Prestigious award for BASE and Empa in challenge A mobile app against food waste

On January 20, 2021, announced the eight global winners of the USD 10 million Inclusive Growth and Recovery Challenge, which aims to address major societal challenges through computer and data science. Among the winners is a project by BASE (Basel Agency for Sustainable Energy) and Empa that aims to give smallholder farmers in India access to sustainable cooling facilities through a mobile app to reduce food waste.

Launched in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, the Inclusive Growth and Recovery Challenge aims to address society’s most pressing challenges and help people and communities thrive by harnessing the power of data science. BASE and Empa will split USD 10 million in grants with the seven other awardees and will use the money to further develop an open-access mobile app that gives small farmers in India access to sustainable cooling facilities for their agricultural products. This will ultimately minimize food waste, and farmers will increase their revenues.

India is one of the world’s largest food producers, yet 25 percent to 35 percent of the produced food is wasted due to a lack of proper refrigeration and other supply chain bottlenecks. Only 6 percent of the food produced in India currently moves through the cold chain, compared to about 60 percent in developed countries. Currently, there are barriers that prevent farmers from accessing sustainable cooling solutions to save food. These include high upfront investments costs for equipment; limited access to finance; uncertainty related to new technologies; limited technical know-how of cooling systems and hygrothermal sensor data; limited expertise in postharvest storage practices; and in some cases limited access to electricity.

To address this challenge, BASE and Empa are developing an open access, data science-based mobile app, “Your Virtual Cold-Chain Assistant” to enable smallholders access sustainable cooling facilities and pre- and post-harvest expertise and market intelligence. The application will include various data inputs, including weather and climate data, geographic location data, fresh-produce yields, hygrothermal cold-storage sensor data, forecasted remaining shelf life of produce and real-time market prices. This will enable smallholders to make decisions on cooling based on lifecycle benefits, rather than upfront costs; have access to easy to use information so that they can make optimal decisions on produce and farm management.

The project aims to break the negative cycle of poverty for smallholder farmers in India – while improving food security, reducing food loss, minimizing the impact of food production on the global climate and increasing smallholder incomes by up to 30 %.