have explored the use of agricultural waste to produce biogas.

    This project researched a range of available technologies to produce biogas, including bio digestion, pyrolysis, and gasification. They used this research to build a model to understand the characteristics of the biogas produced by each of these processes. This biogas can be used to power generators or micro gas turbines for producing electricity and heat, both of which are used in crop processing. By examining the efficiencies of each process, this partnership has produced models to optimise and predict biogas and energy production from different feedstocks.

    The project demonstrated the potential for increased circularity within the AgriFood system by valorising waste and reducing methane emissions from agricultural and food waste. It could also reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuels.

    The strength of the relationship between the African and UK partners has led to them exploring ways to address other business challenges and research questions together. Additionally, they are planning to scale the technology in Uganda, and are looking at opportunities in other African nations and the Philippines.

    Future opportunities: 

    • Collaborating with other interested partners to further test energy-from-waste systems.
  • Design, development and demonstration of smart irrigation system for smallholder farmers in Sudan (3D Irrigation)

    95% of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is rain-fed and not irrigated, leaving farmers reliant on rainfall, and vulnerable to irregular weather patterns. Expensive equipment, high fuel costs and unreliable grid energy hinders smallholder farmers from accessing irrigation systems.

    In response, Dr Muhammad Imran from Aston University and Dr Amged Osman Abdelatif at the University of Khartoum, worked alongside Asim Eltayeb Osman from Marsa Motors to design an efficient, cost-effective hybrid-energy pumping system to tackle a range of irrigation issues faced by rural smallholder farmers.

    The project developed simulation tools and models to 1) assess the potential of solar and wind energy for irrigation, and to 2) calculate the irrigation and pumping system requirements for different crops. The irrigation system designed could improve crop productivity and harvest reliability, and therefore increase farmer incomes.

    Future opportunities: 

    • Using AI technology to improve the digital elements of the project.
    • Exploring the use of the hybrid energy module to integrate into wider applications like energy storage.
  • Innovative solar thermal technology improves moringa processing in Kenya

    Moringa is a high value crop as its leaves can be processed to produce nutritional supplements and fortified foods. Harvesting and selling moringa can be a lucrative business opportunity for farmers. However, in order to produce a high quality, and higher value product the moringa must be dried efficiently.

    To improve moringa processing, Trevor Rees of Enso Trading Ltd and Chris Mbori from Eenovators, worked with the Moringa processor Botanic Treasures to design and build a fully off-grid solar thermal drying system for moringa, using solar photovoltaic (PV) powered pumps and fans to improve drying conditions.

    This system has improved the processors’ end product and revenue, with the profits of this being passed onto the 500 farmers who supply moringa to Botanic Treasures.

    This solar drying technology could be applied within other supply chains to increase incomes and reduce post-harvest losses.

    Future opportunities: 

    • Working with partners with engineering and design expertise to further refine the system and adapt its use to other crops.

Discover more about our impact

With 86 Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards completed, each project has helped to improve the sustainable management of African AgriFood systems. The commitment from project leads is to create positive change, guided by GCRF AgriFood Africa’s key goals which aim to reduce poverty, increase economic prosperity, and improve wellbeing. 

Dive deeper into our ‘Focus on’ series to explore more project impacts on key sectors

Related programme

AgriFood Africa Connect

AgriFood Africa Connect

Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect brought innovative people and organisations across the UK and Africa together to develop solutions for the sustainable management of AgriFood systems in Africa.


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