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The future of sustainable food system innovations

Dossier

African entrepreneurs are moving away from conventional meat production to farm insects as a more sustainable and climate resilient protein source

© Rudi Verspoor

Climate resilience

With increasing unpredictability, the global climate crisis demands a transformation in agricultural practices and wider food systems. Innovative entrepreneurs, start-ups and climate initiatives are using technical advances to respond to the challenge, but can they be scaled?

The world will need to feed 9 billion people in 2050 and meeting that demand will require an increase in food production levels by some 70%. The effects of climate change put further strain on dwindling resources and, without adaptation, global crop yields will likely decline by at least 5 % within the next 30 years. At the same time, food systems account for as much as 30 % of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Agroecology, biotechnology and digital solutions are already in place across ACP regions to build the climate resilience and sustainability of vulnerable food systems; but what are the challenges and opportunities for scaling out these initiatives to achieve wider impact?

Alternative animal agriculture

In developing countries, as populations increase and become wealthier, demand for meat-based meals increases – as does feed for livestock, such as soybean and fishmeal. The cultivation of soybeans for feed contributes to deforestation and overuse of harsh farm chemicals, whilst demand for fishmeal for feed has led to overfishing. The identification of alternative protein sources for food and feed is thus an urgent need for agricultural sustainability and climate change mitigation.

One alternative is the production of insect protein, which produces far lower GHG emissions than, for example, soy production and requires less resources than conventional meat production. Across Africa, insect consumption is more common than anywhere else is the world. Tapping into this expanding market opportunity in Burkina Faso is local processing company FasoPro, which works with more than 500 women to collect 15 t of caterpillars each year from shea trees outside of the capital, Ouagadougou. The agribusiness procures the caterpillar harvest in advance, then dries, preserves and packages the edible insects into various snack pack sizes. A 70 g pack of crunchy caterpillars sells for CFA 650 (€1). “We sold 30,000 units last year, and hope to hit 100,000 this year,” says Kahitouo Hien, FasoPro’s founder, who intends to identify new funding sources to expand his product range into crickets.

Insect rearing is also being adopted by innovative entrepreneurs and start-ups in Kenya. In November 2018, 24 year-old Talash Huijbers launched her ‘circular economy’ business Insectipro, which creates protein-rich flour for feed from processed black soldier fly larvae. In a small wooden greenhouse, the flies are reared on organic waste from local grocery stores, bakeries and breweries. Within a year, Huijbers has increased the efficiency of production, “At first it took 6 weeks to go from egg to egg, but now I’ve got the process down and it only takes 26 days!” she exclaims. Moreover, any leftover product contains a high content of nitrogen and can therefore be used as organic fertiliser. Ecodudu, another Kenyan start-up also breeds black soldier fly larvae to make organic soil fertiliser (Shamba mix) and feeds (Dudu meal) to supply pig, fish and poultry farmers in central Kenya and Nairobi. In 10 days, the company generates about 3 t of larvae, which are fed on discarded household foods to up-cycle the nutrients, thus diverting waste from landfill sites and reducing the release of GHGs.

To respond to the increasing waste problem arising as a result of the fast-growing population and urbanisation in Kenya, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has produced a newpolicythat forces businesses to dispose of their waste in a sustainable way. Along with the limited supply of protein-rich food, and the affordability of insects, the policy is expected to encourage the development of more circular businesses, such as insect rearing, in the country. But according to a project funded by the International Development Research Centre, “Future dissemination of insect-rearing technologies to a wider audience, and follow-ups with trained agripreneurs, will be required to scale up the inclusion of insects in livestock feed across the continent.”

Scaling models of success

Africa’s rising population and changing diets also call for increased food production – almost triple current levels. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) initiatives are adopting integrated and research-driven approaches to meet the demand. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), for example, has been working since 2012 to develop six Climate-Smart Village (CSV) models in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Each CSV introduces climate-smart interventions in partnership with the rural communities and other stakeholders (national agricultural research systems, NGOs, local authorities) to test and validate agricultural interventions. As a result of the project in Lushoto, Tanzania, 500,000 trees were planted between 2012 and 2015 to increase soil conservation and water retention for crop growth, and farmers have adopted new climate-resilient bean varieties to increase their yields threefold compared to local varieties.

Working with CCAFS, insights from the CSV models are being scaled up by the World Bank for a US$111 million (€110.8 million) CSA project in Niger. By distributing drought-tolerant seed varieties and expanding irrigation and agroforestry practices, the project aims to increase agricultural productivity and enhance climate resilience in 60 communities across the country, impacting the food security of 500,000 farmers. “This project will not only pave the way for resilient growth of the agricultural sector in Niger, it will also shape future climate-smart agriculture projects across the region,” says Paul Noumba Um, World Bank country director for Mali, Niger, Central African Republic and Chad.

Digital CSA projects are also being scaled up in Africa as they move from development initiatives to self-sustaining, smallholder-focused businesses. CTA’s Market-led, User-owned ICT4Ag-enabled Information Service (MUIIS) initiative has undergone such a transformation in Uganda. In 2017, the project launched a bundled product of targeted satellite-based services delivered by text message to mobile devices. The information included weather alerts, agronomic advice and index-based crop insurance to increase farmers’ climate preparedness and resilience. When the donor-funded phase of the project concluded in February 2019, over 250,000 farmers had been digitally registered with the MUIIS database and 3,609 farmers had subscribed to the service bundle.

Before its conclusion, the business model of the project was revised with recommendations from Ernst and Young and presented to project partners to encourage them to continue the services. Ugandan fintech company, Ensibuuko, which handled the text message delivery platform during the project phase, is now scaling out the platform. In the first farming season of 2019, the service bundle was sold to more than 7,000 farmers and is now being promoted to a broader range of users, such as NGOs and input suppliers. “To ensure MUIIS’s financial sustainability, the subscription price has been raised slightly to reflect the transition from a project to a business. A seasonal subscription now costs USh 30,000 (€7), up from USh 14,000 (€3.30) in 2017,” says Ben Addom, ICT4D programme coordinator at CTA.

Partnering for impact

Project partnerships have also been important for scaling participatory climate information services in Rwanda. Since 2016, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, CCAFS and USAID have worked with other organisations, including the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the International Livestock Research Institute, to train around 105,000 Rwandan farmers on accessing, understanding and using climate services. The project provides technical officers, policy and decision-makers within the Government of Rwanda, as well as farmers, with climate information products, such as IRI’s ENACTS – location-specific, high resolution climate data – and weather graphs and maps that incorporate satellite data.

As of August 2018, 1,612 governmental staff and volunteer promoters had been trained and supported to provide training to the farmers; 85% of participating farmers have since changed their practices to respond more effectively to weather challenges. "Our collective work benefits from a particularly strong set of government and local and international partners and generous support from USAID at the level needed to strengthen Rwanda’s capacity to produce, deliver and use climate services. This investment of human and financial resources…has made it possible to make things that have previously only been demonstrated a pilot scale work for farmers on a national scale,” says Jim Hansen, leader of the CCAFS Climate Services and Safety Nets Flagship Program.

CSA projects and innovations are thus impacting the way actors of the agricultural value chain use resources and access agriculture-related information to build their resilience. But for these solutions to reach their full potential, and to meet the food demands of an uncertain future, sustainable scaling through innovative financing, partnerships and enabling policies must be more widely adopted.