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Enhancing global food security through technology, knowledge transfer

June 28, 2017

Technologists Without Borders“Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime” is a proverb that extols the critical importance of learning, skill building, and the transfer of knowledge. While the proverb goes back many centuries, its message is still very relevant today with 850 million hungry people and two billion that are malnourished. At an IFTNEXT panel discussion on “Food Technologists Without Borders - A Compelling Concept” on Tuesday morning, IFT and the Feeding Tomorrow Foundation announced that they are collaborating with several global not-for-profit organizations to set up volunteer programs that leverage the technical know-how of the IFT community and provide technology support and solutions for people and regions with critical food needs.

IFTNEXTThe panel discussion was designed to raise awareness about the new program, provide insights and real-world examples of how volunteers are impacting people’s lives, and to encourage the audience to get engaged and sign on to be part of this new initiative, said Bernhard van Lengerich, moderator of the panel and board member, Feeding Tomorrow.

Compatible Technology International (CTI) is a global nonprofit based in the U.S. that provides African smallholder farmers with access to tools, training, and product development, said Alexandra Spieldoch, CEO. CTI volunteers include researchers from industry and an agronomist from academia.

One-third of food for human consumption is lost or wasted, and Africa is struggling with this issue, noted Spieldoch. Africa currently imports $35 billion worth of food. CTI’s goal is to provide one million smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with access to quality tools by 2025, increasing the production of nutritious food, improving the productivity of African food markets, and contributing to Africa’s self-sufficiency.

Productivity is a challenge due to lack of mechanization in food production. In some parts of Africa, the production of food has not changed that much in over a century, declared Spieldoch. For example, traditional pearl millet processing results in 25–40% product losses, is time and labor intensive, and produces low-quality grain. Introduction of a pearl millet processing machine has increased production 6-fold. The portable and rugged equipment can be used in remote places without electricity and supplies whole, clean grain.  

According to Spieldoch, the organization is looking for food scientists, engineers and technicians, agronomists, supply chain experts, and economists to assist with design, prototyping and drafting, analysis and training on food science/safety among smallholder farmer groups, manufacturing and distribution of food technologies, and promotion and marketing of products.

Betty Bugusu with Purdue University’s International Food Technology Center (IFTC) described its mission of expanding markets and reducing food losses for local food crops in developing countries. IFTC provides food technology innovations to link farmers to markets to create small- and medium-scale processing enterprises.

The organization focuses on three areas: 1) technology development and innovation for products and mechanized processes, 2) technology adoption and entrepreneurship using innovative models such as incubators, and 3) capacity building—short-term training and student learning programs.

Bugusu pointed out that improving food and agriculture abroad helps the U.S. by stimulating demand and opening trade opportunities for domestic producers and creates potential new markets for their technologies. According to Bugusu, IFTC is looking for individuals with expertise in GAP, GHP, and GMP for farmers and food processors; HAACP guidelines and certification processes; product feasibility studies; packaging, branding, and marketing; and recordkeeping.

Jeff Dykstra, CEO of Partners in Food Solutions, described a meeting 10 years ago between Kofi Annan and General Mills CEO Ken Powell, where Annan asked Powell what General Mills, as the sixth largest company in the world, was doing about food security in Africa. Powell challenged his team, and they responded to help since General Mills was a multinational company with operations throughout the globe. Other companies have also joined this effort and include Cargill, Hershey, Buhler, Ardent Mills, and DSM.

Over the past 10 years, Partners in Food Solutions has assisted about 1,000 companies. The organization acts as a bridge between experts at food companies and local entrepreneurs in Africa. About 31% of the supported businesses are female owned or managed. Projects have included product development, packaging, brand design, and process improvement. More than 40 companies have received financial investment as a result of the partnerships.

In the next year, Partners in Food Solutions plans to experiment with using IFT volunteers on select projects.