Increasing the development of and access to safe and nutritious food in Africa

Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards played a crucial role in developing, and increasing access to, nutrition and dietary diversity in African food systems, responding to the urgent global challenge of hunger and malnutrition. In this article, read about four out of 52 Innovation Awards which addressed challenges related to nutrition.

Posted on: 20/02/2024

The need: improving health, diversity of diets and nutrition in Africa

Poor diets are the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD, 2019). In 2022, there were 281.6 million undernourished people in Africa, 63.1 million children were stunted due to malnutrition, while wasting affected 15.1 million (UNICEF).

With escalating conflicts, economic shocks, climate change, and energy and input costs placing a strain on global supply chains, there is a need to support nutritious food production within African food systems.

The solutions: AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards

These selected projects showcase innovative approaches to addressing nutritional challenges in Africa, leveraging local resources and innovative practices to create sustainable, health-boosting food solutions.

  • Promotion of composite flour with locally available cereals, legumes and tubers for income generation and improved household nutrition  

    In Nigeria, increasing the consumption of millets over less nutritious grains can help to decrease anaemia and stunted growth in children.

    To encourage positive dietary shifts, Jane Parker from the University of Reading and Hakeem Ayinde Ajeigbef from the International Crop Research for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Nigeria, developed composite flours based on iron-rich sorghum.

    By enhancing flavours with high protein soy and cassava flour, they developed products which can be enjoyed by consumers. Consumer tests in six Nigerian states identified four preferred flours for making tuwo (a thick porridge with a dumpling-like consistency), and koko (a thin porridge-like drink).

    The project focused on promoting these healthier flours within local women’s groups, encouraging dietary improvements. Additionally, it supported women in establishing small-scale processing businesses, boosting income generation.

    Future opportunities:

    • Improving flour shelf-life with innovative packaging via a follow-up project also funded through the AgriFood Africa Connect programme.
    • Identifying ways to increase the adoption of millet-based products and support businesses to drive demand.
  • Developing a local plant-based Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for Eastern Africa 

    Improving nutrition through food fortification can have transformative impacts. Ready-to-use-therapeutic food (RUTF) is the standard treatment for acute undernutrition; however, in Africa, RUTFs are generally imported from high income countries, containing expensive powdered milk.

    This project brought together experts in alternative proteins including Aurelie Bechoff at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, and Samuel Maina at Equatorial Nuts Processing Ltd to develop a formula for a new RUTF that consists of plant-based ingredients, over 90% of which are locally available in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The project demonstrated consumer acceptance, nutritional benefits and commercial viability for the product. The project holders have since received additional funding and collaborated with numerous international partners to continue product development.

    Future opportunities:

    • Conducting international clinical trials to establish precise efficacy of the product and commercialisation.
    • Collaborating with alternative protein innovators for further RUTF and similar product development.
  • Evaluating the nutritional value and safety of small-scale reared edible cricket value chain products 

    Harvesting insects can be a cost-effective means of increasing sustainable protein supplies in Zimbabwe and beyond. Crickets are rich in a wide range of nutrients and can be bred to solve different malnutrition challenges, however it is important to ensure the chemical and microbial content of the crickets are safe for consumption.

    Working with Alberto Fiore at Abertay University in Scotland and Faith Manditsera from the Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe, Jumping Protein used locally available feeds to see whether they could improve the nutritional content and safety of edible crickets.

    The food scientists managed to demonstrate improvement of the nutritional value of the crickets, modifying their diets to identify the correct feedstocks for optimal growth. Dry feeds proved higher in protein, supported quicker growth to harvesting size and reduced mortality, compared to wet feeds.

    Notably, these feeds also showed an absence of heavy metals, enhancing food safety. These results were demonstrated to farmers in the region, who showed interest in rearing crickets based on the findings.

    Future opportunities:

    • Testing and improving the safety of the end products by assessing toxin levels.
    • Improving the efficiency and consistency of the end products by collaborating with downstream processing technologies using solar energy.
  • Market demand creation and release of new higher yielding, faster cooking common bean varieties with higher iron bioavailability in Zambia  

    New crop varieties can deliver nutritional benefits as well as productivity gains. However, it is a challenge to get improved crop varieties to market.

    In Zambia, Claudia Canales Holzeis from the Kirkhouse Trust and Kelvin Kanfwa from the University of Zambia identified a route to enable improved bean varieties to enter local markets. These varieties offer higher iron bioavailability and shorter cooking time.

    The improved varieties were submitted for certification in Zambia. Small packs of seeds were distributed to 620 farmers for trialling and seed multiplication. This generated market demand and, by working alongside a seed company, ensured farmers were able to continue to access the improved varieties.

    Future opportunities: 

    • Identifying other bean and cowpea varieties that could benefit from the dissemination strategy.
    • Working with public and private sector organisations to scale up improved varieties.

Discover more about our impact

With 86 Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect Innovation Awards completed, each project has helped to improve the sustainable management of African AgriFood systems. The commitment from project leads is to create positive change, guided by GCRF AgriFood Africa’s key goals which aim to reduce poverty, increase economic prosperity, and improve wellbeing.

Dive deeper into our ‘Innovation Award Impact’ series to explore project impacts around other important themes:

Related programme

AgriFood Africa Connect

AgriFood Africa Connect

Innovate UK AgriFood Africa Connect brought innovative people and organisations across the UK and Africa together to develop solutions for the sustainable management of AgriFood systems in Africa.


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