Swansea University - Gambian Farmers Benefit

Gambian Farmers Benefit

Gambian Farmers Benefit from Desert Fridge

Qasid Ahmad, a 19 year old from London and a first-year mechanical engineering student at Swansea University, has recently visited The Gambia to implement an innovative desert fridge project that helps subsistence farmers with no electricity to store food to sell at a later date.

The scheme allows farmers in very hot countries, who previously lived on a ‘sell now or not at all’ existence, to store food for up to 18 days in a very simple fridge made of readily available and locally sourced materials.

Qasid said: “The genius of the idea is in its simplicity and the availability of the materials to the people who need it.  The desert fridge is made from two clay pots, one inside another, and with a layer of wet sand between the two, which insulates the inner pot.  When the water evaporates, it acts much like human perspiration, and lowers the temperature of the inner pot.”

Qasid spotted the desert fridge online after returning from teaching Maths in The Gambia during a gap year with international aid agency Humanity First.  He immediately thought how useful it would be for farmers he had met on his travels.

A few months later, at Swansea University’s Fresher’s Fair, Qasid came across Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) and immediately decided to submit the ‘desert fridge’ as an enterprising project.  The project was accepted and Qasid worked with Corina Edwards, Swansea University’s Entrepreneurship Development Officer, to get it off the ground.

Corina said, “Qasid’s desert fridge idea was a strong one, and he was clearly passionate about it, so we funded him to attend a SIFE meeting in Cologne in Germany.

“Whilst travelling to the meeting, he discovered that there was a competition to pitch your project idea to the SIFE panel  to win €250 in sponsorship plus free mentorship from SIFE experts. So, en route, Qasid prepared his pitch – and came back with the first prize!”

With the aid of the sponsorship money, Qasid was able to take the project further. He began by contacting a colleague, in the school where he had taught in The Gambia, to develop a prototype of the desert fridge.  The feedback was positive; with the pot maker mentioning how surprised he was at the low temperature inside the fridge.

The next step was, with the assistance of a friend from the University of The Gambia’s science club, to trial the desert fridge.  They bought fresh local tomatoes and kept them in the desert fridge, checking them and taking a photo at one o’clock everyday. They also took the temperature daily – both outside, and within the clay pot. 

Qasid explained: “The results were astounding, much better than we’d dared hope for! The desert fridge showed that the fresh produce could be kept for at least 18 days before becoming inedible, and the temperature within the pot was at least 10 degrees cooler than outside.”

The success of the trial helped Qasid to gain £500 sponsorship from Humanity First and further support from Swansea University’s Department of Research and Innovation.  With the money, Qasid and Mubahil Shakir - a budding documentary maker who had also been funded by the charity - travelled to Bafuloto, a remote village in The Gambia. Here, together with a team of volunteers, Qasid arranged for 30 desert fridges to be made for ten village farmers to store the community’s produce. 

The volunteers also set up a workshop, incorporating a play by local school children, to teach the farmers how to use the pots and to highlight the advantages of using them to store food for sale at a later date. The many benefits identified by the villagers included increased profitability of farmer’s crops; reduced wastage; increased trade for local clay pot manufacturers; and an opportunity to increase food production and consumption.

Qasid concluded “The farmers reported that they would often waste up to 40% of their fresh produce and had no choice but to sell it for rock bottom prices - as the traders knew that the villagers had no method of storing the quickly rotting goods. Now that they have the desert fridge technology, they can keep the produce fresh until there is a demand for it at market – helping to make a better profit and to waste less food.

“There is so much potential for the desert fridge, that after seeing the results of the project, Humanity First is intending to roll it out across The Gambia and many other countries in West Africa. This is fantastic news.”


 


Notes

Clips of the documentary about the Desert Fridge Project, as produced by Qasid Ahmad’s cousin, Mubahil Shakir, can be viewed on www.youtube.com or by clicking here. URL: http://www.youtube.com/user/mubahilshakir

SIFE is an international organisation that mobilizes university students around the world to make a difference in their communities while developing the skills to become socially responsible business leaders. Visit www.sife.org for further information.

Humanity First is an international aid agency that provides aid and assistance to those in need irrespective of race, religion or politics from registered offices now in 28 countries. HF has been working on projects in 35 countries across 6 continents. Visit www.humanityfirst.org.uk for further information.

Qasid Ahmad continues to work on the project, to analyse the results of the pilot and to raise awareness of the desert fridge technology in order to disseminate the knowledge gained for the benefit of rural communities in developing countries around the world. To sponsor Qasid, and help the group of volunteers to expand the project internationally, please contact qasidsafir@gmail.com.