The Future of Food in Nigeria
Edobong Akpabio is an agro-entrepreneur by vocation and a business…
I learnt some time ago that most ideas are not really, like really, original. As a writer, that’s very important so you are not accused of plagiarism and all ‘what-not’. So, any time I’m brimming with topics to write about, I head for (you guessed right) the internet! This topic passed through the same test and here’s what I found;
“The Future of Food is a 2004 American documentary film written and directed by Deborah Koons Garcia to describe an investigation into unlabeled, patented, genetically engineered foods sold in grocery stores in the United States for the past decade. In addition to the US, there is a focus on Canada and Mexico” (Wikipedia).
As I read through various write-ups on the same topic, I began to feel comfortable with what I have in mind which is to focus on what the food industry would look like in the next decade or so. Having been an active player in the agribusiness sector in Nigeria, the demands and developments in the sector have been very interesting and actually, inspiring, enough to share.
What would Food look like in the coming decade?
- Food Mix – A Revolution for Local Staples
It’s already here and growing – the palatable and nutritious mix of foods, especially flours, herbs/spices, etc. We have the flour mixes – yam-potato flour, plantain-cassava flour, cassava-wheat flour, yam-cassava flour, coconut-wheat flour, etc; dairy mixes such as tigernut-coconut milk; spice combinations with ginger, garlic, thyme, turmeric, cloves, curry, black pepper, efirin, uziza, white pepper, moringa, mints; tea mixes with lemon, stevia, peppermint, etc. This development will take our local staples on the upward swing in terms of quality and quantity as a result of demand and a spark in innovations and advocacy activities in food safety, marketing, etc.
- Food Fortification
According to Food Fortification Initiative (FFI), a global organization in partnership with countries to promote, plan, implement, and monitor high-quality fortification practices, “Fortification is adding vitamins and minerals to foods to prevent nutritional deficiencies. The nutrients regularly used in grain fortification prevent diseases, strengthen immune systems, and improve productivity and cognitive development”. Fortified foods, therefore, help to fill in the nutritional gaps in a diet.
Worried about the epidemic of malnutrition among children in Nigeria, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) developed the Vitamin A Food Fortification Regulations 2005. The Regulation addresses the prohibition of manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution and sale of any designated food vehicle that is not fortified with Vitamin A and other elements as prescribed (www.vanguardngr.com/2006).
Now this is the regulatory part. In decades to comes, there will be voluntary efforts in food fortification in Nigeria especially, in foods for babies and toddlers and by advocates of nutritional therapy for intervention in certain medical conditions.
- Small-sized Packaging
The family size is reducing gradually. Time was when a nuclear family would have up to six children but not anymore. Therefore, the large products packaging referred to as “Family size” will be ‘sent off’ in the decades to come. Along with small families are a growing number of young people who are living alone and in small apartments. They do not have large storage spaces for large food packs. Already, food products are variously being reduced in pack sizes, whether dairy or cereal, beverages, snacks, etc, to suit current needs. As an entrepreneur, look around you and identify areas you can add value to this trend.
- Online Marketing
Young people are the target market for online shopping. A few years ago, I participated in a study on people’s preferences for shopping locations. Many young people, up to 86% said they would prefer not to shop for food in the community markets due to the noise, filth, lack of/filthy toilets, pervasive incidents of thievery, rude shop attendants, and generally, poor customer service. More than 60% said they would gladly buy foods including meat, vegetables, fruits, fish, condiments, etc, from department stores, no matter the cost. That was an eye-opener. So, I can assure you that shoppers will be ordering periwinkle, snail, banga, fufu, kpomo, waterleaf, bitterleaf, etc, online in the coming decades. Come to think of it, what will happen to our community markets?
- Convenient Foods
Fast foods and 2-minute noodles, among others, have changed the landscape of foods consumption. No more the drudgery of food preparation, especially, some of our local staples (ekpang nkukwo, ikokore, etc) which can take ages to prepare. For the growing population of the working class, no matter the pleasure, when you are tired out after a day’s work, you need something simple, and easy to prepare, to eat. In the coming decades, there will be innovations in our staples to bring convenience to food preparation. Already, I’ve seen ground pepper, crayfish, egusi and beans (picked and cleaned), including processed and canned banga, yes banga, on shelves in supermarkets.
- Healthy Foods
Nutritionists and dieticians have consistently, harped on healthy eating habits. We have been advised on foods to consume (fruits, vegetables, water, fresh foods, fish and chicken, etc) and those to reject (red meat, animal dairy, alcoholic beverages, carbonated drinks, processed foods, etc). Considering the growing number of health-conscious people in Nigeria, a lot more attention will be paid to healthy foods in the coming decades. The ‘war’ between the promoters of organic food and the supporters of GMO foods will escalate in the coming decades. You can bet that the politics of food safety and food production will be on full display. As an entrepreneur, you will need to watch from the sidelines and prepare to ‘strike while the iron is hot’.
- Food Production Systems
In the coming decades, there will be introduction of more sustainable models of food production in Nigeria. The advocacy activities for urban farming is gaining quite some attention with real estate developers, architects, town planners, land administrators, etc. This initiative aims to get food production hubs closer to residents in urban areas unlike the current location of farms strictly in rural areas. There will be food production systems that will empower consumers to determine what they eat – either from what they grow or from what they can buy around their neighbourhood.
There will be food production systems that will promote conservation of resources (time, water, energy, materials, etc). Apart from engaging the populace, it will help in encouraging the conscious and proper utilization of nature’s resources for mankind.
- Future Technologies
Jeff Desjardins, in his article, “The Next Generation Food Systems”, lists out four technologies that may have a profound effect on how we eat in the future (www.visualcapitalist.com):
- Automated Vertical Farms: It’s already clear that vertical farming is incredibly effective. By stacking farms on top of another and using automation, vertical farms can produce 100x more effectively per acre than conventional agricultural techniques. They grow crops at twice the speed as usual, while using 40% less power, having 80% less food waste, and using 99% less water than outdoor fields. However, the problem for vertical farms is still cost – and it is not clear when they will be viable on a commercial basis.
- Aquaponics: Another technology that has promise for the future of food is a unique combination of fish farming (aquaculture) with hydroponics. In short, fish convert their food into nutrients that plants can absorb, while the plants clean the water for the fish. Compared to conventional farming, this technology uses about half of the water, while increasing the yield of the crops grown. As a bonus, it also can raise a significant amount of fish.
- In Vitro Meats: Meat is costly and extremely resource intensive to produce. As just one example, to produce one pound of beef, it takes 1,847 gallons of water. In vitro meats are one way to solve this. These self-replicating muscle tissue cultures are grown and fed nutrients in a broth, and bypass the need for having living animals altogether. Interestingly enough, market demand seems to be there: one recent study found that 70.6% of consumers are interested in trying lab grown beef.
- Artificial Animal Products: One other route to get artificial meat is to use machine learning to grasp the complex chemistry and textures behind these products, and to find ways to replicate them. This has already been done for mayonnaise – and it’s in the works for eggs, milk, and cheese as well.
No doubt, the future of food will change drastically. Many products will be very prominent in our supply chains and become culturally acceptable and commercially viable. We will see models where food will be grown locally in massive skyscrapers, and there will be hopefully, regulations to guide food producers and protect consumers.