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A Winning Partnership for Growth

How Flying Food is creating an impact in Africa • 08 Apr 2020

When the Flying Food public/private partnership began in 2013, the aim was clear: build a sustainable value chain that would bring jobs, generate income and provide access to nutritious food to low-income groups. Today, three of Flying Food’s founding partners – TNO, New Generation Nutrition Ltd (NGN) and Kreca EntoFood Ltd – reflect on the lessons learned so far, and share their vision for the future.

 

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Crickets are the heart of the Flying Food programme. And specifically, raising crickets as a sustainable, abundant source of protein for Africans at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP). Flying Food is enabling co-creation through the exchange of knowledge and technology between European partners and entrepreneurs in Africa, and building a sustainable business model that addresses three key social issues, all within the scope of a single programme.

Taste of the future

The crickets-as-food concept is certainly not new. Across the world, more than 2.5 billion people already consume this healthy, delicious source of protein. Crickets contain significantly lower amounts of fat than beef or fish proteins, and much higher levels of fibre and Omega-3. What’s more, crickets need only a small fraction of the land and water required by livestock, and have a significantly lower carbon footprint. The Flying Food consortium considers crickets to be a central component of a sustainable agriculture model for the future, as well as an entirely new industry in Africa.

Inspiration for innovation

Knowing all of the benefits of cricket consumption, the Flying Food consortium saw an opportunity: to build a sustainable value chain in Africa by teaching farmers how to raise and process crickets for consumption. Africans already consume insects as part of their regular diets, but have never before had the opportunity to raise them for commercial sale. Through Flying Food, African farmers get hands-on training in how to raise, process and sell the crickets. In short, the single programme addresses three key social issues at once: food security, job creation and sustainable agriculture.

‘Protifarm was eager to join forces in this partnership,’ says Margot Calis, Kreca EntoFood, part of Protifarm Ltd. ‘It’s our ambition to feed the world without consuming the earth. We would like to substantially contribute to a sustainable and healthy intake of nutrition on global level. Whereas our advanced – and in this stage premium priced – breeding and processing technologies help us to deliver upon this promise, we can have direct impact on a smaller scale through our knowledge contribution to Flying Food.’

‘There is a huge difference between doing research or teaching courses in cricket rearing, and actually working side-by-side with farmers to make it happen,’ says Marian Peters, NGN. ‘In the early years, Flying Food was truly a Living Lab. We worked with farmers on the ground, discovering their challenges and adjusting our techniques and approaches to meet their needs. We learned by doing. We are confident that we have the knowledge, tools and partners to truly make a difference.’

Early success

To date, 102 smallholder farmers in Uganda and 80 farmers in Kenya are raising crickets to be eaten whole or processed as high-protein powder and other nutritious, delicious food products. Of those, more than 80 percent are women – traditionally, the least represented members of the workforce. An additional 400 farmers are preparing to start, and one medium-sized company has been established, with the combined potential to deliver 50 tonnes of crickets every year. At full capacity, the current value chain could deliver 5,000,000 servings of smart protein every year.

‘I’ve been raising crickets for more than 40 years,’ says Margot. ‘I joined Flying Food because I believe in the idea and wanted to help bring it to life. But I never expected to learn so much or feel so connected to this group of passionate, committed participants. African women, especially, really enjoy raising the crickets, and that was one of the inspiring ways we were able to give the Flying Food project wings.’

Expansion for impact

Although Flying Food is already making an impact on a small scale, the consortium has the ambition to expand its reach even further. The team stands ready to expand the programme to ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Mathilde Miedema, TNO: ‘Local partners from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are part of the Flying Food family, and we established a sound master plan for up-scaling, including an essential role for the private sector, and a local knowledge centre that will independently boost this value chain. We are looking for impact investors with blend finance to help Flying Food fly.’

The expanded, sustainable cricket value chain is expected to create 15,000 jobs, including work for women and young people. What’s more, income generation for farmers is expected to increase by 50-100%.

Together, Flying Food partners are orchestrating innovation by guiding a process of change in an entirely new region. And while change of this kind may take some time, the benefits are undeniable. ‘Investing patient capital in a programme like Flying Food takes commitment and flexibility. It’s about earning a combined financial and social return, about contributing to a movement, about passion for people and the planet,’ Marian says. ‘Impact investors will learn a tremendous amount, and will have the opportunity to see how simple technology can transform lives in a new, circular economy.’

Complementary partnerships

Both Margot and Marian agree that Flying Food’s progress would not have been possible without partners like TNO and Wageningen University and Research (WUR). ‘NGN and Kreca are both small companies,’ Marian explains. ‘TNO and WUR bring the needed power and weight to get things done in Africa. Their experience with managing complex projects, with problem solving and with adapting to changing parameters have been – and will continue to be – essential components of our partnership.’

Margot agrees. ‘Both TNO and WUR bring passion and enthusiasm to the project. They go the extra mile to solve problems creatively and their strong work ethic keeps everything moving forward.’

Foundations for the future

For Margot, seeing the effect of working side-by-side with farmers is an indication of the programme’s future success. ‘The closer we bring scientists and researchers to the farmers, the stronger the programme becomes. The more these groups interact with each other, the more the programme accelerates. I am confident that the Flying Food will be a tremendous success.’

As the leading applied innovation institute of Flying Food, TNO knows that to realise such a major system innovation, working directly with the whole value chain is required. One single company cannot achieve success on its own. Only close collaboration between all actors in the new value chain can realise the envisioned impact. ‘We are just seeing how the programme is changing the lives of people across Africa. On a recent trip to Uganda, a farmer told me that in his community, the sound of crickets chirping is the sound of money and good food. And what a sweet sound that is for those who live in such abject poverty.’

This TNO project supports the following Sustainable Development Goals

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