InspiraFarms Cooling technology drives Kakuzi’s sustainability vision.
Avocado export is flourishing in Kenya. The country is currently ranked eighth globally in avocado production, having exported 26,481 tonnes of the fruit between January and March 2021, to 15,101 Tonnes in 2022. Globally, avocado has been the most dynamic fruit in the past years, characterized by insatiable demand and an unbalanced supply. Kenya is taking advantage of this market shift, increasing its export volumes through enhanced cultivation of avocado by Kenyan farmers over the past five years.
The fruit is grown in several parts of Kenya and according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, about 70% of avocado production is by small-scale growers. For this reason, most top Kenyan avocado exporters combine production coming from their plantations and sourcing from small and medium-scale farmers to meet the growing global demand for avocados.
This is the case of Kakuzi, the largest producer of avocados in East Africa, which exports approximately 45% of the total volume of avocados exported from Kenya. With a large history in Kenya, Kakuzi abandoned the production of coffee and pineapples and adopted a focus on a mixed agricultural portfolio to mitigate its profit cycle risk. Currently, they deal in tea, avocados, forestry and macadamia nut production as core business activities, and are starting to implement the production of blueberries (Kakuzi, 2021).
Kakuzi’s avocados cold rooms
With their expansion plans around avocados, macadamia and blueberry production, Kakuzi’s main priority was to invest in modern technology that would help better the quality of their produce. Based on the UN sustainability standards, Kakuzi intended to adopt a cold chain facility that would also help reduce its GHG emissions. For the additional cooling capacity, Kakuzi planned to invest in 8 cold rooms, each capable of handling more than 40MT per cycle, with up to six cycles a week during the avocado season, running from March through September. Since June through August is the peak season for avocados, the facility needed to accommodate these larger supply months. Kakuzi required a dropping temperature from 25 to 5 to 7 °C within 24 hours of entering the cold rooms. This temperature requirement called for pre-cooling, and additional cold storage capacity that could accommodate inventory buildup in case of logistic challenges.
In the first phase of the expansion plan, Kakuzi invested in two InspiraFarms Cooling cold rooms in 2020, each of 100 sqm, with a capacity for 40 pallets—288 trays with 4 kg each. They then adopted an InspiraFarms Cooling single chiller-based cooling system capable of feeding both cold rooms. The cooling system included one thermal storage tank with phase change material (ice) that pulls cold water to both cold rooms through two compressors and two reductant pumps. The system also included pre-cooling capabilities through forced-air fans and evaporators, to cool down 40MT of avocado in 24 hours, and at a total cooling capacity of 160 kW.
Kakuzi pointed out that the InspiraFarms Cooling chiller-based cooling system provided them with an energy storage system, that allowed the reduced usage of diesel generators. The operations team also expressed that it provided a reliable system, with sufficient energy backup for non-stop cooling operations.
InspiraFarms Cooling prefabricated distribution corridor.
Kakuzi adopted a temperature-controlled prefabricated distribution corridor that connects cold rooms to their respective packhouse and dispatch docks. This design allows a smooth movement between delivery and packaging to dispatch. To add on, their facilities came with monitoring systems with a portal the operations team can log in at any time to monitor the status of their avocados, the energy usage and manage stock levels.
David Migot, the Engineering Manager at Kakuzi, stated that “the alarm and maintenance system on the software goes a long way in giving you a lot of control on how our product looks at any given minute. I would recommend InspiraFarms because it is a unique tool in the cold chain and is a tool which is very useful for any enterprise trying to manage their product well before going into the market.”
David also stated that other key drivers of their investment were to meet sustainability requirements, such as the reduction of emissions by implementing the R44 that uses thermal storage. As a high-value asset, David pointed out that energy consumption is a key determining factor of return on investment. And with the use of thermal storage in the cold room, they have noticed a positive turn in reducing energy requirements during production time during the day.
“The anticipation is that the quality will improve. If the cold rooms can run with set temperatures without interruption of power being off grid, then definitely, we can maintain our produce at set temperatures. In Kakuzi’s case, we are talking about five degrees centigrade or a maximum of six degrees centigrade and we can achieve that without having tremendous issues. If you sustain that temperature when the fruit is in the cold room, then we expect your product to be good for the international market.” said David.
Kakuzi is also focused on the development and growth of their avocado out-grower suppliers, currently sourcing from more than 3000 smallholder farmers. The growth and expansion of their cooling capacity are assisting the integration of the increasing supply coming from these farmers. This has enabled them to strengthen their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as they continue to reach out to more smallholder farmers and out-growers.
Annually, Kakuzi produces an average of 350 containers, almost equivalent to 7.5 million tons of avocados for export. They aggregate, pack and export a variety of green and black skin cultivars, and grade each fruit. They are then weighed, sized, sorted and packed into cartons of 4kg, 8kg or 10kg bulk packs, and placed in respective cold rooms. in preparation for shipping. After cooling, the avocados are then placed in reefer containers and are dispatched for sea freight to its European clients.
“When we have good quality cooling management post-harvest, then it means the quality of our fruit, all the way from the farm to the market will be preserved. Through this, we can sell more without any losses. For Kenyan markets, cold chain management is particularly important to us, especially considering that the Kenyan voyage to the market takes approximately 30 to 35 days.” says Jonathan, the Assistant General Manager at Kakuzi.
The two urged that for anyone looking to grow and expand their export business in Kenya, good and reliable cold chain models are a must-have. This will give sustainable temperatures from storage time to the time that they are being transported to the market. He also advised that farmers should opt for more environmentally friendly refrigerants to save on energy and costs.
InspiraFarms Cooling will continue to support Kakuzi’s future growth developments with two additional cold rooms to be deployed in the next years.