World Food Day: Innovative approaches to nourish the world

With rising levels of malnutrition globally, innovative approaches should be harnessed to improve the food system’s ability to make nutritious food more available to all consumers, particularly the most vulnerable. On this World Food Day, the SUN Business Network highlights its partnership with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)’s Project Disrupt (part of the Making Markets Work programme), which showcases how innovation can be effectively facilitated so that low-income populations can improve diets through safe, nutritious foods that are desirable, available, affordable, and convenient.

Charlotte Pedersen, Senior Advisor, GAIN Nordic looks to SMEs, such as those who recently participated in the SUN Pitch Competition, who are already innovating for improved nutrition.

In 2019, the Nutritious Food Foresight report was published by GAIN in collaboration with the Global Knowledge Initiative to help address food systems reform, a critical contemporary issue. This significant report identifies 12 ways in which new ideas and technologies can be exploited to nourish the world sustainably, whilst delivering nutrition impact at scale. For example, innovation opportunities highlighted include ‘start sustainable’ – the concept of using sustainable, nutritious, and locally-available foods to reduce the need for imports and provide human health benefits. ‘Keep it cool’ regards the prevention of post-harvest loss to ensure food security by using novel solutions for cold storage and distribution, and solutions that ‘tackle traceability and transparency’ can help to stabilise food supply and demand, leading to less price volatility and increase food safety.

At the SUN Pitch Competition final held on 30 July, for which I was a panel judge, I was encouraged to see that the competing African and Asian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) had clearly adopted some of these innovative opportunities. DCF Danish Care Foods from Cambodia and Duo Mitra Raya from Indonesia, for instance, had ‘started sustainable’ by adding locally-available and inherently-nutritious fish species to their nutritious snacks and beverages to address high levels of national malnutrition.

Bale Sehat from Indonesia is also turning locally-produced (and normally wasted) rice bran into powder for use in its nutrition solutions. And from Africa, Sanavita in Tanzania and Shais Foods in Zambia were working with smallholders to increase the production of locally-available biofortified crops, including iron-rich zinc beans, orange-fleshed sweet potato and vitamin A-enriched maize and millet, to enhance the nutritional composition of flour, bread and cereal products.

Doing things differently with technology

Technology adoption by young agri-entrepreneurs is enabling the rapid introduction of agricultural solutions, and opening up new possibilities for reaching the ‘last-mile’ consumer with safe, nutritious food. The Nutritious Food Foresight report points out aspects of technology that must be considered within business solutions for success, such as the infrastructure of the local context and end-user needs.

Clearly responding to such needs in the competition was Park&Pick from Rwanda, which operates an online grocery store offering home delivery services. The company buys, cleans, sorts and delivers a wide array of agricultural products from partner vendors/farms to homes around the capital city of Kigali, and through the service, simplifies access to quality fresh food in urban communities.

Mealimeter from Nigeria has gone one step further in addressing local needs by taking into account food safety and convenience concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This innovative SME has combined internet-of-things (IoT)-supported self-service food kiosks with a mobile app for ordering, to make nutritious food available at the workplace, in hospitals and in schools. This ‘corona-proof’ solution is really impressive and is making nutritious foods immediately available for the last-mile consumer.

Exciting nutrition solutions with a strong technology aspect were also seen amongst the Asian SMEs. In Pakistan, Food Trax uses blockchain technology to provide farm-to-fork supply chain visibility and transparency through Meat Trax, their application which monitors the integrity and quality of production processes. Poulta Inc, also in Pakistan, is using artificial intelligence, blockchain and IoT technologies to establish data-driven monitoring of the poultry industry.

Solar-dried nutrition solutions

Investing in proximate processing was another ‘innovation class’ to be identified by the report as a key innovation ready to scale. Processing and value addition closer to the point of production can reduce post-harvest loss, as perishable nutritious foods can be processed into products with longer shelf lives. One of the innovations in this class is solar drying, which can reduce processing costs and is also important for reducing the environmental impacts of agricultural production.

SUN Pitch finalist Sanavita in Tanzania is using solar drying technology to process biofortified crops into nutritious flour. The SME is also linking smallholder farmers with the support and inputs they need such as seedlings, and hence, securing the supply of these biofortified crops for processing. By supporting smallholders in this way, the farming families themselves also have better access to nutritious food when consuming their homegrown crops.

As a leading company in biofortified food commercialisation, at the SUN Pitch competition final, Sanavita was awarded the GAIN Food Technology Innovation Prize of US$10,000 for providing food technology innovations that create food solutions that are affordable, safe and tasty. I was really impressed that this East African SME is daring to try something new, using both a new product and processing type, to bring nutritious food to the Tanzania market. GAIN will support Sanavita going forward by building their capacity to produce higher volumes more efficiently. The cash grant will help to support business needs, and we will also provide technical assistance to increase their solar drying capacity, and enhance the sales and marketing strategy of the new biofortified crops.

Innovative approaches within food systems will be essential to enable the ever-growing population to access healthy and affordable diets in the future. Creative agri-entrepreneurs are key to addressing the deepening global nutrition crisis, particularly in light of the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And as this year’s World Food Day event will highlight on 16 October, ‘food heroes’, such as the teams behind all of the SMEs mentioned in this article, must be celebrated and recognised for providing nourishment to sustain us, no matter the circumstances.

Find out more about the 2020 SUN Pitch Competition finalists.