Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Imo State University in Nigeria, and a Master’s degree in Cooperation and Development from the University of Pavia, Italy. Having been raised in a farming family, in 2003 he founded the Nigerian radio station Smallholder Farmer Rural Radio (under the Smallholders Foundation Ltd/Gte) to share knowledge on agricultural best practices with an audience of now 2 million Nigerians. As a very active entrepreneur, he is also the founder and CEO of ColdHubs, as well as the creator of the following initiatives: The Agripreneurship Academy (to train young farmers); The Smallholders Seed Store; Smallholders Microcredit; and GrainStore polypropylene bags (grain preservation bags). He has received 23 awards, including the following distinctions: Ashoka Fellow 2008, Rolex Awards 2010, Nigeria’s Young Person of the Year 2011, Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative in Business 2012, Niigata International Food Prize Laureate 2012 and 2013, Laureate of the Yara Prize for Green Revolution, Start Up Energy Transition 2017 Special Prize: “Start Up SDG7” (Sustainable Energy for All), and Waislitz Global Citizen Disruptor Award 2020.

Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu

CEO, ColdHubs LLC

Business Location: Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria

Type: Limited Liability Company
Year of Founding: 2015
Number of Employees: 68
CEO: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu


To contribute to achieving food security by preserving perishable products, and uplifting and empowering local Nigerian communities, especially women, though hiring mainly women to manage the operations and collection of revenue at ColdHubs stations.

Business Model

As an agricultural radio broadcaster, Nnaemeka has spent years travelling in Nigeria to talk to farmers and learn about the daily challenges they face. One major challenge is the massive losses of harvested fruit and vegetables, which perish before reaching the market due to the lack of cold storage facilities. Cold storage facilities usually work with electricity, but smallholder farming plots are often not connected to the electrical grid, while alternative diesel-based refrigerators are too expensive. So in 2015, Nnaemeka created the company ColdHubs to build solar-powered walk-in cold storage rooms for 24/7 cold storage of perishable foods. This extends the shelf life of fruit and vegetables from two to 21 days, thus addressing the problem of post-harvest losses and increasing profits. ColdHubs is a breakthrough innovation for local communities and smallholder farmers. The company leads the market for innovative and affordable cold storage solutions.

Strong Relationships with Smallholders

Farmers use ColdHubs cold storage rooms by transferring their perishable foods into 20 kg (44 lb) returnable plastic crates on a flexible pay-as-you-store subscription model: they pay a daily flat fee of about US$0.50 for each crate of food they store.

ColdHubs cold storage rooms are installed in major food production areas, markets and farms. Fifty four storage rooms are currently available, serving 5,250 users.
Since its establishment in 2015, ColdHubs has created new jobs for 66 women to manage and oversee the cold rooms operations.

About ColdHubs Storage Rooms

The dimensions of ColdHubs storage rooms (L x W x H) are 3 x 3 x 2m (10 x 10 x 7ft) and can store up to 3 tons of food (150 crates) at an adjustable temperature of –15 to +25°C. Their walls are insulated, floors steel galvanised and doors gasket sealed. Their roofs are equipped with photovoltaic solar panels that generate energy to power the walk-in fridge underneath.

Each cold room features solar panels to generate 6 kilowatts of energy every hour, whereas the cold room itself only uses 1.5 to 2 kilowatts per hour. The surplus electricity is stored in high-capacity batteries and allows for refrigeration in all weather conditions, 24/7. The cold rooms use the natural refrigerant propane (R290) to reduce their contribution to atmospheric pollution, as propane has no ozone depleting potential and very low global warming potential.

Sixty per cent of each ColdHubs storage room is made locally, with the other supporting components imported from Europe.

Innovations: Milestones and Expansion Plans

Initially, people did not believe that cold storage can prevent food from spoiling. Thus, ColdHubs offered free trials to demonstrate that its innovation works and to promote it.
54 ColdHubs are currently in operation in 22 of Nigeria’s 36 states. In Nigeria’s “food belt” in the north, ColdHubs storage rooms have been placed in farming clusters to store the new harvest. In the urbanized south of the country, the cold rooms have been installed in markets to be used by retailers and wholesalers. 30 new cold rooms are being built.

ColdHubs has won a $50,000 cash price with its Waislitz Global Citizen Award and plans to invest it into the installation of two new cold rooms in two fruit and vegetable markets in Nigeria. Both new facilities are expected to save 3,285 tons of food each year, increase the incomes of 200 users and create four new jobs for women.
ColdHubs further plans to operate cold rooms in South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Benin, and Kenya. The goal is to have deployed 5,000 ColdHubs in 2030 across Africa.
Along the expansion of its market, ColdHubs is also working on meeting the high demand of storage into the cold rooms. As each new unit is very quickly filled up, ColdHubs creating a second-generation cold room named “ColdHubs 2.0”.

Success Factors and Lessons Learned

Both ColdHubs’ innovation and business model meet the Nigerian farmers’ needs. After having developed the ColdHubs concept, Nnaemeka took into consideration that most farmers could not afford to buy the cold rooms. Thus, he decided to remain the owner of the cold rooms and opted for a for a pay-as-you-store model, asking the users for a using fee.

By extending the shelf life of perishable food from 2 days to 21, ColdHubs reduces post-harvest loss by 80 %. The current 54 ColdHubs stations saved 42,042 tons of food from spoilage in 2020. Consequently, with more of their harvest to sell, smallholder farmers increased their monthly income from previous US$60 per month to a minimum of US$120 per month.

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