According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the world wastes an astonishing 1.4 billion tons of food a year. This while plenty of people are still starving, and while many countries spend large percentages of their income to feed themselves.
Reasons for food waste differ from developed to developing worlds. In rich countries, it's usually the food consumers who are responsible—i.e. people just throwing away excess food that they haven't eaten or that spoiled before they could. In poorer nations, the problem tends to be in the supply chain. Because of poor refrigeration, food rots during transport or spoils at market stalls because it's not sold quickly enough.
The Mitticool fridge is hardly the answer, but it does offer a stop-gap solution of sorts. Made from clay and not needing any power to run, it keeps vegetables fresh for up to a week and can even store dairy, according to Mansukhbhai Prajapati, its Indian inventor.
The fridge is made of a porous type of clay from Gujarat, the region in India where Prajapati has his workshop. You feed water into a 5 gallon holding tank at the top and it gradually drips down through the material. On a warm day, the water evaporates, cooling the clay and leaving the contents inside relatively cold. Prajapati says the fridge is eight degrees Celsius less warm than room temperature.
"The fridge is not harmful for our health. It's totally eco-friendly. And there is no maintenance like other refrigerators," Prajapati points out. It's also relatively cheap. Models cost about $50.
The disadvantage is it takes up to 10 days to hand-make one machine, and they're quite heavy. It requires two men to lift one out of the workshop.
Prajapati started developing the Mitticool fridge in 2001, and he now sells about 230 units a month in India, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates.
It's hard to overestimate what a difference refrigeration would make if more people had it. Keeping food cold is one of the main reasons why getting electricity to the 20% of the global population that still lacks power is so important. With more than 400 million people lacking electricity in India alone, while it may not work for everyone, there should be plenty of demand.