Kenya Horticultural Exporters (KHE): Pioneers of InspiraFarms’ first mobile pre-cooler

Kenya Horticultural Exporters (KHE) is a family-owned company and has been there for the last 45 years. They have sites in Kenya (Naivasha, Nairobi, Mwea, Rupingazi and Nanyuki) where 90 % of their production goes to the UK market.

Their major crop is beans grown in different varieties that include fine beans, extra fine beans, and runner beans. The market for Tender Stem Broccoli (TSB) is also growing in the UK as we continue to see a rise in healthier living and changes of lifestyles. Additionally, they also grow a variety of peas such as sugar snaps, garden peas and baby corn. KHE are also the biggest growers of raspberries in Kenya and have also recently introduced blackberries and avocados to their family of fruits.

They have contracted out growers across Kenya, specifically around the equator that include Nanyuki, Timau, Mwea, Olkarau, Kajiado, Kitengela, Narok, Rumuruti and Kinang’op who grow different crops suitable for the different weather patterns around the areas.

KHE faced several challenges specifically, with their baby corns and broccoli grown in Rupingazi, an area known for extremely hot temperatures. They argued to have experienced logistical challenges, post-harvest issues such as dehydration, early onset of rotting, loss of flavor due to product deterioration, with a need to increase shelf life.

The two crops tend to be very tender and react to temperature much faster than others in terms of quality deterioration. The final grade out gotten from baby corn after peeling is between 12% -14% of the total raw material transported to the packhouse. Usually, from a tonnage (1,000 Kg) of baby corn transported to the packhouse in Mwea the result is a yield of about 120-140 kgs of sold weight. This means that there is a lot of waste being transported into the packhouse as the crop is bulky.

Additionally, KHE also faced challenges in high energy usage that spiked their electricity bills caused by intense cooling requirement, as the high respiration rate of the baby corns requires to be cooled overnight.

They opted for a solution that could increase the quality of the baby corn once de-husked and reduce yellowing of broccoli at the farm in Rupingazi. The aim was to put them into a pre-cooler as soon as possible, before transporting them to the packhouse in Mwea. As Rupingazi is a leased land, the company preferred not to build a permanent structure bringing in the idea of acquiring InspiraFarms mobile pre-cooler.

InspiraFarms first-mile mobile pre-cooler unit,  is a portable, quick, and field-level response to reduce external temperature shocks on fresh produce immediately after harvest. It deploys best-in-class forced air pre-cooling, designed for rapid cooling of the product straight from the field, ensuring better product quality and a longer shelf life.

first mobile pre-cooler

Exterior of the unit- robust and mobile

The unit has capacity to treat up to 200 crates or 2MT on a single phase. It integrates a forced air-cooling (up to 200Pa) and humidity control system that allows highly efficient chilling for removing field heat at source. It can drop temperature to 8°C in field before transport. Also, it is fitted with a condenser and blower unit, with ultrasonic humidifier with an osmosis system and UV light that reduces dehydration during cooling and purifies water for reducing risk of diseases.

KHE opted to utilize the mobile pre-cooler for both crops, baby corn and broccoli.

First Mile mobile unit

First Mile mobile unit

Speaking to the Head of Agriculture at KHE Dickson Kimathi, he states that the integration of the mobile unit has been smooth and that they have not experienced any major challenges.

“The broccoli team comes around six o’clock ensuring that they are harvesting the product early enough and into the mobile pre-cooler and transported to the packhouse in Mwea. Once the broccoli is out by 11am, the other team harvests the baby corn, start de-husking and then taken into the cooler. When we do get some challenges, we must review how we work. We have also received immense help from the InspiraFarms team in terms of quick servicing,” says Dickson.

InspiraFarms Team

InspiraFarms Team

During the interview, KHE confirmed the easy use of the mobile unit as the temperatures remain constant with a quick on and off button to use when desired. They also hailed the inclusion of the remote monitoring system that comes with the unit and training from InspiraFarms.

First Mile mobile unit

Back end of the unit with isolated room for the condenser, back-up generator and IOT (Internet of Things)

“We have received a lot of positive feedback from users of the unit. It is extremely easy to operate once you have set it to your desired temperature. The unit comes with a manual and we have also been provided with training from InspiraFarms. The best part is that, as a manager, you do not have to be on the farm to know what is happening to your cooler because you can access it online,” added Dickson.

The integrated remote monitoring system allows the supervision and consistent measurement of storage conditions, energy consumption and machinery performance. The system indicates the consumption of the unit is in line with the expectations, the instantaneous power does not exceed 6 kW and there are no peaks of starting current thanks to the use of the inverter in the cooling machine and electronic fans in the condenser. The voltage is constant thanks to the use of a voltage stabilizer. When maintaining the temperature, if the external network is turned off, a program leaves the diesel generator off if set point temperature has been reached, saving up to 50% diesel.

Remote monitoring system

InspiraFarms’ integrated remote monitoring system

Since then, KHE has seen a reduction in logistical challenges and have significantly reduced their amount of loss during transit. They are also saving 30kWh per day of operations as a result of grading and de-husking at the farm level, increasing quality of produce delivered at their processing facility, while reducing waste transported to and from the farm.

The pilot was financed with catalytic support from the Powering Renewable Energy Opportunities (PREO) Programme, supported by the IKEA Foundation and  UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO), and delivered by the Carbon Trust and Energy 4 Impact, stimulating energy demand in rural Africa as a way of creating sustainable jobs and reducing poverty through economic growth and empowering women.

The agribusiness has reached more than 15 out-grower farmers, of which 6 are female and 9 are male. They have also generated 25 new permanent jobs, where 25 are occupied by women and 4 by are men. One large central cold storage unit would we able to cater for 50-70 farmers.

out-grower farmers

KHE out-grower farmers

The mobile unit could be placed at many different farmer groups and as well moved around. KHE anticipates that these numbers will double in the following months, as they plan to increase the mobile pre-coolers, for their biggest farm located in Naivasha, as well as packhouses in their other farms in Kenya.

At InspiraFarms, we look forward to scaling this model and unlocking the impact it can have.  Get more information on the mobile pre-cooler here