Thinking Outside the Ice-box: The Opportunity to Combat Food Waste in Sub-Saharan Africa with a Single Point of Dehydration

Cold chain infrastructure for agricultural produce still has a long way to go in Africa. Leapfrog solutions like food dehydration can be easier to implement and faster to scale, showing marked potential to capture post-harvest losses and boost smallholder farmer resiliency.

Image Courtesy of NatureLock


Factor[e] looks beyond the cold chain for solutions to food waste

Post-harvest food loss in Africa is a complex issue. Factors like insufficient cold chain and transport, poor market linkages, and consumer preferences all contribute to harvested crops not being monetized or used, reducing income for smallholder farmers and increasing food prices for consumers. The prevailing theory to address these challenges is to rebuild the developed market model, namely through distributed cold chain infrastructure and improved commodity marketplaces.

Any chain is only as good as its weakest link, and the cold chain needs building across large businesses, small businesses and final consumers in Africa. This infrastructure is already capital intensive, and the costs only rise without access to cheap, reliable grid power. Developers and consumers alike may also need financing in local currency, and some links are difficult to finance at all where assets are not income generating (i.e., in the home). This vision has therefore been slow to scale.

Fortunately, food processing provides a leapfrog solution. Dehydrated products can be stored at ambient temperatures so production can scale to accommodate seasonal supply gluts, a significant driver of upstream post harvest losses. End products can be moved and stored in the home without cold chain, minimising the potential for downstream food losses resulting from produce going bad. Dehydrated food products also provide nutritious, affordable meals that taste the same as freshly cooked meals whilst reducing the energy consumption of the end consumer.

NatureLock, a portfolio company of Factor[e] Ventures, is a Kenyan food tech start-up specialising in dehydration. NatureLock has developed a unique process for producing nutritious, dehydrated food products, starting with StewsDay, that can help move the needle on post-harvest losses.

Why Factor[e] invested in NatureLock

Dehydration is a potential leapfrog opportunity for Emerging Markets. NatureLock’s vision for affordable, nutritious instant foods in East Africa aligns with Factor[e]’s thesis to reduce post-harvest losses to below 30% via low cost farm gate food storage, in this case via first mile processing and ambient storage.

Their debut product Stewsday is a dehydrated version of the popular Kenyan stew ndengu, containing green grams, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and spices. Stewsday is sold in a sachet and can be cooked in just three minutes by adding boiling water. This is the first offering from an exciting product roadmap covering a variety of food stuffs and end consumers to be taken to market by a Kenyan team with deep expertise in food and FMCG.

Image Courtesy of NatureLock

Stewsday launched in Nairobi at the beginning of 2023, serving the retail sector with partners including Quickmart and the informal sector in partnership with Twiga Foods. This partnership is particularly noteworthy for its potential circularity. NatureLock has the potential to buy back unsold produce for processing and redistribution (e.g., tomatoes).

NatureLock’s dehydration process is what differentiates them in the sector. Dehydration can be tricky, foods often losing their texture, taste, colour, and nutrition due to high temperatures and inconsistent exposure. To solve this, NatureLock has developed their own unique approach which allows for lower drying temperatures.

To better understand the impact of such a process on the sector, Factor[e] performed a techno-economic analysis comparing 4kg of ndengu for both cold chain and dehydration processes from farm to fork.

Factor[e] Techno-Economic Analysis

Our analysis modelled the energy consumption and costs for preparation of 4 kg of ndengu. It compares 1 kg of dry Stewsday being rehydrated with 3 kg of fresh produce going through the cold chain and being cooked from fresh.

This analysis makes assumptions for the number and duration of cold chain steps and assumes an electric induction cooker as the appliance for boiling the stew. This is a conservative assumption given that it is the most efficient but not widely used, and hence may understate end consumer energy consumption.

Figure 1


Figure 2


By comparing figures 1 and 2, we find that:

  1. An equivalent amount of lifecycle energy is consumed at approximately 4.5 kWh
  2. Dehydration concentrates the energy consumption within NatureLock as opposed to multiple cold chain links. This allows for a single point of investment at a process step with reasonable margin and economies of scale.
  3. Energy consumption by the end consumer is 10x lower in kWh terms and forgoes the need for a fridge, which is unaffordable for many.
  4. At an RRP of 1000 KSH for a 1 kg bag of Stewsday, the ingredient cost vs 3 kg of fresh produce is ~1.5x higher. NatureLock will hope to reduce costs over time.

Looking beyond the quantitative benefits evident through this analysis, dehydration brings other benefits for end consumers. Our TEA assumes electric cooking, yet many families cook stews using charcoal or gas. The elimination of this method has positive health and climate impact. It is also much faster, saving 40 minutes per meal.

Though this study replicates very specific conditions, it demonstrates the marked potential to capture the quantity and quality of harvests through a single point of dehydration for the benefit of both smallholder farmers and end users.

Next steps for the sector

Looking ahead, NatureLock has a number of interesting avenues to explore. To better understand the opportunity in dehydration and food processing, more work is needed to understand different value chains. Dehydration has a strong value proposition because of its reducing cooking time. Other food groups like starches should be compatible, whereas meats may not easily rehydrate. The near term opportunity for NatureLock is to explore yellow beans and other legumes and lentils to continue their positive impact on the instant food market in Kenya.

A thorough analysis of consumer adoption can help the product scale. Like any leapfrog opportunity, instant food products require a behavioural change. Certain products have already made significant progress in Kenya, with instant noodles being a $700m+ market, but there remain a limited number of food types available, and consumers will need to overcome habits.

We at Factor[e] Ventures have taken the position that food processing, and NatureLock’s dehydration process, is a game changer in reducing post-harvest losses in Africa whilst improving nutrition for consumers. Such solutions are poised to scale faster than cold chain infrastructure with less burden on the end-user, bringing better resilience for smallholder farmers in Africa and an improved outlook for global hunger and the climate.  

About NatureLock

NatureLock is a Factor[e] Ventures portfolio company and they are fundraising! Stewsday is only the beginning. For more information, please visit

About Factor[e] Ventures

Factor[e] Ventures specialises in global technology brokering, a strategy connecting innovative global technologies with market application. We are a team of pre-seed investors and venture builders dedicated to supporting the growth of early stage, technology-enabled companies solving global challenges in energy, agriculture, mobility, and smart infrastructure with a focus on Africa. For more information, please visit