Finnish research centres to tackle food challenges in Africa
Three EU-funded projects have started developing and implementing solutions for tackling the challenges faced by food systems in Africa, under the leadership of Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
The overarching aim of the projects is to transform the food system toward sustainable and more efficient production and promote the consumption of nutritious food to counterbalance pressures stemming from population growth, global warming and other man-made impacts.
Such impacts are projected to be felt especially in Africa.
Luke is in charge of HealthyFoodAfrica, an effort to increase the variety, quality and availability of nutritious foods in ten cities on the continent by strengthening the diversity, sustainability, resilience and connectivity of the food systems. The objective is to develop local solutions that can be adapted to other countries and circumstances.
“For example, circumstances for urban gardening are very different in the cities we work with,” saidMila Sell, a senior scientist at Luke. “We will facilitate exchange of best practices between smallholder farmers and provide scientific knowledge to improve urban gardening.”
Local ecosystems and crops
The second project led by the institute, SustInAfrica, seeks to enable smallholder farmers, small and medium enterprises, and governmental and non-governmental organisations to intensify food production and deliver ecosystem services in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Niger and Tunisia.
“The project will strive to attain this by providing a comprehensive analysis of local ecosystems, in addition to offering soil, water and plant health management strategies,” elaborated Nils Borchard, a research manager at Luke.
“It will also provide business models and policies and help to develop related technologies that support farmers in their decision making.”
VTT, meanwhile, will lead InnoFoodAfrica, a project dedicated to fighting malnourishment by developing nutritious products from traditional, resilient and nutritious – yet underutilised – local crops, such as bambara, cowpea, sorghum and teff. The side streams generated in the process will be utilised in packaging production.
Raija Lantto, a principal scientist at VTT, said such crops are underutilised because the food products made from them do not meet the quality standards of today’s urban consumers in Africa.