Virtual agri-food competition awards innovative SMEs
Agri-food entrepreneurs from across Africa and Asia have been recognised for developing innovative solutions for improved nutrition at a competition to promote safe and healthy food consumption.
As rising levels of malnutrition continue to ravage Africa and Asia, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are innovating to promote healthy diets for local, low-income consumers. Examples of such solutions range from nutrition-packed rice bran beverages to millet baby cereal and orange-fleshed sweet potato yoghurt, all of which were showcased this week during the 2020 Global Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Pitch Competition.
Organised by the SUN Business Network (SBN), the competition connects small enterprises in emerging markets with technical assistance and investment opportunities in order to bring their solutions to scale, and reach last-mile consumers. “SMEs provide most of the food that reaches these consumers which is why we focus on supporting the businesses, like the competition’s finalists, to pitch their best innovations to investors and grow their businesses – and their impact on nutrition,’’ says Jonathan Tench, SUN Business Network (SBN) Coordinator.
From the 500 SMEs that initially applied from across 24 countries, 21 were selected through a rigorous series of national and virtual competitions. In the final round, hosted as an interactive video event, the selected finalists pitched their creative business solutions to secure a range of cash and business mentorship prizes awarded by a panel of judges from Royal DSM, Cargill, The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and AGREA – an agro-social enterprise in the Philippines.
Emerging as the overall winner and receiving a cash prize of US$20,000 for the most innovative solution for improved nutrition was Baby Grubz from Nigeria, an SME that develops nutritious complementary foods for infants. “This award will validate our work on a global level, but especially in West Africa,” enthused Oluwaseun Sangoleye, who set up her company to make natural baby cereal from locally-sourced ingredients. Oluwaseun also won a mentorship prize from BoP to digitalise her business.
As the first runner up, Danish Care Foods (DCF) from Cambodia was awarded US$10,000 by SBN. The company makes ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary food products, including wafer snacks, to treat malnutrition in children. Its unique product range incorporates only locally-available ingredients, including wild-caught fish, and is affordable for low-income consumers. “DCF had a very interesting and innovative product – highly nutritious and using local ingredients. Also, with their product, they can replace imports, which is an additional benefit for countries to make sure they add local value,” explained Royal DSM judge, Fokko Wientjes.
The second runner up prize of US$7,000 was presented to Mealimeter, also from Nigeria. Mealimeter links hospitals, offices and schools with nutritious meals by providing food vending machines, and connecting customers with the country’s best nutrition-focused chefs and small businesses through a mobile app. “Thank you to all the sponsors and thank you so much to SBN and GAIN for putting this together – we are excited! And now it’s time to get back to work to get nutritious food to every single Nigerian,” stated Adekunle Jinadu, co-founder of the company. What was really impressive about Mealimeter was their ability to grow their business even under the current COVID-19 situation, explained Judge Charlotte Pedersen of GAIN.
Additional cash prizes of US$10,000, and mentorship packages, were awarded by the pitch competition sponsors. The Royal DSM ‘3A Nutrition Award’ was won by Limpho Produtos Alimentares from Mozambique which judges commended for turning broken rice, a waste product, into a nutritious product. To help meet the nutritional needs of low-income consumers in Mozambique, Octávio Muchanga set up Limpho Produtos Alimentares to process and distribute highly-nutritious food at low prices. He is now looking to launch a new line of nutritious biscuit products, turning broken rice into fortified rice flour high in fibre, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, as well as iron and zinc.
The Cargill Prize for Innovations to Enable Access to Improved Nutrition was awarded to Poulta Inc from Pakistan. Poulta uses technologies including blockchain, artificial intelligence and internet-of-things to disrupt the poultry industry by establishing a data-driven monitoring system for industry-wide use.
Tanzanian company Sanavita was the winner of GAIN’s Food Technology Innovation Prize for providing food technology innovations that create food solutions that are affordable, safe and tasty. Founder Jolenta Joseph, whose company uses solar dryers to process nutrient-dense crops such as OFSP into staple food products, said they are focusing on ending hidden hunger in Tanzania. Jolenta was also the recipient of AGREA’s mentorship prize for having shown innovation, creativity, value addition and impact in her pitch.
Critical access to nutrition
As consumers, employees and companies deal with the impacts of COVID-19, access to safe, nutritious food becomes even more important, says Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of GAIN, one of the co-conveners of SBN. Haddad noted that SMEs across Africa and Asia are vital in the pandemic response, but their ability to operate has been strained, necessitating continued support and investment for SMEs to adapt and innovate. “The SUN Pitch Competition aims to answer this challenge and connect SMEs with new investors, new government support programmes and new business partners – helping them continue to provide much needed access to affordable nutrition to low income consumers.”
Busani produced this article in collaboration with WRENmedia, which is supporting the SUN Pitch Competition communications.