Kara Nolte (MSc) Food Scientist – e’Pap

I recently had the privilege to attend the 23rd Biennial Conference hosted by the South African Association for Food Science and Technology. The theme was on Food Science and Technology for the 21st Century. In Africa, the reality is that we have to prepare to provide sufficient nutrition to a fast growing population. I was interested to see how today’s developments in technologies and research could be used in addressing this African reality.

Professor John Taylor from the University of Pretoria gave an interesting presentation on indigenous African technologies which improve the characteristics of non-wheat breads. The focus was on utilising indigenous crops in the production of Africa’s staple foods – such as bread. These indigenous African technologies were used over many years, but were lost as societies changed. Passing these traditions along to generations seems “useless” in an age where we have less time to prepare food and where we rely on convenience foods, not indigenous to Africa.

The time has come where we need these age old technologies more than ever, as we seek to find sustainable food solutions for Africa. We agree with Prof. Taylor’s suggestion to decolonise the Food Science and Technology education in Africa, to focus more on the indigenous technologies of Africa and not only on technologies borrowed from the Western world. This would equip future scientists better in facing the challenges of nutrition security on our continent, with resources suited to our climate and cultures.

Prof Yusuf B. Byaruhanga from Makarere University in Uganda gave an excellent example in presenting on the commercialisation of obushera, a traditional sorghum-based drink, part of Ugandan heritage. He shared how his research on the traditional preparation of obushera was used in mapping out an up-scaled version of production for the commercialisation of this indigenous drink.

Katia Santos Dias from GAIN, Mozambique, painted a sad picture of nutrition and health in Africa. Stunting and increased obesity is still a problem in Southern Africa. Calories from non-staple foods are not increasing, worsening generational micronutrient deficiencies. 52% of households in Southern Africa cannot afford 5 fruit or vegetable portions per day. Food consumption choices do not improve with an increase in income.

Due to our compromised food system from farm to fork, we believe that fortification technology (specifically the addition of minerals and vitamins to foods) plays an important role in ensuring that foods are nutrient dense. Monique Smorenburg from DSM gave interesting feedback around the purchase behaviour of fortified foods by South African consumers. It seemed that South Africans were not willing to spend more than 50c more on a product that is fortified, compared to the same product that isn’t.

Lisa-Claire Ronquest-Ross presented her research on what key multi-national role players in the Food and Beverage Industry were doing to improve nutrition in South Africa. The research was based on the Access to Nutrition Index. Big corporates are still in their baby shoes when it comes to commitment towards ensuring improved and affordable nutrition in South Africa.

The introduction Mariaan Wicks gave to nutrient profiling also inspired us to work towards a tool to ensure conformity to nutritional standards. The food industry is expected to throw money at regularly updated systems that ensure safe food. Malnutrition causes far more deaths than unsafe food, and it is time to expect of the food industry to invest money to ensure healthy, affordable foods for all.

I was encouraged to see that nutrition and the wellbeing of Africans were at the heart of a lot of research that was presented at the congress. However, very little of this research influences our food industry, verified by the alarming nutrition report. At e’Pap, we would love to see and act on increased nutrition education in Africa and on the application of sound research in food products for the benefit of people’s overall health.

Kara Nolte with former colleague, Opeoluwa Ogundele with his poster on the Nutritional and antioxidant capacity of porridge from pre-soaked infrared heated bambara groundnut.