Kenyan start-up provides pay-as-you-go cold storage for farmers

Raphael Asiba, founder and CEO of Solakilimo

How we made it in Africa has previously highlighted unmet demand for temperature-controlled cold-storage facilities. Solakilimo Solutions is a Kenyan company that provides solar-powered cold storage for fish, fruit and vegetables through a pay-as-you-go model. Currently, Solakilimo has four functional cold rooms. The business was started in 2019. Founder Raphael Asiba (24) answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

We provide solar-powered cold rooms for fish, fruit and vegetable farmers. This cold storage is ideal for Kenyan farmers as it adequately addresses the problem of post-harvest losses in fresh produce. The produce is placed in clean plastic crates, which are stacked inside the cold room. This extends the shelf life from two to about 30 days. Solar energy cuts down storage expenses by up to 40% compared to normal electricity.

2. How did you finance your start-up?

My co-founder and I had $6,500 in savings. We incorporated the company in Kenya, rented a small office in Nairobi and obtained a business permit. Three months after acquiring our first customer, we started the fabrication of the cold rooms.

3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

With $1 million, we would lease land to set up a new assembly plant and hire four electrical and mechanical engineers who would carry out product testing. We would also buy equipment used for the fabrication of cold rooms, and we would develop our website and social media pages. Most farmers have organised themselves in various social media groups so we would be able to access them easily and affordably.

4. What risks does your business face?

For the fruits and vegetable cold rooms, there can be long periods of inactivity as the harvests are seasonal. To overcome this, we expanded to dairy and fish farmers and since our cold rooms are mobile, they are easily transported to other regions.

A Solakilimo cold room

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

Partnerships with farmer co-operatives and societies. Today, farmers are in well-organised groups and it is easier to market our cold rooms.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

The ever-increasing demand for cold rooms by fish farmers. We are fabricating more and bigger capacity cold rooms for them. Their incomes have also increased by 35% which is a very impressive track record for our company.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake.

During our pilot phase, we fabricated cold rooms not realising dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables have different respiration rates. The time taken for spoilage varies greatly. Our fish farmers’ stock spoilt and it almost ruined our company’s image. We now study the respiration rates as well as the region’s humidity and temperature before deciding which type of cold room will suit a farmer’s needs.

8. Aside from your own company, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.

More focus should be put into hydroponics farming; it is a method of growing plants without soil. Plants are grown in a mineral nutrient solution in a water solvent. Climate change has led to weather changes; some crops can no longer grow in our soils and many places are becoming arid. Boreholes can be sunk in semi-arid regions. Hydroponics farming is safe, fast, economical and sustainable.

Solakilimo Solutions CEO Raphael Asiba’s contact information

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