Pg9) Women work in a farm. (Photo by Maxwell Joshua)

Food and climate crisis must be addressed jointly, say experts

By Joyce Chimbi I

Food security and sustainability experts are concerned that the country’s food consumption patterns are imbalanced, unsustainable and places the country off track towards ending hunger. Nairobi-based food safety and security expert Evans Kori says across all 47 counties, food consumption is not in line with respective food production activities. This, he says, is an imbalance that has led to negligible progress towards eradicating hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition. As per the ‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2021’, worldwide, countries have not progressively made inroads towards ensuring “access to safe, nutritious and sufficient foods for all people all year or to eradicating all forms of malnutrition.” The report indicates that a most pressing challenge towards access to healthy and sustainable diet is climate variability.

Within this context, the Barilla Foundation has used the latest evidence on food, health and the environment to devise the Double Health and Climate Pyramid model. The pyramid illustrates that global food goals cannot be achieved within current broken food systems and ecosystems. Kori says this means that ongoing and escalating food as well as climate crisis “must be resolved jointly because they are interlinked and not in isolation.”

 “If countries continue to tackle food and climate issues independently of each other, progress will be slow, if at all, towards a sustainable, food secure and healthy planet,” he says. Current food production systems, he says, are not sustainable because they are catalysts of climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation. Consequent outcomes, he says, affect our health and essentially, human survival and “people the world over will not access the nutrients they need and sustainably, within existing food systems.” UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) shows that in 2020, between 720 and 811 million people faced hunger and the situation is likely to escalate due to COVID-19 induced constraints. Within this context, research shows that nature-positive food production systems are much needed because current systems are broken and unsustainable. FAO estimates show “the agricultural sector accounts for one-third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Additionally, the agricultural sector accounts for the largest share of freshwater withdrawals at 70 per cent on average and, 90 per cent of the water footprint of humanity, and 12 per cent of land use.

This research is illustrated in Barilla’s evidence-based Double Pyramid to promote health and longevity, and at the same time, reduce the impact of food choices on the ecosystem, and more specifically on climate change. The health and climate pyramids are placed side by side. The health side shows features of a balanced, healthy, and sustainable diet. The climate side shows the associated impact on health and the climate. Based on scientific evidence linking food choices in adult population to health outcomes, the health pyramid arranges food into 18 groups across seven layers according to the recommended frequency of consumption for people’s health. Foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grain cereals that should be consumed most often are placed at the bottom of the pyramid. The second layer includes foods such as nuts and seeds, non-tropical vegetable oils, refined low glycemic index cereals and fermented milk.

The third layer includes pulses and fish as preferred sources of protein. This is followed by the fourth layer of foods such as poultry, eggs, milk and cheese. The fifth layer includes high glycemic index foods like white bread, refined rice and potatoes. No more than two servings of this food should be eaten per week. Animal fats, including butter, tropical oils like palm oil, red meat and sweets and baked goods made with refined flour and sugar are in the sixth layer of the pyramid because eating them is associated with a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular events. The advice is to eat these no more than once a week. In the seventh layer there are foods like processed meat like sausages, bacon, salami, associated with a high risk of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases, which should only be eaten occasionally. Within this context, the climate pyramid classifies different foods based on their carbon footprint or carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

Again, foods are arranged into 18 groups and seven layers starting from those with a very low carbon footprint to a very high footprint. The pyramid shows production of animal-based products, especially red meat, followed by cheese and processed meat, layers five to seven cause the highest GHG emissions compared to plant-based products. As per research by FAO, “cattle raised for both beef and milk, and for inedible outputs like manure and draft power are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65 per cent of the livestock sector’s emissions.” Barilla’s Double Pyramid is therefore an illustration of how people can eat varied, balanced and healthy diets and at the same time reduce their contribution to climate change.

The pyramid recommends a consumption frequency for all food groups and shows the impact they each have on health and the climate. Additionally, the Barilla Foundation devised another seven cultural double pyramids in line with different geographical contexts including Nordic countries and Canada, USA, South Asia, East Asia, Africa, Latin America and Mediterranean countries. Each of the seven pyramids reflects and celebrate the global value of diversity while promoting healthy, sustainable eating and consideration for planet health. On the one hand, the double pyramid provides a summary of key knowledge gained from medicine, nutrition studies, and the impact of people’s food choices on the planet. On the other, it is a consumer education tool.


Edible insects can solve African food security challenge, experts advise

By Dareen Keana |
With the frequently rising prices of food items like maize flour, bread, fish, beef, milk and cooking
fat, it is increasingly becoming harder for Kenyans to afford three meals a day. High-protein foods
like chicken and fish are becoming an expensive delicacy for many people. In a bid to find
alternatives, enterprising and innovative individuals are now turning to insects as food.

According to Dr Saliou Niassy, head of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology
(icipe) Technology Transfer Unit in the Environmental Health Theme Team, insect consumption in
Africa is not a new trend. Some of the insects commonly eaten as food include white ants, or
kumbikumbi, popular in the Western Kenya region. icipe, which collaborates with more than 300
partners worldwide, plays a vital role in entomological or insect research in the East and Central
Africa region as well as the globe. Icipe estimates indicate that more than 1,900 edible insect species
are consumed by over two billion people. At least 500 of these species are found and eaten across
Africa. “For instance, one kilogram of termites costs Ksh1,275 ($11) in Kenya. The number of insect
eaters is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050,” says Dr Niassy. Insect foods are higher in protein
content compared to conventional protein foods such as fish, beans and soya. Chicken and pigs
prefer insect-based feed compared to fish or soya meal.
The insect foods are quite affordable, and a stable source of income in sustainable settings. “A kilo of
r.differens or long horned grasshoppers costs around Ksh300 ($2.6),” Dr Niassy says. Dr Niassy says
the time is ripe for the continent to exploit its rich treasure of biodiversity to provide much needed
resources to its people, including food, with a special focus on conservation to maintain sustainable
use. Icipe estimates that Africa’s food import bill is expected to rise to $110 billion by 2050, with its
forest cover shrinking to less than 600 million hectares over the same period due to growing
demand for firewood and conversion of forests to farmland. During the same period, the continent’s
population, which was estimated at 1.3 billion in 2020, is expected to grow to 2.5 billion.
According to the estimates, the populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double or
grow even more by 2050 as a result of high fertility and improving mortality rates. At least one in
every four people, or 25 per cent of the world’s population will be living in Africa, compared to just
one in 10, or less than 10 per cent who were living here in 1950. This growth rate represents more
than double the current population on the continent, and will present an additional food security
challenge to the region.
Our solution to the expanded population’s demand for food, Dr Niassy says, is a change in the way
we eat by using sustainable and cost effective ecosystem services. The scientist believes food
security challenges can be alleviated by greater investment in the cultivation of insects for use in
African diets. “More than ever, it is vital for us to implement the adoption of a sustainable and
circular approach to ecosystem services for better livelihoods, food and nutritional security. One of
the ways to achieve this goal is switching to cheaper and more nutritious insect foods,” says the
Dr Julius Ecuru, the Manager of BioInnovate Africa, which is an icipe subsidy, describes the firm’s
approach to societal challenges as driven by the need to wisely use the resources provided by
nature. “BioInnovate uses science biodiversity to provide practical, affordable solutions to pressing
societal challenges,” says Dr Ecuru. As part of its work, BioInnovate is currently pursuing the black
soldier fly project that uses bio waste to feed the adult insects. Black fly larvae are used as nutritious
food rich in Omega 3 proteins. BioInnovate is working on the project with partners in Kenya, Ethiopia
and Tanzania. Another ongoing project aims to produce jet fuel using the ‘somaize’ or sorghum and
maize hybrid extracts.
The crop is used as food, while its syrup can be used to produce bioethanol that can be used as
aviation fuel and livestock feed. BioInnovate is collaborating with partners in Uganda, Kenya and
Ethiopia to implement the project. Dr Ecuru says biodiversity conservation and biomass stewardship
are required at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, including soil and watershed
management. Pursuing the objective with the involvement of local communities in the target areas
will not only conserve the environment, but also create employment.

“Let us provide alternative livelihoods for communities that are biomass custodians, especially fuel
sources, farm inputs and markets, value chains and jobs,” he says. “Using science and technology,
we can optimise production and reclaim degraded environments,” adds the scientist. Dr Ecuru sees
an enduring potential for even more significant and game changing biodiversitybased innovations in
our economy. He also emphasises that further research and multisectoral collaborations are
required to actualise this vision.