International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

Smart Food: Good for you, the planet and the farmer

Lead Organization

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

Hyderabad, Telangana, India

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Project Summary

African and Asian traditional staples of sorghum and millet have lost major ground in production and consumption, despite their clear advantages in nutrition, environmental footprint and climate resilience. Nutrition security and climate change realities demand otherwise. Smart Food efforts have shown good market potential to bring back these traditional staples across Africa and Asia. Given that staples are often 70% of the plate and eaten three times a day, often highly refined, largely composed of carbohydrates and can be the least nutritious part of the meal, this is where we can have ‘big’ impact on malnutrition, environment and rural poverty.The ingredients exist for a ‘Smart Food’ revolution, but an innovation broker is needed to initiate the ‘cooking’. Smart Food’s triple-win strategy is catalyzing the revolution through advocacy backed by science to generate demand and support, and creating the links and building capacity needed to develop the value chains.

Problem Statement

Agriculture is the biggest user of water and one of the largest contributors to climate change. Poor diets contribute to the top three causes of deaths and the burden of both undernutrition and obesity. While smallholder farmers are the backbone of developing countries, they are among the poorest and malnourished. Farmers across the world are bearing the brunt of climate change, water scarcity and soil degradation. Loss of diversity on farm and in diets is threatening to destroy the delicate fabric of the planet, our health and adaptability to future changes. Population growth is adding pressure to this.There is scope to have big impact on these problems by focusing on ‘staples’ which, across Africa and Asia, can commonly comprise 70% of the plate, are often highly refined and largely made up of carbohydrates. The vast majority of agricultural investments have for decades gone into just three staples (the Big3: rice, wheat and maize), through strong policy support, private industry investment, R&D, product development and even development aid, facilitating well-developed value chains that support farmers through to consumers. Farmers therefore have little incentive to grow alternative crops that can be more suitable to their environment, changing climate and nutrition needs. Niche food solutions cannot compete, having difficulty to move into mainstream, which is necessary for major impact.There is an opportunity to learn from the successes of the Big3, but apply appropriately to Smart Food to diversify the staples and create the Big5, later the Big7 and so on.

Solution Overview

To be a ‘staple’ food reaching the mass market, large and strong value chains are required. To achieve this, a dedicated investment in just a couple of Smart Foods is required. Although the core is to help the poor, it is recognized that to establish strong value chains there is need for global demand and support.Millets and sorghum are the first Smart Foods to bring back as staples because of their super nutritious qualities that tackle many of the biggest nutrition and health problems. They survive with minimal water and high temperatures, have a low carbon footprint and fit the biggest global health food trends.Smart Food initiative is the catalyst to make this happen and was selected in the top 10 Global Food Innovations in 2017 (by USA and Australian governments).Science-backed marketing, advocacy, knowledge sharing and capacity building across the value chain and to supporting establishments are the core of the efforts. Specific countries are being targeted and their success will be leveraged to generate more interest and investment.This will significantly contribute to overcoming malnutrition, coping with climate change, farmer welfare and job creation, especially across the poorest areas of Africa and Asia.We can track consumer knowledge, image and demand of Smart Foods, rise in products and entrepreneurs entering the market, livelihood impacts on farmers, impact on the environment through on-farm choices, women empowerment throughout the value chain, and nutrition and health benefits especially to women and children.

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Project Funders

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Government 2017 - 2018
  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) 2018
  • Sehgal Foundation and ICRISAT 2018

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