Forbes: Fight Chronic Disease, Boost Economies: 4 Growing Opportunities In Nutrition
There’s a growing number of social innovators who are targeting nutrition as a key lever for solving a myriad of global problems—and they’re doing far more than pushing your everyday food pyramid. They are tackling problems along the entire nutrient value chain—from the environment to food systems, health, and business.
Social innovators are taking on chronic disease and malnutrition through nutrient interventions. They are also tapping the interconnectedness of the nutrient chain in order to revitalize degraded ecosystems and create new economic opportunities across the spectrum from communities to small businesses and even food industry giants.
Here are four examples of this new trend in holistic problem-solving, providing a glimpse into the future of social change in the areas of food and nutrition:
1. Transforming waste systems to “close the loop”
Social innovators are redefining what we call “waste” through initiatives that transform human waste into resources that ultimately benefit the environment and make food crops more nutritious. For example, SOIL is tackling Haiti’s sanitation crisis by installing and maintaining composting toilets.
SOIL collects human waste and composts it into fertilizer to support local farmers, who are struggling to rebuild Haiti’s degraded soils. Recently, Heineken pledged to buy 50,000 gallons of SOIL’s compost in order to benefit local sorghum farmers, who are partners in the company’s malt beer supply chain.
Metabolic is piloting a sustainable sanitation system that it hopes will convert waste streams into clean energy. Ocean Nourishment Foundation is seeking to alleviate the pressures of over-fishing by building artificial reefs where fish populations are boosted by the marine composting of waste materials.
These efforts target the developing world, but there is also a tremendous potential to adopt these kinds of waste management models in homes and commercial settings in developed countries. What if waste became recognized as a resource of the nutrition cycle—rather than as its byproduct? Could this lead to a broader paradigm shift—a new mindset that recognizes how our daily lives are intertwined with ecosystems?
2. New supply chains support local farmers, nourish cities, and create opportunities for big food retailers
Up and coming ventures are seeking to build local food systems by connecting small farmers with consumers and larger food buyers. Nashville Grown, for example, aggregates produce from small farmers within, and just outside, the city, and distributes it to restaurants and caterers.
“Currently, we are indirectly promoting the growth of new farms by providing them with a ready-made market,” said Nashville Grown founder Sarah Johnson. “But I would love to establish a farmer incubator program that could more actively work to ensure that our area has a diverse, healthy, and happy base of farmers who are trained to maximize the environmental well-being of their land and the nutrition and taste of their crops.”
Other supply chain solutions also seek to boost local economies and wean consumer appetites off processed foods. For example, Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery has launched a chain of mini neighborhood grocery stores in Seattle that make fresh food and staples available to communities that have been designated as food deserts.
“Our impact goes beyond improving access to healthful foods by providing an engaging experience and education for our customers,” according to Stockbox. The organization also hires local residents and works with local suppliers.
Local supply chains are a largely untapped opportunity for big food buyers and distributors as well as larger institutions, such as school systems, hospitals, and prisons. But given rising consumer awareness of the benefits of buying and eating local, can these mission-oriented organizations catalyze large-scale change in major food corporations like Tesco and Sysco?
3. Producing full-nourishment food at the community level
A handful of start-ups and scaling organizations are seeking to enable communities to produce fortified food locally to combat micronutrient deficiencies. “Despite the increasing adoption of large-scale fortification programs, approximately one billion people are still vitamin and mineral deficient because of the lack of access to centrally processed foods,” according to Project Healthy Children (PHC), which is helping small village mills fortify their own flour. PHC has developed a low-cost, automatic dosifier that dispenses the right amount of vitamins and minerals into cereals when they are milled.
Other food fortification initiatives, such as VALID Nutrition, are seeking to create sustainable benefits for communities by leveraging local resources in their operations. VALID manufactures and sources ready-to-use foods (nutrient-complete pastes that are specifically designed to treat malnutrition) within the communities it serves.
VALID hopes to create a multiplier effect that both improves health outcomes and nurtures local economic development by enabling full nutrition, working directly with local farmers to procure ingredients, providing employment, and building local technical skills and competencies.
Kuli Kuli is creating a sustainable source of moringa seeds, a “super-food” packed with nutrients, in West Africa and then uses them to produce nutrition bars that it sells in the United States. Kuli Kuli helps women form farming cooperatives that teach them how to farm moringa, process it in a way that preserves its valuable nutrients, and incorporate it into their families’ diets. This solution tackles both malnutrition and poverty.
“Many of the women we work with make five to ten times the average income in their region,” according to Kuli Kuli.
There is an enormous global need for full-nourishment foods that has yet to be met by the public and private sectors. Will this movement achieve scale through start-up organizations like Kuli Kuli, PHC, and VALID Nutrition, or will multinational food companies decide to enter the “base of the pyramid” market and create impactful partnerships?
4. Food empathy is driving full nourishment and individual well-being
Food empathy is being cultivated in communities across the globe as consumers deliberately engage in growing and cooking food for themselves and their communities. Programs like Tudabujja Halfway Farm in Uganda are using food engagement as a strategy for helping individuals recover from physical and mental trauma.
Tudabujja houses street children, many of whom ran away from home because of the conditions caused by extreme poverty, war, HIV/AIDS, and famine. As part of its mission to help street children build life skills and reintegrate into their communities, Tudabujja teaches them modern farming techniques and how to manage a wide range of livestock and crops.
“When they return to their homes, the entire family has access to more nutritious food, and family income is generated through the sale of farm products,” Tudabujja said.
Peacemeals helps communities prepare and eat meals together so that people who were formally strangers can connect nutrition with mental health and heal from trauma together. Food & Trees for Africa supports communities and schools that want to develop permaculture food gardens. As children and educators grow their own nutritious food and feed themselves, they also gain skills that spur other entrepreneurial and community-enriching activities.
These initiatives are all leveraging connections—between people, food, nutrients, health, and the environment—and tipping consumers away from isolated consumption of processed food and toward group-oriented food growing and cooking. In this way, food empathy could emerge as a critical tool for solving a variety of challenges.
Want more insights into emerging trends in solving full nourishment issues? Then check out Ashoka’s Nutrients for All competition, where a panel of expert judges recently named Valid Nutrition, Project Healthy Children, and Tudabujja Halfway Farm the top entries. Nashville Grown, Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery, Kuli Kuli, and Food & Trees for Africa were named top finalists.
To learn more about Nutrients for All: Vitality for People and the Planet, visit www.nutrientsforall.org.
This post was written by Kristie Wang, (@KristieWang), a media mobilizer and blog contributor at Ashoka Changemakers, a community of action that connects social entrepreneurs around the globe to share ideas, inspire, and mentor each other.