To improve food security, nutrition, and the impact of food production on the environment, Bangladesh’s SUN Business Network has launched an exciting competition hoping to showcase innovation as the solution to the country’s food system concerns. With a successful launch event in May 2021, the competition is off to a great start and has already begun to train its shortlisted applicants through comprehensive bootcamps. Learn more about the competition here.
Our food systems are at risk, with the excessive use of inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and other harmful external inputs threatening Bangladeshi food security, nutrition and environment. In addition, our food systems contribute to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of groundwater depletion. Climate change is exacerbating these challenges, and threats to our urban population from increasing population pressure, a loss of agricultural land and long value chains demand an urgent call for action.
Getting off to a flying start
On 30th May 2021, policymakers, experts and business leaders shared thoughts on the frontiers of innovation in food systems in the virtual launch event of Food Frontiers: Urban Food System Innovation Challenge 2021. Dr. Ashek Mahfuz, Portfolio Lead for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), inaugurated the virtual event by highlighting this competition as the continual effort of the Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network (SBN), a platform co-convened by GAIN and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in upholding nutrition for all, through innovations in food systems for a resilient and sustainable Bangladesh.
The Country Coordinator of SBN Bangladesh, Syed Muntasir Ridwan, explained the ways in which an effective transition to a sustainable food system can be made, such as through a shift from a Linear to Circular Economy, disruptive technological innovation in food systems and by shaping consumer behaviour through inventive methods to move towards pursuing healthy diets. The Special Guest, Ms. Farzana Khan, General Manager of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Foundation, reiterated the need for actors of the food value chain to engage themselves in bringing positive change into the agri-food sector in Bangladesh. She encouraged start-ups and SMEs to step up and bring disruptive innovations in this booming sector and highlighted the areas of support SME Foundation offers to SMEs including training and certification to help them scale up their businesses.
Panellists’ priorities for improved food systems
The discussion around bringing innovations to food systems was further enriched through the distinguished panellists’ insights, who explored three thematic areas in light of their respective areas of specialisation, such as food engineering and technology, agriculture, environment sustainability, economics, and so on. The panellists’ key points are summarised as follows:
- Dr. Md. Mufazzal Hossain, Former Dean of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University gave light to food safety issues in the poultry sector due to the rising usage of antibiotics. He further discussed the negative impacts of food adulteration and the improper handling of dairy products in urban markets to human health. These food safety issues were highlighted as bottlenecks in ensuring safe and nutritious food from the producer’s end, and the significant scope to improve upon these aspects in urban markets was brought to attention.
- Dr. Burhan Uddin from Bangladesh Agriculture University covered multiple important topics, such as ensuring supply-chain traceability and the significance of reducing post-harvest loss as an important component for improving food systems in Bangladesh. He illustrated methods of improving traceability in food production through adding traceability data in certification, implementing modern management tools for traceability, providing identification numbers of farmers or the first intermediary of the supply chain to the distributors or retailers, and, finally, through proper record-keeping of raw materials and observing standard operating procedure. Reducing post-harvest loss rates for local fruits in Bangladesh was also suggested, such as through the adaption of the Maturity Index of fruits, implementation of proper cold-chain and transportation modes to reduce losses from farmer to market level, and ensuring proper storage systems for non-climacteric fruits.
- Dr. Gulzar Aziz made vital remarks in terms of public health problems caused by industry processing of food in urban markets. He stressed the usage of preservatives, food colouring and consumption of trans fat as some of the key reasons behind health hazards in the country. To illustrate, processed products, such as grilled meat in local restaurants and over-fried potatoes to make chips, are highly detrimental to human health and as such he urged innovations to enable food to be processed in a way that does not allow harmful components to be incorporated into the final product. Furthermore, he stressed the importance of communicating the reason behind bringing innovations in this regard, to educate consumers on the health hazards resulting from the consumption of processed food made through traditional technology in urban to semi-urban markets. Young innovators were urged to be very mindful about the ingredients and processing modes of food to ensure the solutions they pitch are both safe and nutritious.
- Joy Bhowmik, an avid climate enthusiast, Lecturer and Research Associate at the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh, focused on challenges imposed by climate change and stressed the need to attain a climate resilient food system in Bangladesh. The primary areas of intervention for stakeholders to reduce the negative impacts of climate change mentioned were post-harvest loss and food wastage reduction, plastic waste control and conservation of marine fisheries and usage of organic fertilisers for farming, among many other issues related to enhancing the urban food systems of Bangladesh.
Looking ahead to an innovative future
The National Association of Small and Cottage Industries, Bangladesh (NASCIB), as one of the strategic partners of Food Frontiers, shared their journey working with SBN and their joint efforts to build the capacity of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to help them thrive in the food industry. “Technological innovations showcased in this competition can help facilitate business-to-business technical support to MSMEs and help them scale up”, enthused Mr. Nurul Gani Shovon, President of NASCIB. The session was concluded by Ms. Colleen O’Connor, Technical Advisor of SBN and Nutrition Officer, WFP, who encouraged all potential participants to make the “farm to fork” process in Bangladesh more resilient, traceable and sustainable through their innovations.