With over 500 million undernourished people, and nine out of ten of the world’s stunted and wasted children, malnutrition and hunger continue to plague African and Asian populations. But as poor access to nutritionally-rich and affordable diets continues to take its toll on these continents, pioneering entrepreneurs and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are stepping up to the challenge.
The African and Asian finalists of this year’s Global SUN Pitch Competition, for example, demonstrate the role of novel food production practices, digital platforms and next generation technologies in overcoming nutrition insecurity. With innovative business models – spanning high-value commodities and modern production processes to market access and traceability solutions that ensure quality, fresh produce reaches local customers – technology is assisting SMEs in streamlining the entire value chain, and thereby increasing access to nutritious food.
Investing in local
Nigerian entrepreneur Emeka Nwachinemere had a painful experience when he first ventured into farming in 2014. Despite trying out various agri-ventures, his farm recorded poor yields due to a lack of access to inputs and finance. This sparked the idea for e-Farms, a fintech crowdsourcing company that raises local agri-investment to support farmers with access to high-quality inputs. “I realised that 64 million smallholder farmers experience the same problem I had when I started farming. Banking institutions are not keen on investing in agriculture. As a result, over 70% of smallholder farmers in Nigeria cannot access quality inputs. Leveraging finance is key so that farmers can produce highly nutritious foods,” emphasises Emeka.
Since launching in November 2017, the peer-to-peer investment platform has managed to connect over 3,000 smallholder farmers working in nine agricultural value chains including fish, maize, pepper, rice and soya to 700 investors and raised over US$500,000 in farm investments. This has enabled farmers to diversify crop production and increase their incomes.
In Kenya, Usomi Limited aims to support poultry and grain farmers to increase local productivity, ensure greater market access, and enhance smallholder incomes and nutritional outcomes. The enterprise, which was set-up by Fidalis Mujibi in 2013, has embraced various digital platforms to bridge the gap in production and market access. The company’s Lulu platform, for example, aggregates produce from different farmers and places it onto a digital marketplace where a bidding process takes place, allowing farmers to earn competitive market rates. To share knowledge and best practices, Usomi also runs training sessions led by agronomists, and peer-to-peer training. “We work with smallholders to maximise technology uptake. The Lulu digital platform allows farmers to purchase produce at the click of a button and receive alerts on diseases and pests in the production of locally-produced nutritional foods,” states Fidalis.
In Bangladesh, the average rate of daily milk consumption is 33 ml – significantly lower than the global average of 250 ml. This low intake is attributed to a 46% supply deficit. In addition, 55% of the population does not trust the quality of local milk. To help address milk safety and, in turn, the country’s nutritional deficiencies, Khamar-e has embraced digital technology.
Through online apps ‘Khamar-e Connect’ and ‘Khamar-e Bazaar’, the agri-tech SME, which was established by four engineers in 2019, champions data-driven farming to ensure that: farmers are able to digitally monitor their animals’ progress, health and output; collectors are able to handle milk hygienically; and customers receive high-quality products. The apps also offer traceability, enabling any quality problem to be tracked back to an individual farmer, thus guaranteeing transparency across the chain. In addition to increasing local production and the nutritional value of dairy products, the apps are also encouraging more people to get into dairy farming, explains Diptha Saha, a director at the company.
As food moves from farm to consumer, produce quality can become compromised due to factors including mishandling, poor packaging and counterfeiting. To address this biting challenge, Food Trax, a Pakistani SME has adopted emerging technologies such as Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), scanners, cameras, cloud platforms, temperature loggers and mobile computing to track and trace food product ingredients. The company’s traceability application, Meat Trax, for example, can monitor the integrity and quality of the production process of products like meat. An RFID tag on each animal enables the app to provide information on the owners, health, growth, and immunisation records of the animals, as well as slaughter house operations. This has helped to tame food fraud, boosted food safety and enhanced security in the supply chain. “In Pakistan, 8 out of 10 children do not eat the right type and quantity of food. The Food Trax App provides the ability to authenticate food products so that food buyers can feel powered to track, trace and verify food products,” states Rizwan Buttar, Chief Innovation Officer at Food Trax.