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U-3ARC highlights challenges facing Africa

ITALY: The development of refrigeration in Africa is critical in a continent where people are dying from hunger and disease due to the lack of a basic cold chain.

This was the urgent message presented to delegates at last week’s 20th European RACHP Conference in Milan by representatives of U-3ARC, the refrigeration and air conditioning group representing companies in all 54 African countries.

An impassioned presentation by representatives of U-3ARC revealed the extent of the challenges facing Africa in a worldwide industry intent on reducing emissions and achieving sustainability.

The challenges include the lack of energy infrastructure, high cost of technologies, insufficient transport infrastructure, lack of awareness and training, lack of regulation, and lack of funding.

The scale of the challenge was highlighted during the covid19 pandemic when only 22 of Africa’s 54 countries had a functioning cold chain system for vaccines requiring storage at 2°C and 8°C. “That’s not even half and, in my opinion, African lives deserve the same rights as any other life in the world?,” said U-3ARC secretary general Said El Harch.

These limitation also affects Africa’s ability to provide fresh and good quality food. Madi Sakandé, president of U-3ARC, revealed that 70% of food produced in Africa was lost due to lack of a cold chain and contributing to high prices. “People are dying in Africa from hunger simply because of a lack of a cold chain,” he said.

While North African countries and South Africa have developed or semi-developed cold chains, this is not the case in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Among the main challenges is the lack of energy infrastructure. This challenge is characterised by the low rate of connection to the electricity network and a lack of reliability of the electricity network. Africans, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, are not connected to the electricity grid. In addition, those who are connected regularly face power cuts that can last for hours.

The high cost of cold chain technologies is another major factor, and in addition to the production of cooling in a hot climate such as in Africa is technologically more expensive than in a temperate climate. 

In addition, refrigeration equipment is heavily taxed because it is considered a luxury rather than a necessity. For instance, in Sudan, equipment is abnormally taxed at the rate of 111%, with 80% in Zimbabwe and 60% in Mauritania. The least taxed country is Kenya with a 22% tax rate. 

“Clearly, these high tariffs contribute to hinder the development of an effective cold chain, to the detriment of farmers and food producers in Africa who suffer production losses,” commented El Harch.

The exorbitant costs of new equipment encourage the use of imported second-hand equipment that is extremely energy-intensive and expensive to maintain. According to U-3ARC, a strong advocate against environmental dumping, between 2013 and 2020, the Ghanaian government, alone, seized almost 60,000 used RACHP units.

Energy costs and infrastructure

Energy costs are a further problem, especially in rural areas where access to electricity may be limited. Controlled temperature transport is often insufficient and the roads in poor condition and poorly developed in most countries. This can lead interruptions in the cold chain leading to product quality degradation and economic losses. This discourages investors and financial institutions who see cold chain investments as risky and unprofitable.

The lack of awareness and training promotes inappropriate practices and remains another major challenge for the development of a good cold chain in Africa. The lack of information leads to inappropriate practices, such as produce being stored at incorrect temperatures, or improper hygiene standards. 

Safety is another issue. After numerous reports of accidents with flammable refrigerants, U-3ARC called for a halt to the introduction of technology using A3 and A2L refrigerants until technicians in Africa were appropriately trained.

U-3ARC insists that with concerted efforts and appropriate measures from all stakeholders, it is possible to overcome these obstacles and develop an effective cold chain in Africa. It calls for collaboration between governments, businesses, international organisations and civil society to invest in infrastructure, promote the use of appropriate technologies, educate and train cold chain actors, develop and enforce adequate regulations, and mobilise the necessary financial resources.

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