Fortifying Our Food to Fight Climate Change

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Fortification Definition: The practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient, i.e. vitamins and minerals (including trace elements) in a food, so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.

In recent decades, two very modern elements have radically transformed the world’s food systems: rapid technological advancement and global warming. Giant leaps in technology have been possible as innovations rapidly build on each other. In most cases, they have been tremendously efficient and beneficial. For instance, the cost of DNA sequencing per genome was US$100 million in 2001. Today it costs just US$1,000. Smart agricultural technologies such as low-cost sensors for soil, irrigation, and cloud computing have empowered farmers to make data-driven decisions, access best practices in real-time, and minimize the use of inputs, putting them in a position to conserve resources while improving productivity. Advances in genome sequencing, aerial and satellite coverage, and mobile platforms for precision farming also benefit smallholder farmers.

Despite these positive developments, climate change has proven to be a formidable challenge. Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere not only heat up the globe, creating drought and other weather shocks that significantly impact crops, but they also reduce the concentrations of essential micronutrients and protein in major food staples such as rice, wheat, maize, pulses, and potatoes. This could potentially compromise the nutritional intake and consequent health of future generations.

How can we wield humanity’s considerable capacity for innovation to combat climate change’s devastating effects on the world’s crops?

We have already seen some new technologies developed which allow growing cycles to be reduced, enabling food to be grown by anyone, anywhere – even in tiny urban spaces. Another surprising solution may be food fortification. In the wake of the 2019 EAT-Lancet Report on Food, Planet and Health, Greg Garret and colleagues raised an intriguing concept: Can Food Fortification Help Tackle Climate Change? Data to support this notion is still limited. Still, given the massive contribution of food production to greenhouse gas emissions, along with the fact that food and micronutrient production will need to increase to meet the needs of 10 billion people by 2050, this question certainly deserves further exploration.

While global warming is most certainly a global problem, its effects are keenly felt in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These regions also have seen less widespread fortification of their local food staples than high-income countries (HICs). Therefore, fortification could be an effective “one-two-punch” against both dietary micronutrient deficiency and the climate change shocks experienced by food systems.

Sight and Life believes that targeted investment and technology transfer from HICs to LMICs will be crucial in sharing and adapting existing techniques, like food fortification, to new markets. To that end, we are initiating Food Systems Innovation Hubs in Africa and Asia to accelerate this process. These hubs will share both capital goods and knowledge resources with partners in developing countries, allowing LMICs to access productivity and sustainability enhancing innovations, which will be key to fortifying local diets and strengthening their fragile food systems.

To learn more about Food Systems Innovation Hubs, watch the recent webinar and learn how to be part of the coordinated effort to improve the world’s food systems. Read further on the topic by clicking HERE

 

Innovation for Transformation

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The Covid-19 pandemic has served as a collective reminder that our well-being is delicately intertwined with that of our neighbor. During this crisis, we have also seen that the transfer of data, information, know-how, and resources across borders has been crucial in accelerating our capacity for mitigation. By sharing new treatment strategies, developing safe and effective vaccines, and distributing PPE to those who need it most we have come together in a global, coordinated effort. This has been remarkable and heartening to witness.

“It is unacceptable that hunger is on the rise at a time when the world wastes more than 1 billion tonnes of food every year. It is time to change how we produce and consume, including to reduce greenhouse emissions. Transforming food systems is crucial for delivering all the Sustainable Development Goals. As a human family, a world free of hunger is our imperative.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres 
Here at Sight and Life, we care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our fellow world citizens and have been working to improve access to quality nutrition globally since our inception during the famine in the Horn of Africa in the mid-1980s. Through our work at the foundation, we have seen firsthand the immense impact scientific evidence, technology transfer, and targeted investment can have on food systems.

Innovate for nutrition

Take the egg, for example. Eggs are nutrient-dense animal source foods and have been shown to reduce stunting in young children. But eggs are expensive and scarce in most low and middle-income countries (LMIC). In Malawi, smallholder farmer groups have increased their income and produce more and more affordable eggs with the support of an Egg Hub, a centralized unit that provides inputs, technical assistance, credit, and market access (learn more by visiting egghub.org).
 
Unfortunately, an immense gulf still exists that we cannot continue to ignore. In LMIC the effects of malnutrition and climate change become progressively dire. Most high productivity technologies that can help mitigate these shocks rest with organizations in high-income countries (HIC) that benefit from large consumer markets and large pools of venture capital to test and try innovations to make food systems nutritious and sustainable. These innovations are vital to boosting the nature-positive production of agricultural goods while preserving and advancing equitable livelihoods.

At the same time, in rapidly emerging consumer markets in the global south, such as India and Nigeria, the effects of malnutrition and climate change remain devastating. Malnutrition in young children is a life-sentence not only for that child but also for the community and country in which they live and grow. A stunted child may never catch up to his or her peers and will therefore fail to thrive and lead a dignified life, as every child should have the right to do.

Collaboration is key

Sight and Life is determined to change all of this. That is why we are launching a new initiative – Food Systems Innovation Hubs.

We will work to establish hubs in rapidly emerging consumer markets, such as India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya to stimulate investment in resilient and responsive food systems, as well as facilitate relevant technology transfer and know-how from HIC to LMIC. Through partnerships, government collaboration, impact investors, and philanthropies in the context of local entrepreneurs, these hubs will catalyze a transformative change for society-wide dietary shifts towards more efficient, healthier, and more environmentally friendly food systems.

Get involved

I invite you to join us in this coordinated effort to improve the world’s food systems and to reach out to learn how you can become involved. I know that we can work together to solve this global problem of peoples’ and planetary health. To learn more,  about Food Systems Innovation Hubs watch the recent Food Systems Innovation Hub webinar discussing the importance of innovation and nutrition for global health. To connect with us, please email info@sightandlife.org.