Climate change and political conflict are affecting the sourcing and growing of staple foods in continents like Africa and it is a concern for the future of developing nations. At SIAL Talks in October 2022, Reindert Dekker (pictured above), chief development officer at Nutridiant, looked at the topic in detail.

Nutridiant provides strategic product and market development solutions for companies in the food, beverage and wellness (ingredients) market and operates in quite diverse markets, from Brazil to South East Asian countries.

“Five or 10 years ago, most of our presentations would be very much focused on functional foods and their health benefits. Nowadays, there’s a lot more interest in the world behind the ingredients and the impact on the environment,” said Dekker.

In Europe the future of food has become more of a technological debate, but in emerging markets it is about how to get food today and tomorrow. “That brings completely different challenges to the table,” he added. “Stable crops in large markets are under pressure. In Africa, with climate change, there is a huge impact on the outputs of crops like a corn and grains.”

He added: “Political and economic conflicts also impact supply chains in emerging markets. And that means that basic daily food is becoming more expensive or even not accessible.”

Changing diets

In other markets like Brazil people who can’t afford certain meats are choosing cheaper protein sources and that’s impacting the way consumer brands develop in the market. There is also a change in the formulation of products. “This can mean using more local crops and finding ingredients that are sustainable with higher nutritional value,” said Dekker.

However, he also noted that many crops today do not have the same nutritional value compared to 40 years ago because soils are ‘overworked’ without enough time to regenerate. “That’s concerning,” he said. “There is a limit on what you can do with soil productivity because the system is so optimised for a few major crops. It means we have to look at alternatives.”

“If you look around the SIAL show, especially the innovation area, you see ingredients that were not here 10 years ago. So you see ancient grain from Africa, from South America, you see smart solutions in the area of vegetables and fruits and that means either different vegetables, or vegetables used in a different way. It means we can offer new solutions via different processes like fermentation, or by adding value for example in ‘shot’ drinks that are fruit- or dairy-based.”

Seaweed alternatives to protein

The so-called ‘blue economy’ is where seaweed is starting to be used as an alternative for protein. There are also some ancient crops coming back such as spelt, and just as well.

It took hundreds of thousands of years for the world human population to grow to one billion. Then, in just 200 years, it grew sevenfold. In 2011, the global population reached seven billion, and in November 2022, it reached eight billion and will be around 10 billion by 2050.

world population and food
UN population projections by year.

Not only will there be more people, but more older people with different nutritional needs as well as a declining farming population. In general, in markets like Africa and Southeast Asia micronutrients are already lacking, opening the door to products that are enriched for minerals and specific vitamins.

“People who lack access to good food in general also consume the wrong type of food,” said Dekker. “Not only do they lack micronutrients but they have a diet with excess sugar, salts and fats.” This means they get sicker for longer and as they get older they spend the final 10 to 15 years of life in bad health.”

However, there are possibilities in agriculture. “We need to look into climate-resilient crops, and that’s going on right now,” he said. “Some crops can’t manage a temperature change of 1-2 degrees, or suffer heavily from lack of rain or excess rain.”

He added that regenerative farming in combination with organic is an opportunity, especially if you can combine it with a revenue model. With seaweed, for instance, not only are there sales revenues to be had from ingredients, but also carbon offsets that you can sell on the commercial market.

Upcycling and waste reduction in a good supply chain are also important. “Next to energy, the agricultural sector and the food sector are the major contributors to carbon emissions, so, there’s an opportunity there,” said Dekker.

As he ended, Dekker gave the example of Moldova, a poor country where under 25s have gone abroad. But it has huge potential in terms of agriculture with excellent fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. “A project we’ve been involved in is stimulating local production including frozen fruits and dried fruits, increasing quality standards, and developing supply chains that make more sense,” said Dekker.

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