UK scientists led by Sheffield University working with engineers to reduce food waste in developing countries

Scientists and engineers in the UK are working to use ideas from advanced space technology to improve the lives of farmers and reduce food waste in developing countries.

A pile of pieces of watermelon

This research forms part of the AREC research centre at the University of Sheffield within the Agritech and Food theme.

Due to a warmer climate and a lack of technology, expertise and infrastructure, developing countries can waste up to 40% of food, the majority being fresh produce. Farmers are unable to insulate and cool or refrigerate food after is harvested resulting in spoilage on the journey between the farm and the consumer.

Dr Sonal Choudhary at the University of Sheffield Management School is leading a team of researchers made up of both academia and industry including representatives from Sheffield University Management School (SUMS), Hull University (HUBS), STFC’s RAL Space and commercial cryogenics firm Cryox.

The team are working on utilising STFC’s expertise in space science and cryogenics, thermal engineering and analysing large datasets to improve the efficiency of the cold food supply chain in India with the aim of reducing the amount of waste, both in terms of food and energy.

UK expertise in cryogenics, the science of extremely cold temperatures, and of thermal engineering could hold the key to bolstering the food chain by reducing the amount of loss from farm-to-fork and by doing so, helping farmers raise their income.

Dr Choudhary said: “There are a number of practical and logistical challenges for farmers in developing countries. Once they have harvested the fruit or vegetables, how can they keep it fresh before it reaches the consumer? They are often unable to afford refrigerated vehicles, and rely solely on traditional methods such as transporting the produce through open trucks, rickshaws, motorcycles and even bicycles.

Given the ambient temperature of 40-45oC in many parts of India, a good thermal insulation along with cryogenics technology could provide us with a viable option to reduce food loss from farm-to-fork and improve the cold chain efficiency.”

Dr Bryan Shaughnessy, head of the Thermal Engineering Group at STFC RAL said: “We design systems to withstand the harsh extremes of temperature in space. By taking the technology and expertise we apply in developing instruments for use in space missions and instead looking at how to apply it in assisting in keeping food cooler in warm climates I believe we have an opportunity here to find fairly low cost solutions to what can be a very expensive problem.”

The project has has funding from the STFC Food Network+, which brings together researchers from STFC and different disciplines in the agri-food sector with the aim of solving some of the world’s greatest food sustainability challenges.

Find out more about the network and the other projects being funded here.

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