Combating world hunger: 10 Innovations that are helping win the fight against hunger

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Worldwide, it is estimated that around 821 million people are going hungry, while, paradoxically, a third of the world’s food is wasted. With the world’s population expected to grow to approximately 10 billion by 2050, feeding so many people would be a gargantuan task. This is further exacerbated by the fact that rapid industrialisation has led to farmland shrinking at an alarming rate.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aims to have zero hunger by 2030 – a goal which seems remote, considering the current scenario.  As per reports, COVID-19 could put an additional 130 million people at risk of suffering from acute hunger by the end of 2020.  

However, the future is not completely bleak. Much progress has been made over the decades in terms of addressing hunger, through revolutionising agricultural practices, by ensuring food wastage is reduced, and that more people have access to nutritious food.

Around the world, organisations and individuals are also coming up with innovations that have the potential to feed millions across the world. With World Hunger Day being celebrated on May 28th, we take a look at ten innovations that are fighting hunger:

Community fridges: Located in public places, community fridges enable people to share food within a community to ensure that food is not wasted and, instead, is distributed within the community. This helps answer the dichotomies of food wastage and hunger. Installed by the Gulmohar Foundation in association with Feeding India, the Happy Fridge is a community fridge that encourages people to donate surplus food they have cooked or any food that they wish to donate.

Sharing Shelves is another community fridge initiative started by Gurugram-based Rahul Khera in 2017 after he decided to install a fridge outside his society to encourage residents to not share their food with the needy. A rapidly growing phenomenon, community fridges are becoming popular across the country, and internationally as well.

Urban vertical farms: With the United Nations predicting that two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030, vertical farming is being touted as a means of fighting both hunger and climate change. Urban vertical farms allow food to be grown within city limits, where space is a major constraint. Here, agricultural produce such as leafy vegetables, are grown indoors in a controlled environment, on shelves that are lined on top of the other. Under this carefully monitored environment, crops can be grown throughout the year. This ensures that crops are not subject to the vagaries of the environment, use less water and take up less space.

Further, since these are urban farms, transport costs go down, and the nutritional value of the crop does not get reduced in the long travel from farm to market. The world’s largest indoor farm is located in Japan and is said to be 100 times more productive than traditional farms. The indoor farm has 25,000 square feet of space which yields 10,000 lettuce a day. Food shortages during the 2011 Japan tsunami and earthquake, led to the idea.   

Ecards: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing ecards to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, enabling them to use these cards for buying food from shops. The e-cards, which come with a top-up of USD 27, have benefited around 6,50,000 Syrian families. WFP has also been providing an additional top-up of USD 175 to the neediest families, where cash can be withdrawn from ATM machines to be spent on basic needs.

M-farm: One of the biggest banes that farmers face are middlemen who eat into profits. This is where Mfarm, a Kenya-based software startup and agribusiness company, comes in. It offers daily prices of commodities on the platform, provides insight and information on the latest trend in the agri-business while linking farmers directly to the market. This has led to fewer farmers needing to rely on middlemen to sell their produce, and farmers become aware of market conditions which have helped them sell better.

Farms for Orphans: Africa’s second-largest country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, is also amongst the poorest nations in the world, home to the second-largest hunger crisis in the world, after Yemen. Farms for Orphan is an initiative based out of Colorado, the United States, working to establish sustainable food sources for children and orphans in Congo. The company does this by investing in insects, mostly weevil larvae, which is readily available in sugar cane and packed with proteins and other micronutrients.

Insects are, in fact, a rich source of micronutrients which help combat the high levels of malnutrition that many children in the DRC suffer from. Insect farming is also being looked at as a viable and sustainable option in a country where land, water and other essentials for farming are scarce.      

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SAFE Stoves: In rural India, Africa and many parts of the world, the duty of bringing firewood and fuel for the kitchen mostly rests on women members of a household, who often need to travel far in search of firewood. The that arises from firing the stoves also put the women and children at risk of respiratory illnesses. To counter this, the WFP, along with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), has launched the Safe Access to Fuel and Energy initiative (SAFE), which provides households with safe access to clean and efficient cooking fuel.

Here, women from affected communities receive training in making fuel-efficient mud stoves using locally sourced material such as bricks, sticks, clay anthills, scrap metal and water. This has led to fewer women venturing out to collect firewood, which also means that they are less exposed to sexual assaults, wildlife attacks, kidnappings and violence. Further cooking time is also reduced, while nutrients are retained as the food is cooked properly.   

Child Growth Monitor: With 35.7 per cent children under the age of five in India malnourished, it is important to identify and reach out to them to ensure a healthier childhood and adulthood. Since it often becomes difficult to determine if a child is malnourished by just looking at them, people rely on data, which is often flawed.

This is where the Child Growth Monitor – an AI-powered smartphone app that scans children and detects malnutrition, comes in. Developed by German-based Welthungerhilfe, the app replaces the conventional method of manually measuring weight and height, and uses infrared cameras for the scan, and machine learning to correlate the scan and measures. The app has already tested in Mumbai and a beta version of the app is being made available sooner due to the pandemic.

Wefarm: Agricultural innovations help combat hunger by providing food security, enhancing production, minimising losses and providing better access to information, markets and prices. One of the world’s largest SMS-based peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform, Wefarm connects smallholder farmers, enabling them to share farming tips and ask questions in their own languages using a basic mobile phone. Using the network, farmers can find information on a variety of subjects including the best ways to fight crop diseases, creating micro-businesses, increasing household income and increasing crop yield, among others, using a network of around 6,60,000 farmers.

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3D food printing: It may sound bizarre at first, but 3D printing is being looked at as a possible option for creating food, even when fresh ingredients are not available, thereby, helping combating hunger. Anjan Contractor, a mechanical engineer from the US-based R&D firm, Systems & Materials Research Corporation (SMRC), has been experimenting with reducing the nutrients found in food, such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats, into powder and mixing it with oil and water to make food substitutes using the 3D printer. Contractor’s vision behind this is that one day every house would have a 3D food printer that will enable them to create food using the nutritionally rich powders. This, he hopes, would help in reducing food wastage and will tackle individual dietary needs.

Nifty cup: Breastfeeding is vital to prevent undernutrition during the first 1000 days of a child’s life. However, the inability to breastfeed, or a child’s inability to suck, is a worrying concern that many new mothers face. Nifty cup, a simple, yet life-saving innovation, is a soft silicone bowl with a spout that ensures that premature infants and those with cleft problems, who find it difficult to suck while feeding, are able to drink milk, without the risk of choking or spillage. With around 7.6 million preterm babies born in Asia and Africa, as per experts, losing even two teaspoons of breastmilk can make the difference between adequate nutrition and hunger, in these young infants. The cup, designed in Seattle, has been tested in a pilot study in India.

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