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Food Hubs To Tackle Malnutrition

Food hubs can play a key role in tackling the scourge of hunger and malnutrition

Kalyani Prasher | May 25, 2021

Our planet is more and more burdened by rising temperatures, resource depletion, and ever-increasing populations. Today, 80% of our agricultural land is affected by soil erosion and approximately 14% of all food produced globally is lost, or significantly reduced in quality, before reaching the retail stage of the supply chain.

Because of inefficient food systems, there is a 20% decline in the global availability of nutrients. As the major driver of global greenhouse gas emissions, food systems contribute up to a third of the total emissions, resulting in an urgent need to explore opportunities and innovative approaches to accelerate sustainable transformations.

Malnutrition has two faces: On one side, nearly 150 million children under the age of five are stunted and on the other, more than 2 billion people are overweight or obese, as populations suffer from both nutrient deficiencies and excesses. With this double burden on nutrition and our continually diminishing ability to nourish our people, we face an unprecedented global health crisis. What solutions do we have?

  • Food Systems Innovation Hubs

To end all forms of malnutrition, we need to enable environment-friendly food systems that are local, resilient and responsive. “We believe that the power for this transformation – from struggling food systems to a robust machinery that enables society-wide healthier dietary shifts – lies in Food Systems Innovation Hubs,” says Kalpana Beesabathuni, Global Lead of Technology and Entrepreneurship at Sight and Life, a global nutrition think tank that is championing such innovation hubs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

In a country like India, a Food System Innovation Hub (FSIH) will be able to mould itself to the needs of the country and communities by engaging directly with its people, culture, entrepreneurial talent, and unique climate. This will be achieved by focusing on four key actions:

  • Catalyze product innovation so that tasty, environment-friendly and nutritious foods are widely available
  • Shape markets to ensure that nutritious foods are affordable and accessible to the last mile
  • Deploy new technology to track safe and efficient supply chains
  • Foster food systems champions at the highest levels through leadership training

Scaling these innovations will require capital, as well as a platform to connect stakeholders and facilitate the transfer of technology and know-how. We need to encourage exceptional, well-established food and technology companies with market prowess to expand into India, with the goal of aligning with a range of investors developing and testing new innovations and creating livelihoods. “FSIH is a platform to come together and inspire innovation, investment, collaboration and consumer interest,” says Beesabathuni.

  • Types of Innovation Hubs

Sight and Life has mapped different types of innovation hubs based on their coverage, capacity and capabilities that can be broadly categorized into 8 archetypes.

  • 1. Science and technology parks: Subsidize research and development (R&D) costs for companies and eventually foster collaboration and capital between industry and universities.
  • 2. Research centres: Combine infrastructure and talent to unlock and take to market the next big scientific breakthrough.
  • 3. Advanced development spaces: Asset-heavy institutions that support R&D, commercialization, technology applications, testing, product design, and prototyping.
  • 4. Incubators: Institutions that support entrepreneurs in developing their businesses, especially in the initial stages.
  • 5. Accelerators: Programs and spaces that provide the environment, expertise, networks, and resources to take ideas to scale.
  • 6. Innovation districts: Geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.
  • 7. Virtual hubs: Digital platforms and communities that provide networking, training, and acceleration opportunities, transcending borders.
  • 8. Nodes: Central points in the ecosystem. Nodes typically have a regional presence but aim for global collaboration and impact.

@Anne Milan

  • The need for Innovation Hubs

Not only are food systems complex; each is also unique to the geography and culture it is supposed to nourish. The highly adaptable Innovation Hubs acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist, and that approaches used by high income countries cannot be expected to work in the same way for LMICs.

The transformation of underperforming food systems lies in innovation hubs. A hub becomes a cohesive place for all innovations in the food systems space; these innovations are also made widely available and replicable. In India, a FSIH can be a platform to nurture young food and nutrition entrepreneurs who do not have access to technical advice or seed funding.

In an LMIC such as India, with country ownership, diverse actors in the food system will collaborate and connect with existing models and build a cohesive food systems innovation hub for scale and sustainability. Beesabathuni outlines three key actions with which this can be achieved:

  • Inspire!

Hubs can encourage outstanding food and technology companies to expand into the country, with the goal of growing market interest, aligning with a range of investors, and developing and testing new products.

  • Invest!

Hubs can facilitate investment in local companies that have the potential to scale, as well as in technology transfer, nutrition, food safety, and consumer studies to demonstrate market viability and identify latent demand for nutritious and safe foods.

  • Innovate!

Hubs stimulate innovation throughout the value chain in a manner tailored to LMIC markets like India and draw additional investment into scaling up and bringing in new technologies. This will be especially impactful to the SMEs and start-ups that dominate food production in these markets today.

FSIH is a bold initiative that will accelerate investment, streamline processes, support nature-positive, biodiverse agriculture, build sustainable supply chains, advance equitable livelihoods and create a consumer pull for healthy foods to better nourish nations and communities.

To know more about FSIH, what they can do and how, please refer to the scientific paper published by Sight and Life for the UN Food Systems Summit: https://sc-fss2021.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/FSS_Brief_Food_Systems_Innovation_Hubs.pdf