As one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest producers of tomatoes, Nigeria grows up to 1.5 million tons of the fruit annually, yet nearly half of that harvest fails to make it to the market. In a bid to provide a solution to post-harvest food waste, a team of Pratt Institute students designed a storage facility for tomato farmers in Nigeria that takes inspiration from the respiratory system of a cricket and the ribs of a cactus. The proposal — titled Tomato’s Home — was recently named a finalist in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and has advanced to the Biomimicry Launchpad, an accelerator program that helps early-stage entrepreneurs bring nature-inspired solutions to market.

person cutting loofa

Unlike consumer-driven food waste that plagues the developed world, much of the food waste in developing countries such as Nigeria occurs during the post-processing stage. The students’ proposal focuses on the small farms around Kano in northern Nigeria, where the majority of the country’s tomatoes are grown.

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person weaving

The students’ solution begins with a storage basket made from natural materials. Inspired by the way peas are protected and arranged in their shell, the students suggest weaving together loofa — the dried, fibrous part of the luffa fruit naturalized in the area — into a basket base for storing the individual tomatoes and to prevent bruising. The soft bed of loofa would be protected and given structure by a layer of woven teak on the outside.

four people holding tomatoes

To store the tomato baskets, the students have also proposed a modular building constructed from natural materials, including clay bricks and thatch. Designed with an emphasis on natural ventilation and insulation, the buildings take direct inspiration from elements in nature, such as stack flow ventilation that the students say mimic the respiratory system of crickets. Light colors on the facade help reflect heat much like the white shells of certain desert snails, while the thatched roof — inspired by the thatched nests of grass-cutting ants — provide insulating benefits without compromising ventilation.

+ Pratt Institute

Images via Pratt Institute