On 16 October 2020 the world observed World Food Day – a day to highlight the plight of 870 million undernourished and hungry people in the world. It is intended to mark the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945.
World Food Day calls for global solidarity to help the most vulnerable by drawing attention to the plight of the hungry. This year’s theme: “Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together, our actions are our Future,” speaks to the current state of hunger in the world particularly in Africa and the need to ensure food security for all.
The development of affordable and nutritious indigenous climate-resilient crops like small grain cereals such as, sorghum and millet have great potential to improve Southern Africa’s food security challenges.
Production quantity of sorghum in Lesotho in 2017 was estimated at 33 858 tons. Export value was estimated at $4 052 USD with 3 600 kg of quantity (Bureau of Statistics, 2018). In 2018, export quantities decreased to 5 tons due to drought. According to World bank, cereal yield harvest such as millet, wheat, oats were reported to be 987 kg (Tranding Economics, 2020).Lesotho import value of millet was estimated to be 78 515 kg, worth $86 080 USD (TILASTO, 2019).
An AUDA-NEPAD SANBio/BioFISA II Programme funded project, SMA2RT Foods have contributed to the development and commercialization of affordable and nutritious snack foods using indigenous crops, to address the health and nutrition of vulnerable consumer groups in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa.
In Lesotho, SMA2RT Foods/Bohlale Products’ project leader, Dr Pulane Nkhabutlane has developed a nutritious, tasty and convenient biscuits made from sorghum, also known as 'mabele'.
“The idea behind Bohlale Products was inspired by seeing a young girl in South Africa enjoying popcorn snacks of which I could almost immediately tell that they are from Zimbabwe. I then asked myself, which product would one easily identify my country, Lesotho with, and ‘mabele’ was definitely the answer,” she explained.
Dr Nkhabutlane is a lecturer in Consumer Science in the Faculty of Agriculture at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). Her research is based on the knowledge and utilization of indigenous and traditional foods and beverages.
According to Dr Nkhabutlane, World Food Day in Lesotho raises an alarm for self-introspection to reveal the main courses of food insecurity in the country, of which are:
- What kind of crops do farmers grow in Lesotho?
- How much of the food we’re eating is grown in Lesotho?
- When was the last time Basotho bought something grown on a nearby farm?
- What are some of the reasons that people go hungry?
- How many food industries does Lesotho have?
- Are there any food innovations using indigenous foods for commercialization purposes in Lesotho?
Traditionally rural communities in Lesotho prepared nutritious snacks and meals from indigenous cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetable crops. However, with urbanization and adoption of Western type foods, consumption of such diets has declined, in favour of convenient on-the-go, easy-to-prepare or ready-to-eat products. While these snacks are often tasty, they are also high in fat, sugar and salt, and as a result lack the necessary nutrients.
“Nowadays people are slowly becoming aware of health problems associated with poor eating habits and thus we believe there is demand for Safe, Market ready, Acceptable African, Ready-to-eat/use, Trendy (SMA2RT) healthy snack foods,” she added.
In her teachings, Dr Nkhabutlane encourages the development of marketable food products from local ingredients that are highly underutilized. Her main interest center on the innovation and entrepreneurship. More specifically, her undertakings explore innovation of healthy, nutritious and convenient food products using local resources. This include the sensory properties of food and beverages to make them not only nutritionally adequate, but also appealing and appetizing to the human sense.
Furthermore, literature also suggest that there is growing research interest in sorghum, millet and other cereal grains for their phytochemical content, mainly polyphenols, which research has shown may have health benefits, particularly in managing some non-communicable diseases. These crops also provide much needed micro-nutrients that could ease the burden of malnutrition in Africa through product development using indigenous food.
While indigenous climate-resilient crops, like sorghum and millet have also been hailed for being a good source of protein, fiber, calcium, and iron which is typically missing maize. Dr Nkhabutlane believes there is need for greater creativity in identifying ways to address malnutrition challenges through proper marketing and re-introducing of indigenous foods in the diet to help increase the use of such foods.
“Lack of food innovations and food industries in the country make it difficult to produce enough food for both commercial production and household preparation of food. As a result, Lesotho depends on foreign sources which depletes the economy of the country.”
To combat this, Dr Nkhabutlane suggests that emphasis should be put on food innovations and product development in Lesotho in order to improve the quality characteristics of indigenous foods.
“A constraint is the lack of a well-developed processing and marketing value chain for value added products based on these neglected foods. Therefore marketing strategies should be employed to teach consumers on the benefits of indigenous foods.”
The SMA2RT Foods from Climate-Smart Crops project is in alignment with priorities outlined in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of beneficiary countries under the Paris Agreement. In Botswana, it is in line with ongoing efforts to switch to crops that are drought-resistant and tolerant to high temperature (Botswana NDC 2015). In South Africa, the project contributes to targeted investments in increasing food security (NDC South Africa 2015).In Lesotho, the project supports the NDC target on building capacity to prevent malnutrition (Lesotho NDC 2015).
In addition, Bohlale Products is created amongst many other benefits:
- For graduates seeking entrepreneurial opportunities in food manufacturing, product research and the hospitality industry.
- To create jobs and include more local content along the value chain.
- For small-scale farmers to obtain a livelihood through cultivation of the crops.
- And to enhance health and nutrition of consumers and promote cultural heritage among the youth and tourists to the region.
The company has trained three entrepreneurs who are Consumer Science graduates and alumni of NUL to take the innovative idea forward. Furthermore, the company has also recorded a number of achievements since its establishment, they include:
- Introduction of new products e.g. Sorghum breakfast cereal (Muesli), Sorghum pop and fruity snack and potato chips.
- Due to introduction of other products the company has changed name to Superfoods PTY (Ltd) and
- Has increased number of female employees