Photo: private

Cold storage rooms for Sierra Leone farmers

Wednesday 05 Apr 17
by Andreas Johansen


Global Business Engineering

BEng programme which focuses on the collaboration between engineers and the rest of the company. The study programme has an international focus and offers access to a wide range of interesting jobs. Learn more about the programme.
Christopher Vedelsby’s and Rune Holse’s final project on the BEng programme aims to provide farmers in Sierra Leone a much-needed solar-powered cold storage room for their crops.

Safely back at home in Denmark, more specifically at a café in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district, we find Christopher Vedelsby and Rune Holse. It is only a few weeks ago since they returned home from Kenema, the third largest city in the West African country, Sierra Leone.

Life in the African metropolis was characterized by densely packed markets in all manner of colours, temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celcius, and an approximately four-hour daily window when the state-owned power station was able to supply sufficient power for all.

The story begins more than a year ago, when close friends Christopher and Rune decided to write their final project on the BEng programme in Global Business Engineering together.

They both had a burning desire to see the world, and in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders Denmark—the Danish member group of the Engineers Without Borders association—they chose a project which would establish a solar-powered cold room near a poor village in Sierra Leone so that the local farmers could store their crops correctly. As things stood, up to half of the harvest decomposed before it was sold.

No emails

As global business engineers, neither Rune nor Christopher possessed the technical know-how to build a cold storage room by themselves. Their strength lay in the planning phase, and in January, when they boarded the plane south, there calendar was virtually clear. A very unusual situation when you work in Denmark.

“Arranging meetings in Sierra Leone can be quite a challenge. There is only power a few hours a day, so you can’t just send an email. There’s also the cultural aspect—you have to look people in the eye. The whole process starts with you delivering a letter by hand, as there is no postal service—and then you arrange a meeting with the person you want to see. It’s quite a long, drawn-out process,” Rune explains.

"Arranging meetings in Sierra Leone can be quite a challenge. There is only power a few hours a day, so you can’t just send an email. There’s also the cultural aspect—you have to look people in the eye."
Rune Holse, BEng student, DTU

Photo: private

However, with help from their local guide, they nevertheless managed to set up meetings with farmers, mayors, local chiefs, and even a minister of agriculture. In these situations, their training really paid off, as the Global Business Engineering programme gives students an insight into how to approach different cultures.
Rat for dinner

In many ways, the culture proved challenging for the two young Danes who, in just a few days, succeeded in becoming local celebrities in the city of Kenema, where they spent most of their time. In particular, the food was a problem.

We didn’t have access to a kitchen at our hotel so we ate out three times a day. Some of the local delicacies were less than appetizing—for example, giant African rats in a dish called grasscutter. I regret ‘Googling’ it before we set sank our teeth into it,” laughs Christopher.

Sierra Leone—for decades ravaged by civil war and subsequently Ebola—receives virtually no Western tourists. Rune and Christopher, who are both a head taller than most Danes, therefore caused something of a stir—especially in the small villages, where the local children eyed them with wonder when they came to visit.

“Every time we entered a village to meet the locals, the children would shout ‘poomuin’—which means white man—and seconds later we’d find ourselves surrounded by a sea of curious faces,” says Rune with a smile.

Final year

Back in Denmark, they are both busy with their everyday lives—Christoffer with work, and Rune in the role of job seeker. The next phase of the project is to find enough money to build the solar-powered cold room and erect it in a village in Sierra Leone.

To that end, Engineers Without-Borders Denmark is looking for engineering students to lend a helping hand. If all goes well, Christoffer and Rune hope and believe that the first solar-powered cold storage room will be completed by the end of the year so that the poor farmers will not have to throw out half of the harvest.

Engineers Without Borders and Sierra Leone

Students with an interest in projects like Christopher’s and Rune’s can contact Engineers Without Borders on Tel.: +45 70 27 40 06 or

Engineers Without Borders Denmark was created in Denmark in 2001 as a member group of the Engineers Without Borders International association. The organization currently numbers more than 1,000 members, almost a quarter of whom are engineering students.

Sierra Leone

Situated in West Africa near Guinea and Liberia. More than one and a half times the size of Denmark with an average annual income of just 600 dollars per capita. Sierra Leone was granted independence from the United Kingdom in 1961.