Why Smart Food?
Issues that need urgent attention
Some of the biggest global issues are:
- poor diets (from undenutrition to obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases)
- the environment (from climate change to water scarcity and environmental degradation)
- Poverty (especially in the rural communities and urban slums).
Smart Food – food that is good for you, the planet and the farmer – contributes to addressing all these issues in unison.
It is important to add more diversity in our diets by including Smart Food if we want to address malnutrition, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, and environmental issues such as climate change and water scarcity along with poverty.
The United Nations has identified the need for Sustainable Diets, defined them as “diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security” and believes that it is essential to set targets to strive towards this. Millets, sorghum and grain legumes fit the UN requirements of sustainable diets – foods that are highly nutritious while also being ecologically sound.
Consider the following facts in Kenya
- One in four Kenyan children is undernourished (Kenyan Demographic Health Survey, 2014)
- Adults, especially lactating mothers, suffer from major micronutrient deficiencies (Kenyan Demographic Health Survey, 2014)
- Prevalence of obesity – a great contributor to non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart conditions – is on the rise (Kenyan Demographic Health Survey, 2014)
- More than 75% of the population make a living from agriculture, which not only provides sustenance, it is the livelihood of many people and affects their purchasing power for food, health and education.
Climate change influences the crops we grow
Due to climate change, “some estimates suggest that 40% of the land now used to grow maize in sub-Saharan Africa will no longer be able to support that crop by the 2030s.” (International Monetary Fund)
We are faced with the enormous challenge to produce 70% more food to feed 10 billion people by 2050 using scarce resources amid the threat of climate change.
Child undernutrition imposes the greatest nutrition-related health burden at a global level. FAO statistics state that:
- 161 million children are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.
- 99 million children are underweight.
- 45% of child deaths are caused by child and maternal malnutrition.
Link agriculture and nutrition
A nutrition-sensitive agriculture approach works on the premise of producing, accessing and consuming nutritionally rich and diverse foods and is at the heart of strategies for overcoming malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.
A key to the solution
Smart Food is food that fulfills all criteria of
GOOD FOR YOU – highly nutritious
GOOD FOR THE PLANET – lower carbon and water footprints
GOOD FOR THE FARMER – climate-smart crops, potential to increase yields, multiple uses and untapped demand
Diversifying our agriculture and our diets with Smart Food can make a huge difference to all of the above global issues.
What is stopping this from happening?
There is one major constraint holding back Smart Food from becoming popular, mainstream and reaching their full potential: Their value chains are significantly underdeveloped.
They have had considerably less investment and policy support for decades compared to other food sources.
The foods that qualify as Smart Food are generally not the large industrial foods. In general, Smart Food, although often the traditional or ancient foods, have had:
- Low Research &Development investment to achieve the full productivity potential for growing
- Little value additions to develop a range of products including modern convenience products
- Low levels of policy support especially compared to major commodities which have had significant government support and subsidies
- Even significantly less development aid funding
All this has led to underdeveloped and underperforming value chains.
Until a large-scale change is made, these crops will continue to have low awareness, seen as a poor person’s food, and have only a niche market for the health conscious or sometimes a crop of last choice for farmers.
The Smart Food approach
The Smart Food initiative will aim to bring these foods into the mainstream and help them reach their full potential.
This initiative will lead a campaign to drive demand and to develop value chains for Smart Food. To ensure smallholder farmers and poor rural communities in Africa and Asia also benefit, we will ensure they are given more ownership in the value chain.
To make a significant difference in the big issues of malnutrition, health, environmental problems and poverty, especially among rural communities, we need to do this in a major way and bring Smart Food to the forefront.
We will engage with:
- Consumers to build awareness and buzz around Smart Food. This will include urban consumers, who are often the aspirational markets that influence food trends, as well as rural consumers.
- Food processors, entrepreneurs, youth and women’s self-help groups to share knowledge and technologies to encourage the development of Smart Food products, agribusinesses and modern convenience products.
- Development agencies, non-governmental organizations and governments to present them with science-backed cases promoting the value of investments in Smart Food.
- Health industry to build awareness about Smart Food and especially to integrate the uses and benefits into health recommendations, particularly into rural health workers’ programs.
- School meal programs to bring healthier Smart Food into the menus
- Smallholder farmers to ensure that they are actively engaged in the value chain and able to benefit from market growth.
Getting off the block!
We start with our focus on the most important aspects of millets and sorghum:
- Highly nutritious
- Low water and carbon footprints
- Highly resilient and climate smart
- Have potential to increase yields significantly if invested in
- Have multiple uses that are largely untapped.
- Awareness of sorghum and millets is low and value chains significantly underdeveloped.
Grain legumes will also be highlighted under Smart Food due to their high levels of protein, affordability, excellent nutritional value for soils, and potential to grow the market.