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In the wake of a severe drought in Kenya which has affected 2.7 million people very badly, International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as a leading partner has launched a 13-episode Smart Food Reality TV Show to popularise healthy and drought tolerant foods in the African country. This is a result of a collaboration between scientists and media.
Promoting the health benefits of drought resilient crops could be one answer to the Kenya’s devastating drought situation. This year 2.7 million people are affected according to the International Red Cross which the Kenyan government has declared a national disaster. Droughts have become an annual problem in Kenya and a more sustainable way of living will benefit both farmers and the general population. Crops such as millets, sorghum and legumes are highly drought resilient while also being highly nutritious, which will help combat malnutrition among children and the most vulnerable in society.
The Smart Food is an initiative of the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), an implementing partner of the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development Program funded by US Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future through the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
“Smart Food is the smart way for the future and our aim is to take this awareness campaign to a global audience. Crops such as millets and sorghum can tolerate higher temperatures and use a lot less water. So these crops are usually the last ones standing during times of drought. We need consumers to realise their benefit, go out and buy more of them, so farmers can confidently grow more and earn sustainably. It’s a win-win situation,” said, David Bergvinson, Director General of ICRISAT.
“The Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development Program is supporting the ICRISAT’s Smart Food initiative because it is part and parcel of the technologies to increase the productivity of drought tolerant crops in value chain. We aims to promote farming as a business, improve food security, incomes and increase access to more nutritious foods to Kenyan communities,” highlighted Dr. Romano Kiome, Chief of Party of the Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development Program.
The show is a reality and drama series that highlights the use and importance of smart food, through a cooking competition. The show takes a competitive format as 9 cooking enthusiasts battle it out for the big prize in a dramatic cooking challenge.
The winner walks away with a full scholarship to the prestigious Strathmore Professional Culinary Program 2017. Each group takes a cooking challenge every week and eliminates the lowest performing members as the rest proceed to the next level. The show does not only supply nutritional and culinary education on smart food but is also laced with emotional scenes as contestants deal with real teamwork challenges.
Smart Food includes grains like sorghum, millets, pigeonpea, chickpea, cowpea, greengram and groundnut. ICRISAT has branded them as Smart Food because they fit three criteria such as good for the consumer, good for the planet and good for the farmers.
Good for the consumer: They are highly nutritious and healthy. High in protein, vitamins and micronutrients. For example millets are highly digestible and are gluten free. Legumes on the other hand are an affordable protein. Escalating levels of diabetes can be avoided or managed by sorghum and millets as they have a low glycemic index. They are high in antioxidants – fighting against heart diseases, life style disorders and cancer.
Good for the planet: These crops are critical in the drylands as they survive the harshest of environments and are most resilient hence climate smart crops. Millets, for example, are the last crop standing in times of drought. Smart Food crops have close to the lowest water and carbon footprints of all the crops.
Good for the farmer: The climate resilience of these crops means they are a good risk management strategy for farmers. Legumes have an important contribution to soil nutrition and when rotated with other crops, even increase the water use efficiency of the entire crop rotation. Their multiple uses and untapped demand means they have a lot more potential. Unlike the other crops they have not yet reached a yield plateau and have great potential for productivity increases.
The Smart Food initiative takes on two different approaches targeting two key audiences.
- Promoting dietary diversity and utilisation of smart food in rural communities in 6 counties in Kenya – Busia, Siaya, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kitui, Makueni and Tharaka Nithi.
- Promoting utilisation of Smart Food targeting consumers nationwide through a social media campaign and the TV reality show.
The overall goal of the campaign targeting urban consumers, is to promote utilisation of Smart Food for better nutrition of consumers as well as to create a demand pull for smart food thereby benefiting the smallholder farmers.
Smart Food, an initiative of ICRISAT focuses on popularising millets and sorghum, has been selected by LAUNCH Food as one of the winning innovations for 2017. “Millets, including sorghum, are the first Smart Food we are focusing on. They are highly nutritious, have a low water and carbon footprint, and have so many multiple uses that are yet untapped,” said Smart Food initiator and leader, Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT.
“They have been traditional foods across India and many countries in Africa but with low investments, their value chains are significantly underdeveloped which makes it more difficult for the farmers to invest. Over a period of time they have become labeled as an old fashioned food. We plan to take a different approach and drive demand by first creating a new image and buzz around millets,” she added.
Smart Food will be taken forward as a partnership and many organisations have already teamed up to popularise millets. In India, this includes the Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR), the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). In Kenya, work has started under the USAID Feed the Future Program focusing on the Smart Food – millets, sorghum and selected pulses. Efforts have been initiated in rural areas to integrate Smart Food into messages by health workers and encourage new creative ways to cook with these crops. Besides a social media campaign and Reality TV Show, processors are also being engaged to develop healthy convenience Smart Food products.