February 27, 2024

The problem of fresh farm produce going bad before it reaches the market has been solved in many countries. In others, they are still inspiring innovative solutions. This includes Nigeria, where there is a local mechatronics engineer come to the rescue of small farmers trying to stem their losses to spoilage.

Tolulope Olukokun quit his job as a college tutor two years ago and founded ThinkBikes. His tricycles have cooling units to mitigate the effects of the hot and humid West African weather.

ThinkBikes’ CoolMAX model, which runs on an electric powered motor, offers a promising solution for the agribusiness sector, and also a solution to rising fuel prices in Nigeria. More than 90% of the bikes’ components are sourced locally, including the bodywork, wheels and batteries, while a patented energy recovery system adds up to 5% of the energy back to the traction batteries.

For cooling farm products, each bike has a refrigerator with a cooling range of -6ºC to 30ºC (21ºF to 86ºF). The cooling unit comes with removable packs of lithium-ion batteries, recycled from old laptops.

Cutting crop losses while achieving better prices

The agricultural industry is Nigeria’s largest employer, accounting for more than a third of employment in the country. But more than 80% of Nigeria’s farmers are small-scale, and they account for 90% of the country’s total agricultural produce, according to PwC (pdf). Hot weather, poor infrastructure and a lack of transport mean that a good percentage of their crops perish before they ever reach the market.

With a top speed of 40 km/h (24.85 mph) and a battery range of 30 to 50 km, the CoolMAX e-bike is designed to get products to market quickly, reducing post-harvest losses. (It comes with a 2,000 liter capacity and can transport goods up to a maximum weight of 200 kg.) Fresher produce also means better prices on the market.

In January, Unicef ​​projected that some 25 million people in Nigeria had attended risk of food insecurity, with children being the most vulnerable. Olukokun’s bicycle innovation holds hope to improve the availability of fresh food security, while also helping in reduction of carbon emissions.

While the cargo e-bike market is still in the early stages of growth in Africa, the sector continues to gain momentum, with annual global revenue representing a $2.1 billion this year and is predicted to grow to $6.2 billion by 2033.

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