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Africa must not miss healthy foods bus

Obesity, which used to be a rich man’s problem, is increasingly becoming a challenge in developing countries. file photo | nmg
Obesity, which used to be a rich man’s problem, is increasingly becoming a challenge in developing countries. file photo | nmg 

There is a quiet revolution in the food industry. It is driven by increasing demand for healthy, convenient, functional and transparent food.

Amidst increasing concern over declining global health and with many people suffering from chronic diseases as a result of poor eating, technology giants are leading this transformative next frontier of food science.

Research on future food recipes is intensifying. IBM, for example, has developed a cognitive computing application called Chef Watson, that can help you design your own meal right for your nutritional needs and hopefully keep the doctors away. Soon there will be diets for diabetics and other genetically inspired foods.

Google revealed in its food trends report last year that people are “turning to food to fill needs beyond hunger or cravings. They want to be educated on the impact of each ingredient ... in order to look and feel their best.”

Phil Lempert in his Forbes article titled, “Ten Food Trends that will shape 2017,” says that 2017 “promises to be one of the most exciting in the history of food and retailing as technology takes a bigger role in food production, retail environments and consumer communication.”

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Some of the emerging trends include the entry of Silicon Valley into the food space, the changing patterns of food supply chain, the impact of the millennials, the digital foodscape, microbrands to megabrands (growth of nimble brands through new media) augmented transparency (expert level knowledge on demand and filtered based on one’s personal interests) Cellular Agriculture (medical science and food production) among others.

This isn’t utopian thinking. Lempert backs his argument with CB Insights estimates of more than $1 billion (Sh100 billion) that has been invested within Silicon Valley in food tech startups and projects in 2016 alone.

He further reveals another source, Kimbal Musk, through The Kitchen Community that underscored the potential by pointing out that the food opportunity is 10 times bigger than the global software market.

On the local scene, tidbits of global trends can be seen but more needs to be done.

Nimble micro brands like Twiga Foods have leveraged technology to create a niche for themselves that could perhaps disrupt supermarkets as we understand them today.

Opportunities in the food space are glaring. Food waste is still unacceptably high. Our recipes are stuck in the 19th century.

There are no decent African restaurants to compete with an avalanche of foreign eateries in big cities. We lack all manner of content that matters. Yet increased use of modern communication requires all forms of content.

If our recipes are not in all platforms, there goes the culture and our very own foundation.

The problem is that Africa is adopting bad eating habits as many food outlets that are facing pressure in advanced countries to shift their menus towards healthy diets find their way into the continent.

Obesity, which used to be a rich man’s problem, is increasingly becoming a challenge in developing countries.

Countries that have advanced research in food will in future colonise the entire world with their own delicacies marketed through new media that is devoid of local scientific content.

We have a reason to become part of the new frontier of the science of food as a strategy for attaining Sustainable Development Goal number 2 and 3, which are zero hunger and good health and wellbeing.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and author, said, “Once you have an innovation culture, even those who are not scientists or engineers... embrace the meaning of what it is to be scientifically literate. They embrace the concept of an innovation culture.”

Let’s build an innovation culture.

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