The Smart Food Endowment Fund ensures the long term commitment to the Smart Food initiative, with only the earnings on the investment being available for spending.
The Fund was established through the kind approval of the ICRISAT Governing Board, committing the initial USD 2 million. Sehgal Foundation has also joined with ICRISAT, contributing USD 6 million.
The Fund largely supports special priority initiatives as well as the base marketing material for Smart Food.
You are welcomed to be part of the change through investment in the Fund. A one off contribution provides a long term investment. We welcome you to join. If you are excited about one particular part of the Smart Food activities or countries, the investment can be allocated to this. Your contributions will also be identified and recognition given
Sehgal Foundation is aligning some big initiatives with the Smart Food Endowment Fund to help create a bigger movement. This will bring more attention to Smart Foods like millet, sorghum and grain legumes.
Sehgal Foundation started 20 years ago, and its current mantra “Together we empower rural India,” will further be enforced with this new partnership. Dr Surinder (Suri) M Sehgal, Founder with his wife Edda and Chair of the Sehgal Foundation Board of Trustees, highlighted that “Through collaborations we can do more and bring more attention to the needs of smallholder farmers and make agriculture more profitable and desirable to grow foods that are more nutritious and more suitable to the drier tougher regions.” Read more
Fourteen finalist young chefs from across India will fire up the burners to be crowned the country’s star Smart Food student chef. Paired as seven teams they will take on the challenge of pleasing the palate of celebrity judges and Smart Food experts at the Grand Finale of the Smart Food Culinary Challenge on 19 January 2019 in Bengaluru.
Who will be the Smart Food student chef of India?
The Grand Finale will be held live during the ‘Organics & Millets 2019 – International Trade Fair’, at the Palace Grounds, Saturday, 19 January 2019.
Click here for the exciting teaser with culinary ambassadors fighting it out to make the final cut.
The competition kicked off with 28 teams from 16 culinary institutes across India conducted at
MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences on 5 December. Young chefs impressed the judges with three-course hearty meals with delicately spiced dishes — grilled veggies/meats, bright salads, freshly baked breads and soups. See about the play offs here.
The Smart Food Culinary Challenge will be the first-ever culinary ‘reality show for a cause’ in India. Boosting millets among the culinary community, the drama-documentary captures the journey of these student chefs in their attempts to bring innovative millet cuisines to the table.
Described by judges as crisp, light and fresh, the inspiring dishes by these chefs are all set to bring Smart Food into the circular of chefs and back to the tables across the country.
Skills of students of top culinary schools including the Institute of Hotel Management, Indian Institute of Hotel Management and Culinary Academy of India and the host institute MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences were put to test in both traditional to continental cuisine.
From foxtail millet-banana flower biryani to pearl millet ghevar, the dishes were judged by an eminent panel comprising Chef Ramaswamy Selvaraju, Vivanta by Taj, Chef Vinod K Batti – IKEA Food, Dr Anitha Seetha, Nutrition Scientist, ICRISAT, and Ms Suchitra Muralidharan, celebrity Chef from Kannada cooking show Oggarane Dabbi (Spice Box). Celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar will also join the judging panel in January.
The panel selected the top seven dishes based on the appropriate use of millets, accompaniments, taste, portion size, the degree of complexity and overall garnishing and presentation style.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and M S Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences have devised this Challenge and partnered with the Government of Karnataka to bring this to the masses.
The ‘Organics & Millets 2019 – International Trade Fair’ is being organized by the Dept. of Agriculture, Govt. of Karnataka, in collaboration with Karnataka State Agricultural Produce Processing and Export Corporation Limited (KAPPEC) as the Nodal agency, International Competence Centre of Organic Agriculture (ICCOA) as the Knowledge Partner, and MCA as the Event Partner.
Smart Food is founded by ICRISAT and coordinated in India for millets, in collaboration with Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) – Indian Institute of Millets Research.
The first of a series of India-wide Smart Food Culinary Symposia was organized for chefs from major fine dining chains and food service representatives in Bengaluru. Experts from government, training, nutrition and agriculture were on hand to ponder over challenges and opportunities. Millets were the center of discussions, and approaches to help develop the industry were discussed with Dr Jagadeesha, Commissioner, Department of Agriculture, Government of Karnataka.
The symposium was jointly conducted by MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences, Government of Karnataka and the International Crops Research Institute of the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
It was convened by chefs and representatives from leading fine dining establishments (The Embassy Group, Vivanta by Taj, Oberoi hotels, IKEA), health food companies and craft brewers (Growfit, Lipi Restaurant, The Biere Club, Jus Amazin Food & Beverage Pvt Ltd, Toit Brewpub) and Bruhat Bangalore Hotels Association.
The meeting was chaired by Dr Jagadeesha. Prof Govind Kadambi, Pro-Vice Chancellor, MS Ramaiah University and Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju, Vivanta by Taj, Bengaluru, discussed the opportunities and bottlenecks in introducing millet food options in fine dining kitchens.
Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director at The Embassy Group, shared his success story on introducing finger millet (ragi) tacos and the concept of using local ingredients to make global cuisines. He also noted the importance of popularizing regional cuisines with millets and making such foods a part of the hospitality and tourism industry.
Sharing findings from the nutrition study – ‘Providing millet meals as part of Mid-day meal scheme’, which was done in association with The Akshaya Patra Foundation, Dr Anitha Seetha, Nutrition Scientist, ICRISAT, brought to focus the importance of designing simple menus which can be cooked in centralized kitchens.
Apart from the lack of awareness of nutritional benefits, a key concern raised by the restaurateurs is the cost of millet grains in comparison to rice and wheat. In reply, Dr Jagadeesha outlined efforts by the Government of Karnataka to bring down the cost of millets. The first is setting up the Karnataka State Agricultural Produce Processing and Export Corporation Ltd (KAPPEC) and organizing the Organics & Millets 2019 – International Trade Fair to facilitate direct procurement from farmers. The second is a plan to set up more small-scale millet processing units to reduce the processing cost.
Chef Sridhar Krishnan from Nutrition and Nutraceutical Research Centre, MS Ramaiah University, spoke about the need for research in defining appropriate varieties and quantity of millets to bring out the nutritional benefits while balancing the taste of the dish.
During the concluding remarks, Dr Jagadeesha thanked MS Ramaiah University and ICRISAT for the support towards Karnataka Millet Mission and invited the participants to attend the Organics & Millets International Fair from 18 – 20 January 2019 at the Bengaluru Palace.
The symposium was held at MS Ramaiah University on 7 December.
Opportunities and challenges to bring millets into industrial canteens were brought to the table at an event held in Bengaluru to create awareness of millets among industrial caterers and to highlight the government’s role to assist. Noted chefs showcased the use of millets in recipes during discussions.
Industrial caterers serving corporates expressed the need for food that is popular, widely accepted and inexpensive. The cost of millets vis-à-vis rice and wheat, and the limited awareness, were seen as the biggest challenges to millet introduction in corporate food culture.
While acknowledging the need for variety and taste, Ms Deepti Tripathi, Program Manager, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, shared how the pilot study by ICRISAT successfully introduced millets for children. The millet menu designed was widely accepted and satisfied the nutritional demands for improving the health of the children.
The success story of Growfit, a Bengaluru-based health food company that has introduced exclusive millet meals in their menu, was also showcased during the discussion. CEO of Growfit, Ms Jyotsna Pattabiraman, stressed the importance of research and conducting trials to develop recipes that can be widely accepted.
Dr Meghana Pasi from Aarogya World, a global health non-profit organization, added that millets are nutritious carbohydrates and should be used as substitutes for other grains, but should not replace vegetables. Ms Hema Arvind, Chief Dietician, Ramaiah Memorial Hospital, briefed about millet varieties and their nutritional value.
A demonstration session by Chefs Shyam Prasad, Shashi Sharma, Sridhar Krishnan and Manishkumar Khorwal of MS Ramaiah University showcased the use of millets in traditional breakfast, snack and dessert recipes. The session also showed participants how rice and wheat can be substituted with millets.
Mr K Ramappa, Additional Director of Agriculture, Organic Farming, Government of Karnataka and Prof Govind Kadambi, Pro-Vice Chancellor, MS Ramaiah University, addressed representatives from catering staff of the Indian Air Force, Bharat Electronics Limited and Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Bengaluru’s industrial caterers including Masterchef Catering Services, Rajpurohit caterers, Zenith Food Solutions, Hunger box and Compass India were also present. Health food companies, representatives from the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka (AWAKE) and food technology students were among the participants.
The discussions also recognized the need for awareness programs among consumers for successful introduction of millet food. Mr Maheshwar Rao, Principal Secretary, Agriculture, GoK, expressed interest to collaborate with industrial caterers and organize awareness programs on millets.
The event, ‘Introducing Smart Food into industrial canteen menus’ was organized by MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), with support from the Government of Karnataka on 15 December. It was the third in a series of events which included a Smart Food Symposium for Fine Dining Kitchens and Smart Food Culinary Challenge for young Chefs.
The event was organized in the run-up to the ‘Organics & Millets 2019 – International Trade Fair’, 18-20 January 2019 at the Bengaluru Palace.
Smart Food cooks up momentum with culinary skills from across London to Paris, West Africa and India
Three celebrity chefs from Gabon, Congo and Senegal are finding new takers for millets and sorghum in Europe, with innovative recipes featuring a touch of ‘home’. The chefs tied up with the Smart Food campaign to show these cereals can effortlessly be turned into tasty food.
Chef Anto Cocagne from Gabon based in Paris
Originally from Gabon, Chef Anto Cocagne has become a star of gastronomy and television in France. The Paris-based chef proposes a minimalist African cuisine with a ‘French touch’. Influenced since her childhood by both her grandmother who was very passionate about her kitchen, and her mother, a professional nutritionist, Chef Anto is very enthusiastic about the Smart Food campaign.
“My mother used to be involved in similar projects. I can easily understand the importance of the Smart Food campaign, and am very happy to contribute to it.”
In 2018, Chef Anto created and produced four recipes as part of the Smart Food campaign. These recipes were promoted at the festival ‘We eat Africa’ (the African cuisines festival), where Chef Anto is the President of the organizing committee, and in the magazine ‘Afro cooking’, where she is a consultant. As part of the Smart Food campaign, Chef Anto promoted the recipes during a highly popular radio program of Radio France International.
Chef Mick Élysée from Congo based in London
Chef Mick Élysée is a London-based chef specializing in Congolese-French and African food. His love for the culinary arts started when he was very young in his home country of Congo. Now, he is a reference in the field of gastronomy in UK. In 2018, Mick joined the Smart Food campaign and contributed two millet and sorghum-based recipes that he is now promoting through various channels.
“The first time I heard about millet and sorghum was when a representative of ICRISAT contacted my team to ask if I could be the face of their new campaign, Smart Food. I had no idea about the huge benefits of millets and sorghum until then,” Chef Élysée says.
“I am an artist and a chef. Diversity is what makes my art interesting. I can now develop many recipes with these cereals. Having healthy and affordable alternatives such as millets and sorghum in one’s diet means less routine and better food habits for people. It is such a good alternative and the options are endless. Millet is as easy as quinoa or rice to cook, but can also be used as flour for pancakes and cakes, or as cereals just like oats or chia seeds,” he explains.
“Millets and sorghum are full of vitamins, minerals (phosphorus, zinc, iron, etc.) and affordable, but most importantly, very tasty! In October 2018, I was invited to FPJ Live event at UK, where I was happy to introduce sorghum and millet to professionals in the industry by cooking live a mackerel ceviche with millet salad. I knew that my mission was a success when I received lots of positive feedback at the end of the event,” Chef Mick Élysée concludes.
Senegalese Chef Aissatou M’Baye in France
In 2017, France-based Senegalese Chef, Aissatou M’Baye, launched five Smart Food recipes after becoming an ambassador for the campaign. Chef M’Baye set out on social media to demonstrate new ways of cooking millets and sorghum for a West African audience but her recipes found many takers in Europe as well.
“Millets and sorghum are rich in micronutrients and yet, have been neglected from our diets for a long time. So, it was necessary to think of new recipes to transform these Smart Foods into a savory menu. We managed to create some cool recipes, and at the same time communicate the benefits of Smart Food,” says Chef M’Baye.
Chef M’Baye publishes her recipes on the blog Aistou Cuisine. Her recipes were a big hit when the first Smart Food social media campaign launched in October 2017. Even after the campaign ended last December, her recipes continue to gain traction online.
Together, the campaign was able to reach 473,222 people. A survey conducted in December 2017, showed that the videos of the five recipes promoted online clocked 85,657 minutes (1,428 hours) of viewing time.
Smart Food recipes:
Peanut Smoothie (in French) (over 47,000 views) – https://www.facebook.com/aistoucuisine/videos/1508851159208179/?t=16
Sorghum Souffle (in French) (over 70,000 views) – https://www.facebook.com/aistoucuisine/videos/1499540286805933/?t=0
From being blogged about to being showcased at international events, the Smart Food initiative is gaining support from chefs to politicians in West and Central Africa (WCA), and in its wake, overturning dated notions about dryland cereals.
Blogging for dryland cereals
Dienaba Traore is the CEO of ‘Gabougouni’, a blog that promises to show new ways of using millets and sorghum. She joined the Smart Food campaign in October with four new recipes of millet and sorghum foods.
Dienaba says she had long been working in food safety for airlines before landing in Bamako as an influencer. On
13 October, she conducted the first Smart Food Masterclass in Mali, participants of which were the winners of a special Smart Food quiz organized online via Facebook and Instagram.
“On Gabougouni, I try to promote African dishes. My aim is to contribute towards modernizing African cuisine so that it is less complex and more attractive to the world. The Smart Food campaign is well aligned with the objectives of Gabougouni. I am happy to join the initiative.”
Showcasing value in Smart Food at international events
The Smart Food Mali campaign made a splash at the International Agricultural Exhibition of Bamako, locally known as SIAGRI. This important agricultural event organized earlier this year aims to promote food entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry.
Dr Nango Dembélé, Malian Minister for Agriculture, visited the Smart Food exhibit. He was briefed about the campaign’s objective of developing sustainable value chains for millets and sorghum.
The Smart Food hashtag at the exhibition was a big hit as visitors clicked photos with it and shared on social media. The exhibition was an opportunity to convey the adaptability of dryland cereals to climate variability in the semi-arid tropics.
Meanwhile in Accra, Ghana, Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional and Research Program Director, ICRISAT- WCA introduced the Smart Food initiative at the Food and Nutrition Security Conference held in October. He described the campaign’s vision to promote healthy food made from dryland crops like millets and sorghum, which are sustainable for the environment and good for producers.
Senior Sorghum Breeder in WCA, Dr Aboubacar Toure, attended a high-level panel discussion organized by the FAO in Mali on World Food Day. He presented the Smart Food initiative and outlined how it can contribute to fighting hunger, malnutrition and improve nutrition.
Women in Kakamega and Busia counties of Western Kenya are going against the grain. They are turning their backs on the commonly planted grains of sorghum and maize and on commercial sugarcane, and replacing them with a grain that not only better meets the nutritional needs of the family but also fulfils economic and agronomic requirements in a time of climate change.
The women are planting finger millet.
Finger millet hardly needs an introduction in Western Kenya. The crop is native to the highlands of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia and has been widely grown traditionally in Eastern and Southern Africa and South Asia for hundreds of years. It is now considered a minor crop in many of these areas. But perhaps not for long, according to the women who grow it and a woman who works to improve it.
Enlisting finger millet advocates
“As a child growing up in Western Kenya, I ate finger millet ‘uji’ and ‘ugali’ but only on special occasions,” says Dr. Damaris Odeny, a research scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Uji is a porridge that is drunk and ugali is a stiff porridge commonly eaten with the hands. “We weren’t able to eat it daily, because it was scarce and therefore expensive. That’s unfortunate, because it is a traditional crop.”
During the first two decades after Kenya’s independence in 1963, the Kenyan government singled out maize as a major food staple and started providing incentives to farmers to plant it. The farmers followed the government’s advice and soon finger millet became a minor crop.
Damaris, a plant geneticist and the daughter of a sugarcane grower, is now leading an effort to bring finger millet back. She is leading a finger millet pre-breeding project which aims to re-introduce genetic diversity into the cultivated crop which has been lost from its wild relatives. That should get more farmers to grow it.
Damaris is working closely with Dr. Chrispus Oduori, a finger millet breeder and the director of the Kisii Centre of Food Crops Research Institute (FCRI) of KALRO, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation. Like Damaris, Chris hails from Western Kenya and has spent a lifetime advocating for finger millet.
“We’ve been working hard to promote finger millet. We think it’s an ideal crop, particularly because of its nutritional value and the unfolding negative impacts of climate change,” Chris said. “Finger millet can withstand harsh climatic conditions and low soil fertility. It has a short growing season and requires very little inputs. What more can you ask for?”
A decade ago, Chris began working with farmers in Western Kenya to introduce modern agricultural techniques for the traditional crop and to breed improved varieties. Many of the participants in Chris’s demonstrations and attendees at his field days were women who quickly saw the many benefits of growing a crop their parents and grandparents had abandoned. Today, those women are perhaps the greatest advocates for finger millet in the country.
It wasn’t a coincidence that women became the advocates for finger millet. The data varies, but women can make up anywhere from 50 to 80% of the agricultural workforce in Kenya and finger millet is mostly cultivated by women. “Our work with the women farmers of Western Kenya has given us some keen insights into how we should breed finger millet,” said Chris. “Women guide us in selecting the characteristics which are most important to them, like taste and color. They are out in the field every day planting, caring, harvesting and using the crop, so we are keen to hear of their experiences.”
A tale of two Marys
Mary Kwena and Mary Kwena were until recently married to the same man, which in itself is not particularly unusual in Kenya where polygamy is traditional and legal. Their husband passed away a few years ago, but the two widows with the same name remained together to better provide for their extended family. Their story is common in Kenya, where the number of female-headed households is rising.
The Marys were growing maize until Chris visited in 2009 and introduced them to improved technologies to grow finger millet. Like many rural women, the Marys were early adopters and Mary One, by virtue of seniority in marriage, planted two acres of finger millet as part of a project that Chris and his colleagues at KALRO were leading. The project ended some years ago but the Marys have continued growing finger millet.
“Dr. Oduori taught us how to grow finger millet in modern ways using improved varieties and we have been adding more acres every year,” Mary One said.
“Traditionally, farmers would sow seed by broadcasting by hand,” Chris said. “We now teach farmers to plant in rows, which makes fertilizer use and weeding easier.” KALRO also showed the farmers that a small investment in fertilizer will yield good returns at harvest.
Perhaps most importantly, Chris brought improved varieties. The finger millet breeder has released a number of improved varieties, but none are as popular with farmers as Maridadi, which is tolerant, though not resistant, to blast disease and the Strigaparasite. Chris’s improved varieties and agronomic techniques are giving yields up to 200% higher than what farmers once obtained.
“We like Maridadi because it matures earlier than other varieties,” said Mary. “But also because it has a beautiful color and the ugali made from it is very tasty.”
Mary Two held up some freshly harvested finger millet in her storeroom. “I don’t have to rush off to the market with this,” she said. “Finger millet stores very well.” Stored finger millet is seldom attacked by insects or molds. It can be kept for up to 10 years unthreshed. Some sources report a storage duration up to 50 years under good storage conditions. The long storage capacity makes finger millet a good option for poor farming communities keen to minimize risk during times of famine.
It’s the finger millet on the plate which attracted another farmer of Kakamega County. Finger millet is a very healthy food, a fact that farmer Margaret Kubende learned 25 years ago the hard way.
“In 1993, I became a diabetic,” said Margaret. “I had to change my diet to keep my blood sugar levels down. Maize and wheat were not good for me, but I knew I could improve my health if I ate finger millet.”
“Finger millet really is a powerhouse of health-benefiting nutrients,” Damaris said. “We’re very committed to getting it back into the daily diet of East Africans … and not just as a food for special occasions. At ICRISAT, we are heavily promoting finger millet as a smart food.”
Finger millet is a great source of amino acids like methionine and tryptophan, which aren’t found in the diet of most Kenyans who eat maize or sorghum-based ugali. But the nutritional value of finger millet goes well beyond supplying missing amino acids. It has high iron content, which makes it an important food for pregnant women, as well as for breastfeeding mothers and their children. It is also good for people who suffer from anemia, helping to raise hemoglobin levels. Finger millet contains 40 times more calcium than maize and rice, and 10 times more than other cereals. Calcium is important in the development of strong bones. It helps to fight degenerative diseases and also works as an anti-ageing agent.
For diabetics like Margaret, finger millet is gluten free and beneficial as its digestion is slow due to its high fiber content. Glucose is released slowly into the blood as a result. This helps in controlling blood sugar.
“I started growing finger millet the way they taught me in school, but Dr. Oduori showed me how to grow it better,” Margaret said. Today, she grows five acres of finger millet and both she and her family have benefitted. “Now, people in our village and my in-laws all see how healthy we are and are asking that I grow finger millet for them!”
Margaret and most Kenyans eat finger millet primarily as ugali, a thin porridge. But farmer Pascilisa Wanyonyi is working to create other finger millet food products and is marketing a snack called “crackies” after being trained on Chris’s project.
“I started planting finger millet after Dr. Oduori showed us in 2009,” Pascilisa said. “It is much more nutritious than maize and good not only for humans but for our livestock.”
Pascilisa wanted to go beyond the traditional uses of finger millet and create value-added processed products than can be sustainably produced. After some experimentation in the kitchen, she adopted “crackies” from the diverse products she was exposed to. Crackies are deep-fried crispy noodles made primarily of finger millet but supplemented with soy and wheat flour.
“Crackies is a very nutritious snack. The children love them,” Pascilisa said. In fact, a very important Kenyan loves them as well: in April of 2018 Pascilisa served her crackies to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who campaigned on a platform that no Kenyan should ever go hungry.
Pascilisa has developed packaging and branding for her crackies ,which is generating some extra income for her family. Her daughter is attending university and studying agriculture, and finger millet in particular. As demand for Pascilisa’s crackies grows, she looks toward growing more finger millet. But will she be able to?
Supply not meeting demand
Farmers like Pascilisa have developed value-added processed products and that has helped to increase the demand for finger millet. However, supply isn’t keeping pace as there remain a few barriers to overcome before more farmers plant finger millet.
“The current average yields for finger millet are about 1.3 tonnes per hectare,” said Chris. “I think we can get that up to five tonnes per hectare by using improved varieties and better agronomic techniques.”
Most finger millet varieties are susceptible to blast disease, which can infect the crop at any stage of growth from the seedling to the grain formation stage, and Striga, which is a sap-sucking parasite. “Our improved varieties like Maridadi are less vulnerable to blast and Striga, but they are not fully resistant yet,” said Chris.
Chris hopes that losses due to blast and Striga can be minimized by finding wild relatives of finger millet that have resistance to them. In fact, he is one of the investigators in a project which is utilizing the wild cousins of finger millet to that end.
“Finger millet is one of 19 crops we are supporting via our pre-breeding projects,” says Dr. Benjamin Kilian, a scientist with the Crop Trust. “Our aim is to introduce beneficial traits from their wild relatives into cultivated crops so they are more resilient to climate change.”
This effort is funded by the Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) initiative, a global, 10-year project, supported by the Government of Norway. The initiative is managed by the Crop Trust, an international non-profit organization, in partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew.
“The finger millet project is focusing on screening wild finger millet and traditional landraces for resistance to Striga, blast disease and tolerance to drought,” Damaris said. “Several promising genotypes have been identified and are being cross-bred into farmer-preferred adapted varieties. Once we develop the promising material we’re hoping that we can involve the women farmers to evaluate the results and give us feedback.”
The two Marys, Margaret, and Pascilisa need no convincing about the merits of finger millet and no doubt they are eagerly awaiting the material generated by the Crop Wild Relatives project and will continue to be strong advocates of the crop. The women finger millet advocates of Western Kenya hope that their efforts to go against the grain will benefit not only fellow Kenyan families but also farmers throughout the world where finger millet can be grown as a sustainable, nutritious crop.
A new pilot project is enhancing children’s nutrition and food security in India by bringing Smart Foods to schools through the Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF)—the world’s largest meal provider to the underprivileged, serving 1.7 million free mid-day meals to schoolchildren throughout India each day. While many organizations are introducing healthier school meals, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and APF are employing a detailed scientific approach with their millet-based mid-day meal program. The partners are designing recipes that are easy to cook and that children will enjoy, while maximizing nutrient absorption, measuring health benefits, and more.
Smart Foods like millets, sorghum, and legumes are being used to target specific nutrient needs of malnourished children. While ICRISAT is leading this analysis, the pilot is also being made possible with support from the State Government of Karnataka and advice from the National Institute of Nutrition. This partnership program comes at a time when food insecurity, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, and iron deficiency anemia are high in India, impeding good health and livelihoods. According to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 50 percent of adolescent girls in India were anemic. To combat this problem, ICRISAT promotes traditional, micronutrient-dense grains, like millet, which can introduce significantly more iron, zinc, calcium, fiber, and protein into Indian diets.
The new mid-day meal program will start by serving Smart Food-based meals each school day to 800 schoolchildren in two schools in peri-urban areas, targeting children 11-14 years old—ages of significant cognitive and physical development with high iron requirements, especially for girls.
In a nearby village of Kagalipura, Bhagya Lakshmi complains that her daughter, Shivani, has skipped mid-day meals at school in the past. She hopes that this program will change that.
“Shivani prefers chapati (wheat bread) or dosa (rice pancake), so I pack her lunch every day; I don’t want my child to remain hungry. My sister has been recommending navane(foxtail millet), but I simply don’t know what to do with it. I really hope Shivani likes the taste of millets, and I will stop packing her lunch box!”
ICRISAT’s Smart Food nutritionist and senior scientist, Dr. S. Anitha, told Food Tank that the meals provided to students must meet specific nutrition criteria and provide balanced and easily absorbed sources of micronutrients, including calcium, iron, and zinc. Before serving meals in the lunchroom, the team had them tested in a lab to confirm their nutritional value. As part of the program, ICRISAT will also teach school staff to use cooking methods that will preserve meal nutrients.
To promote the program’s long-term viability, Dr. Anitha says that each meal will be cost-effective and sustainable on a low budget, while also palatable for schoolchildren. Currently, the program aims to serve millet-based sweet and khara pongal (traditionally, a south Indian breakfast dish with rice & lentils), as well as upma (a customizable porridge) and bisi bele bath meals (traditional hot lentil and rice dishes in Karnataka). The mid-day meal program will also evaluate the availability, seasonality, and local varieties of Smart Foods and other meal ingredients in the regions around the schools to effectively utilize local resources. Dr. Anitha explains that ICRISAT will also assess options for “storage, purchasing in different locations, pre-prepared mixes,” and other techniques to maintain efficient meal service.
The final measure for this program is scalability, says Dr. S. Anitha; ICRISAT and APF will review “the ability to take the mid-day meal program across all of India, to other organizations, to other beneficiary groups, and other countries.” The partners will monitor the equipment and time needed for future schools to prepare the meals. ICRISAT is confident that this program can serve as a roadmap for other schools, providing a successful, sustainable, and scalable model to improve child health and school meals with Smart Food nutrition.
Millets and sorghum are grains that are nutrient-rich, drought-tolerant crops and can support communities around the world. The International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) estimates that more than 90 million people in Africa and Asia depend on millets in their diets, and 500 million people in more than 30 countries depend on sorghums as a staple food. However, in the past 50 years, these grains have largely been abandoned in favor of developing more popular crops like maize, wheat, rice, and soybeans.
The Smart Food initiative at ICRISAT, in partnership with Feed the Future’s Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) Program, is developing innovative methods to make these grains attractive again in the semi-arid tropics of Africa and India. At the same time, the project is hoping to educate consumers, farmers, food processors, health workers, and government leaders about the various benefits and uses of millets, sorghum, and grain legumes. Building awareness of these grains can support the diet diversity, well-being, and livelihoods of rural communities and farmers in Africa and India, where undernutrition, malnutrition, obesity, and anemia are common.
Millets are gluten-free, are high in protein and antioxidants, and have a low glycemic index, which can help prevent or manage diabetes. Pearl millet (pictured left), in particular, is very high in iron—one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies worldwide—and has twice the protein of milk. Finger millet has three times more calcium than milk. Kodo milletincludes three times the dietary fiber of wheat and maize, and ten times that of rice. Sorghum (pictured at top), also used as a sweetener syrup, is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, and is also gluten-free. This cereal grain can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, as well as aid in diabetes control and prevention.
Despite being highly nutritious, these crops have suffered a loss of popularity and poorly developed value chains, according to Joanna Kane-Potaka, the Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication at ICRISAT. Millets and sorghum were the traditional crops across many parts of Africa and India, but “are now seen as old fashioned or food for the poor,” says Kane-Potaka. “There has been much less investment in these foods. The value chain is less developed, from the seed system being set up through to modern convenience products being developed.”
The current lack of development of millets and sorghum crops allows for substantial potential in growth and innovation. ICRISAT hopes to develop the crops’ value chains from farming to food products. “We are working with food processors to incorporate millets in ready-to-eat snacks and foods such as breakfast cereals, malt drinks, etc.” says Dr. David Bergvinson, the Director General of ICRISAT.
Some of ICRISAT’s other Smart Food projects include healthy cooking demonstrations and training programs for Kenyan women and families; a Smart Food reality TV show, which challenges contestants to incorporate millets, sorghum, and grain legumes into meals; and a program that adds millets into mid-day school meals in India. Restaurants and food companies such as Slurrp Farm in India are beginning to incorporate millets and sorghum into their everyday meals and food products.
Millets are multi-purpose—their stalks can be used not only as grains for human consumption, but also as animal fodder, as a biofuel, and in brewing. Other major crops like maize may see reducing yields or reach a yield plateau over the coming decade. However, ICRISAT reports that some millets and sorghum varieties could increase their yields up to three times their current potential. ICRISAT has found that millets and sorghum can be more reliable crops for farmers in spite of dry, hot conditions because they are usually the last crops standing in droughts. Not only can millets grow in about half the time of wheat, using few or no fertilizers and pesticides, but they also require 30 percent less water than maize and 70 percent less water than rice.
In the face of global climate change, water scarcity, and longer periods of drought, millets and sorghum may be valuable, nutritious, and hardy alternatives to provide sustainable food security for people living in increasingly dry climates. According to Kane-Potaka, a return to millets and sorghum means a return to food that is good for you, good for the planet, and good for the farmer.
what are the challenges and what do we need to change to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050? Joining us in our studio to discuss these issues is Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director, Strategic Marketing and Communication at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
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Social entrepreneurs are a growing movement in Asia, and although each one is a relatively small player, together they can galvanize and transform the food system. A wide range of social entrepreneurs showcased how they are changing the food system at the recent Asia Pacific EAT Forum in Jakarta. Many of them are recognized by the USAID and Australian Government Launch program as food innovators from around the globe.Some of the entrepreneurs related how they are contributing to the food system. Many are also focused on reviving the use of traditional nutritious foods, including millets and other Smart Food.
Helianti Hilman, Founder and CEO, Javara company, Indonesia, who is helping farmers in Indonesia develop and market their own products.
Charlene Tan, Good Food Co, Philippines, speaking on her social enterprise Community Shared Farming.
Robert Oliver, Celebrity chef, on how he is using reality TV to change fast food diets in the South Pacific islands.
Indian social entrepreneurs
India is known to have a fast growing entrepreneurship culture, mainly in the IT sector. However, lately the food industry too has been attracting many such entrepreneurs. There is also a movement in the food industry. These are from people who are conscious socially, environmentally as well as for health. Many also see the need to support farmers who are at the beginning of the food chain, yet are often the last to benefit. They also recognize the need to return to traditional and more sustainable farming systems to ensure healthier food reaches us.
Here are some of their inspiring stories and their struggles.
Sridhar Irventi of Go Bharrathi taking a holistic approach from traditional farming to providing nutritious foods.
Dr Gayathri Swahar, Marketing Director, Y–Cook, engaging directly with the farmer and training and helping sell any of their produce.
It was a valuable experience attending the recent annual Committee on World Food Security (CFS) meet, held at FAO in Rome, to hear what are the issues engaging the attention of global agencies and the approaches they are supporting to tackle these.
It was a clear and sobering message when the Chair of CFS, Amira Gonass opened the meeting with a hard-hitting reality: “We know we are not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030.” Showing a way out, she emphasized, “We all have a responsibility for ensuring the universal right to food. Success will only be a reality if we break away from our silos and work in collaboration.
Speaking on the biggest issues for the World Food Program – Executive director, David Beasley, at the Committee on World Food Security, October 2017
We also must think holistically and with an integrated approach.” She also noted that this requires a multi-stakeholder approach implemented within countries.
In September this year the UN released hunger figures showing staggering truth that for the first time in over a decade, the number of people going hungry had increased. This was an additional 38 million more hungry people from 2015 to 2016 – reaching 815 million people. This was reported as being mainly caused by conflict and climate change.1
However, the opposite end of the spectrum also figured prominently on the agenda, with statistics showing that for every one person going hungry there are more than 2 who are overweight. Overweight related deaths is now also higher that deaths related to being underweight. An inescapable reality is that 41 million children under five are overweight (including obese).2
He also stressed the need to work with national level strategies, noting that “two main principles must be followed: leave no one behind; and the issue of national ownership of the SDGs. We need to review our strategies and see what will have the biggest impact – especially for smallholder farmers. Also engagement with civil society and private sector should be increased.”
World Food Program (WFP) Executive director, David Beasley, seemed frustrated with the focus they had to have on emergencies when they would like to focus on development and solutions. He stressed that, “80% of our expenditure today is in war-torn zones… We are spending a fraction of our money on development. Instead of trucking in water, let’s take that money and dig more bore wells.”
WFP released a new form of reporting that looks at the affordability of food rather than the cost – comparing the cost of a plate of pulse stew and a carbohydrate, but as the percentage of average daily income.
The pulse and carbohydrate used in the calculation were the ones most commonly available in each country. The results from the report Counting the Beans The True Cost of a Plate of Food Around the World 3 were staggering.
One comparison given is, “while a New Yorker might expect to spend just 0.6 percent of their daily income on the ingredients to make a simple 600 kilocalorie bean stew, someone in South Sudan would need to spend as much as 155 percent of their income. Or, to approach it from the other end, it would be as if a resident of the Empire State were to pay US$321 for their stew.” (p11) Some other examples are shown in Diagram A.
(Extracted from Counting the Beans The True Cost of a Plate of Food Around the World, p12)
Countries in conflict had such extremely high relative costs for the food they were almost off the graph. The issue of conflict was certainly also high on the agenda of discussions around food security.
The release of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 by five UN agencies reported on how the nature of conflict is changing with more conflict within countries and localized, and less across countries. Also, post-conflict violence was increasingly being observed. The conflict-poverty-malnutrition nexus is clearly reflected in 60-70 percent of undernourished people who live in conflict areas.
“Food Systems” is the popular framework being discussed now. FAO has created an entirely new division called ‘Nutrition and Food Systems’. Concrete solutions were put forward including the release of the CFS committee’s report, Nutrition and Food Systems.4
This was the first high-level report I had seen that included a major focus on ‘marketing’ to the consumer. It includes but also goes past awareness raising and education, with one of its 10 overarching recommendations being to “Create consumer demand for nutritious food”. Many of the suggestions were policy based, encouraging consumer behavior through mass media campaigns and community mobilization together with other examples of marketing and communications.
Similar suggestions were echoed at CFS, from Peter Schmidt, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee, who called for direct action on awareness raising on the value of food, and specifically for a campaign to do this.
There were seemingly contradictory comments, with many sessions stating that food prices are too low and that prices must increase for them to be viable for farmers and to be able to better look after the environment. Yet non-affordability of food was often hailed as one of the major reasons for people going hungry.
Interestingly, the last couple of years have seen the emergence of cross-sector alliances and new innovative approaches to nutrition and food systems, challenging past approaches and bringing in new thinking. These involve multi-group stakeholders with strong private industry linkages as well as research and multilateral agencies.
An example is the FReSH initiative (Food Reform for Sustainability and Health) 5 launched this year by the EAT Foundation and World Business Council for Sustainable Development. They are bringing together business and science to develop business solutions that create “Healthy, enjoyable diets for all, produced responsibly, within planetary boundaries by 2030”. In less than a year they have grown from 25 founding member companies to 40 companies today, spanning across the food value chain from fork to farm.
There are five work streams to keep a track of the outcomes that are all being worked on now. These are reported in the FReSH Interim Report of October 2017:
FReSH also organized a panel discussion at a side event at the CFS44. As part of this, Karnataka’s Minister for Agriculture Krishna Gowda elaborated on how the Indian state of Karnataka was changing the norm of their food systems. “We started at the production end but then realized this was not going to have lasting change unless we also worked with consumers in driving demand for Smart Food that is healthy and sustainable, and then linking this back to the farmers to ensure they get a fair deal.” The state has been proactive in doing this specifically for millets and sorghum.
My presentation on the panel delved into how the movement is part of a larger Smart Food movement which is popularizing foods like millets and pulses that fulfil the criteria of being “Good for You, the Planet and the Farmer”. One aim is to identify foods that fulfill all these criteria and mainstream them back as a staple while ensuring the value chain is developed and the supporting environment in place. Achieving this will help tackle some SDGs goals in unison, especially overcoming malnutrition, rural poverty and dealing with some environmental issues, in unison.
Other multi-spectral initiatives are the Global Alliance for the Future of Food and iPES (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems) which released in October Unravelling the Food- Health Nexus: Addressing Practices, Political Economy, and Power Relations to Build Healthier Food Systems. 6
Ruth Richardson, Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food 7 opines, “We have enough evidence telling us that the current food system is not supporting health – we must take action to trigger a shift from a system that too often results in harm to a system based on health promotion.” Also providing momentum to new collaborations is the SDG2 Advocacy Hub which set up only this year and is a platform for different groups to share solutions. They saw a gap and need to help bring the different players together. The aim was not to create anything new but help share information and connect the right people and activities. They will work with groups ranging from chef associations to UN agencies. One initiative is to create a chef’s manifesto, bringing together all the major chefs’ associations.
It is inspiring to see that not just the UN but companies, civil society and others are all adopting the SDGs as their own targets. In conclusion, I would like to highlight what Rafael Flor, Director YieldWise, The Rockefeller Foundation, commented at the Heads of States September session of the UN General Assembly – that food and nutrition are at the core of the world’s agenda and that more than half of the 17 SDGs relate to global food security and nutrition. He noted that part of the solution lies in promoting more nutritious crops and reduce our exposure and dependency on the 20 crops that currently constitute our food system. This resonated well with our own efforts to mainstream Smart Food – i.e. food that is good for you, the planet and the farmer. 8
He continues emphasizing that this should be part of the plan to redesign global food systems. Among the other solutions listed were to follow climate-smart agriculture, the promotion of ethical sourcing and the inclusion of smallholder farmers. This would also include more efficient resource use and therefore more sustainability, promotion of more nutritious crops and diets, and overall, redesigning food systems to be friendlier to investments and businesses, and most of all, to people. 9
Thirty-year-old Esther Atieno is the winner of the recently concluded Smart Food cooking show – a 13-episode reality TV show that was hosted by the Kenya Television Network (KTN) on Sunday evenings. Esther, who is a trained waiter and caterer, was crowned winner and won the title ‘Smart Chef’ during the finale of the show on June 4, 2017. The Smart Food show is a joint initiative of ICRISAT and the Kenyan media whose aim is to raise awareness on drought-tolerant crops (sorghum, millets and legumes), educate the public on their nutritional value and demonstrate different interesting ways of cooking them. The show was a success and attracted a rating of 800k viewership per episode.
In the Q&A below, Esther talks about her experience on the show.
Q: How did you find out about the Smart Food show?
A: I learned about the Smart Food show on Facebook; I was online one day when I stumbled upon a shared post by Susan Kamau, the TV host. It was a call for auditions for a cooking show. Having grown up watching Susan Kamau on her cooking shows on television, I knew the show would be a great learning experience. I was excited, but not quite sure if I wanted to be part of the show. I later consulted my friends and family, and they encouraged me to sign up.
Q: Why did you sign up for the competition?
A: I had just quit my job as a District Manager at one of the biggest restaurant chains in Nairobi, and I wasn’t sure what to do with my life. One thing I knew I wanted to do was cook. After I had quit my job, I started cooking for fun;
I would cook and take photos of the meal and share them on my social media pages. The feedback I got from my followers encouraged me to make more meals and post them online. I decided to sign up for the show because I wanted to share my skills with the world.
Q: Who inspired you to start cooking?
A: My mother has been my biggest inspiration in my cooking journey. I have been cooking for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a small town in West Kenya called Oyugis. Being a girl, one doesn’t have a choice when it comes to kitchen duties. My mother taught me from a very young age how to cook different meals. By the time I was nine years old, I had learned how to make ugali (a dish made of mostly cereal flour cooked in boiling water or milk to a stiff consistency).
Q: Did you think you had what it takes to win?
A: I never doubted my ability to cook. I look at it as a gift from God. I signed up for the show with a very positive attitude. I was very confident on the audition day and my confidence earned me a call back from the judges. I knew I would emerge victorious if I trusted my capabilities.
Q: Tell us about your experience in the show – with the judges and the other contestants.
A: The experience was very challenging for all the contestants. Most of us were clueless about Smart Food, the judges were expecting the best from us, besides that, we had very little time to come up with interesting dishes. If we didn’t we would get eliminated. Having to work in groups was also challenging, everyone is different, and misunderstandings were a norm. The judges were very helpful despite being strict; they instilled knowledge in us that is not easy to come by. As days went by, Smart Food grew on me. I previously did not know about the nutritional values of these foods and therefore was not utilizing them as much.
Q: How did you perceive the Smart Food before?
A: When I signed up for the Smart Food show I knew it was about cooking, but I wasn’t expecting that we would be expected to use “smart food” as the main ingredients during the competition. Growing up, I consumed finger millet porridge and sorghum ugali. I was not very enthusiastic about these meals. I thought they were very traditional, not tasty, boring and that only old people should consume them.
Q: Has your perception of these foods changed?
A: When the show began, I only knew how to make beverages, ugali and soups using Smart Food. I had no idea that finger millet can be used in more ways than in just beverages. The most fascinating thing about Smart Food is that they are locally available and very delicious when prepared. Smart foods are very nutritious and very affordable.
Q: What does it mean to you that you won the competition? The scholarship and joining Strathmore…
A: Winning the show is a dream come true, not only do I get the Smart Chef title, I also get to enroll in the Strathmore University, Nairobi, Kenya, for a culinary arts course. I have always wanted to study culinary arts, but I wasn’t able to. I have a certificate in food and beverage service which I opted for because I didn’t qualify for a culinary arts course. I always dreamt of studying. Getting the opportunity at the prestigious Strathmore is very humbling.
Q: How has the experience enriched your life?
A: The show has landed me opportunities I wasn’t expecting. From the show, I have received invitations from people who want me to cater to their events, the most exciting opportunity was from two diabetic patients who hired me to make meal plans for them using Smart Food. I am very grateful because I get to do what I love most and make a living out of it. I am now fully in the catering industry, and I hope to expand my business soon.
Q: What do you look forward to after the competition?
I am passionate about diversifying meals, and I would love to impact the world differently with Smart Food and the skills I gained from the reality TV show. I am looking forward to educating the world about healthy eating. I am also looking forward to more opportunities that may come up.
Q: Will you cook more Smart Food at home?
I am already cooking Smart Food in my home. My 10-year-old son enjoys the peanut soufflés that I make him after school. Iam also learning how to make more pastries with finger millet, sorghum and pearl millet. I started making Smart Food dishes for my relatives during family gatherings.