Fusebox EPFL

Bühler Harvestorage (Harvest-storage) for rent

A lot oft the presented ideas bring up some of the important aspects about the storage of crops. There are multiple ideas regarding the drying and the storage of crops. However, none of them seems to tackle the real problem, which is in my opinion actually not technical but socioeconomic. Most of the losses in harvesting and storage occur in poor and less develop regions. In these regions, small hold farmers manage a majority of the land. They often have no capital at hand. This is why they have often no money for fungicides (which explains the higher amounts of fusarium), little of the advanced technology is available for harvesting and the grain is often stored in plastic bags. All this factors leads to huge losses and a minor grain quality. All of this could be prevented by readily available technology (no innovation needed). The problem is once again the missing capital to invest in this technology. Another factor is that most farmers have to sell their yield immediately after harvest, because they have no good opportunity to store it. This lets the prices drop short of the harvest every year and the farmers get less money as they would get later on during the year.

In these countries, agriculture produces often the biggest GDP and the further development of the country relies on the agriculture.

The idea should therefore be to empower the farmers in those countries so that they can produce more and better food (or that less gets lost). In addition, an increase in wealth could slow the population growth down.

The very basic business model I would like to present you is as following:

The idea is, to rent storage to the farmers. The farmer can sell his yield later in the year to a higher price. Since less of his yield gets lost and remains in a better quality, he is going to get a higher total revenue, from which he also can pay the rent. Bühler would could profit in several ways. Firstly, it would be a good action for humanity. Secondly, the more grain the world produces the more is going to be processed by Bühlers machines, which would increase its sales.  

Storage for rent is phenomenon that started to increas during the last decade or so in the western world. With some changes it could be adapted in the rest of the world. The FAO has some running projects in that area. Smaller metal bins on wheels are donated to small hold farmers to improve the storage. Giving the farmer the opportunity to store his yield empowers him because he can decide when to sell. I relay believe that the FAO project can be realized in a more economical sustainable way. Not to donate the bins but to rent them. It is not going to be possible to donate a bin to every farmer anyway.  

Andreas Baumann Mar 6, 2014

Really good! I like your approach.

Nadina - Buhler Expert Mar 6, 2014

Your idea of rent-out-storage has a lot of merit and we should think more about it. I could imagine that your concept could be broadened to drying as well. What are your thoughts on this? 

Andreas Bruun Mar 6, 2014

Of course the concept would work for drying too. It would theoretically work with every bit of infrastructure in the entire value chain.

The potential in drying is huge (I'm still working on an other idea to improve that). A lot of the grain is sitll dried in the sun. Which is perfectly sustainable (regarding the impact on the environment) but losses caused by insects and birds are huge. I'm sure you guys have all seen pictures from rice drying on the side of the streets, which is the usual practice in numerous regions of the wiorld https://www.google.ch/search?q=drying+rice+on...344&bih=740.



Andreas Bruun Mar 6, 2014

Really sorry about the typos, it’s late and somehow I can’t edit my own comments on fusebox.

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AlexS Mar 6, 2014

Hey Andreas Bruun

Very cool idea. I had a similiar thought. I was thinking that those storagehalls could also function as a "Terminbörse" (Future Markets?).

Farmers can rent storagespace and have the possibility to trade their products with other farmers as well as the company which runs the storage halls. If they choose to sell some of their yield, instead of paying with money, maybe one could create a point system (something like the Migros Cumulus Cards) in respect to the quality, sustainability of the product, etc. Which in return can be used to buy fertilizer and other equipment they lack.

This also battles the effects of a very volatile economical environment (depending on the region) and if expanded internationally trading between countries becomes alot more dynamic.

The company running the storagehalls also has a stronger position when trading the accumulated products they'd bought from the farmers, making it easier to access bigger markets and obtaining better prices. As opposed to each farmer indiviually trying to sell off their excessive yields one by one.

Just a random thought...

Andreas Bruun Mar 6, 2014

The principle could also work like a pawn shop. If you can't pay the rent or what ever dept you have (from fertilizers etc.) the company becomes the owner of the stored grain and can sell it themselves.

Andreas Bruun Mar 6, 2014

The idea of a cumulus system is good. However getting paid in minerals (grain) is very risky and as a company I would only agree to this, if I knew for 100% that I can sell it again with profit on the market because a company has to be liquid in money not in grain to pay bills (electricity etc.), taxes, wages etc..

The system would work if the storage company has a sister company that buys all the grain to produce a more valuable product like Pasta. Then it’s not necessary to trade the grain on the market.


AlexS Mar 21, 2014

Maybe you could create something like two parallel traiding systems in one company.like two  foreign exchanges

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Gian Nutal Schädli Mar 6, 2014

Hi Andres, I really like your idea and as Nadina mentioned I'd like to broaden it to drying as well. Have a look on the idea of Andy Lauper "Drying process - including solar technology" and my idea "Reduce Water consumption/Water from Air". What do you think? I think a technical and socioeconomical approach could have a much bigger impact. Check the documentary on youtube that I have linked to my idea. They really still use very primitive methods for processing their own food.

Andreas Bruun Mar 6, 2014

Thank you. I meant to comment your pages for a while now, but didn't had the time, sorry. I will commetnt as soon as possible.

Nicolas Pierret Mar 7, 2014

I like your idea, as you said it's a way to empower producers, and it could be applied almost everywhere.

And maybe there's a way to combine it with this idea https://fuseboxepfl.crowdicity.com/category/#/post/39496

Storage is then rented to producers, who then came to plug it in a small modular communitiy processing plant and transform crops into meal for exemple. Storage can be therefore transportation mean as well!

Producers are then allowed to sell semi-transformed products instead of raw ingredients, which increase their benefits.

Andreas Baumann Mar 7, 2014

 I really like how you start to combine ideas. That is great. We now talk about a small scale, modular system for storage and drying based on solar energy that is rented to the farmers. Wow. That sounds cool.

Nicolas Pierret Mar 7, 2014

Storage and drying should only be a part of the scheme: sorting, milling, mixing, packaging...

Andreas Baumann Mar 7, 2014

I fully agree!

Andy Lauper Mar 7, 2014

Absolutely! We can come up with other ideas/ improvement for these processes...

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Nicolás Meneses Mar 11, 2014

Andreas, as everybody else just said it, your idea is just great! I am trying to think how to make this business idea compatible with existing collection points. Basically a collection point buys crops at low price from farmers, then they sell it when more convenient, at higher prices.

If we implement a storage renting system, so the farmer could do the same as a collection point owner usually does, how could we make your business idea to success without affecting negatively the collection point business?

Leila Ojjeh Mar 13, 2014

Status changed to INTERESTING
Buhler experts really liked this idea. A new business model that could have big impact on the value chain. And the comments by the community make it a real strong candidate... Could we build more on it and explore how it would integrate with the current collection points?

Erika Georget Mar 20, 2014

Hi Andreas, I really like your idea and I also see the need, from a human perspective, to start tackling food waste questions where food is physically lacking - i.e. on subsistence marketplaces. Please check my idea - goes along the same line; I'd love to have your feedback since it is a related approach! 


What would you think about extending your initial concept to other possible technological solutions, through a service platform within the manufacturing company? This platform could run an initial assessment of the main roots for food waste through post-harvest losses in the local context (bottom up approach) and develop business models resting on affordable technical solutions by the manufacturer which have proven to be successful in cutting losses in similar contexts elsewhere. 

Looking forward to your feedback!

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Nicolas Pierret Mar 20, 2014

Hi Erika! Maybe you'll be interested in this other idea, which looks like what you proposed, going beyond storage to include all kind of food processing.


It will be a network of modular and small scale processing plants, affordable for farmers, and linked to the manufacturer for technical support. Manufacturer's technician will get the feedback from farmers, and collect data directly from the process plant in order to improve it (regarding local conditions).

Improvment will be available to farmers, through 3D printing: they'll be able to change selected components to improve constantly the machine.

Thanks to internet, they will be abble to propose their own improvment to the community, and share their experiences on a farmer's platform.

Erika Georget Mar 21, 2014

Hi Nicolas,

I checked the idea, and scaling down and decentralizing food production in order to cut on transport is an interesting approach frequently mentioned. However I am also concerned about the question of seasonality and infrastructure maintainance costs in this model. I guess there would be a gold middle to find to compensate the increase of some costs and the reduction of some hurdles (such as transport) to hopefully cut on waste and reduce the environmental impact. But this taken aside, I find the idea interesting, I am very much in favor of localizing solutions to adapt them to the contexts where people live.

As far a 3D printing goes: I find the technology fascinating from a food processing perspective but I would then consider it more suited to tackle the question of food waste in economically developped countries. I think for developing markets their are still too many hurdles before this to overcome and as was also mentioned by Andreas, simple technological solutions which were already successful elsewhere would have higher chances to be effective. 

Nonetheless, solutions will need to arise in all contexts and thus 3D printing of food might be relevant for tackling food waste in developed marketplaces provided that it is accepted by consumers.

Nicolas Pierret Mar 21, 2014

I do not agree on 3D printing to best suit northern countries. Maybe you get it wrong, I'm not talking about printing food, but tools and machines. It's about printing mills, hovens, storage, harvesting machine, etc.

3D printing is a really accessible technology (there some DIY printers that work perfectly fine). By using this technology, you'll be able to create cheap and accessible machines, and you'll enhance knowledge transfer in both direction, while cutting middle men!

3D printing is a simple but powerfull technologie, and it gives users independence and autonomy, and reduce costs.

I see it as a way to provide reliable, cheap and efficient tools to decrease post harvest losses!

Erika Georget Mar 21, 2014

Ok, sorry I had indeed misunderstood your target for 3D print - nonetheless, I guess I would still be cautious with "a one technological solution fits all" when it comes to subsistence marketplaces where most entrepreneurs in the food/agri sector are small and the sector completely fragmented - not mentioning the different contexts (enviro-socio-eco). In an environment where farmers might live on a few dollars per days, this approach to supply them tools by 3D print - though possibly cheaper, might still be out of their means and a financing solution would need to come along, as for instance suggested by Ceclia in her post on micro credits. Also signifcant discussion with people in these environments would be needed to simply make them aware of the potential of these tools you could print for them (or respectivelly - them for themselves). It would then be very important to couple this idea with a proper assessment of the local hurdles to focus on adapted technical solutions. In short bring the solution after a local assessment and an environment around it.

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Leila Ojjeh May 5, 2014

Congratulations to Andreas Bruun, Erika Georget and Gian Nutal Schädli for the great presentation. The team had really worked out all aspects in a smart and convincing way and impressed the audience! Bühler’s Executive Board gave a special “BEST BUSINESS CASE” award and a prize of 2500 CHF. Well done!