Traditional fermented foods to promote food and nutrition security in Africa

Entrepreneurship, value chains, product development and microbial ecology in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Benin


This project targets the promotion of food and nutrition security in Africa by ameliorating the quality and use of traditional fermented foods by strengthening the connected local value chains through fostering women entrepreneurship. Fermented foods are characterized transformation of raw materials by microorganisms makes foods generally safe, highly nutritious and sensory attractive with an increased shelf-life, while creating entrepreneurship opportunities for local women. So far efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition have largely overlooked the potential of the improvement of local food processing and optimization of the concerned value chains. Hence, making upgraded fermented foods the subject of efforts to stimulate (women) entrepreneurship is expected to have a direct effect on food and nutrition security by making improved fermented foods more available as well as an indirect effect through income generation to support livelihoods.

We intend to achieve our objective by interdisciplinary research and learning. We selected three focal African countries with which we have strong ties through previous PhD projects and past collaborations, namely Zambia, Benin and Zimbabwe. Together with our partners we identified three important milk- and cereal-based fermented foods, which cover different aspects (rural versus urban; current level of standardization; current level of contribution to diets). This range maximizes the relevance of our research and helps to expand findings to other traditional fermented foods and African food systems in general. In essence we aim at scientific output which will serve as blueprint of the current reality and solutions to allow findings to be widely applied in Africa and beyond.

Using three traditional fermented foods as representative examples, we formulated an inter- and transdisciplinary research project surrounding three exemplary traditional fermented foods in Zambia (Mabisi: dairy-based), Zimbabwe (Mahewu: cereal based), and Benin (Akpan: also a cereal-based food), with three main short-term specific objectives and an objective of interdisciplinary integration.

Relevance of the programme for the SDGs

Developing the value chain of traditional and culturally embedded foods will have a positive impact towards sustainable small-holder based food systems in low and middle income countries (LMICs). We promote and improve non-alcoholic fermented foods as a means to reduce hunger (SDG2), promote sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (SDG8), while enhancing responsible consumption and production (SDG12), with scalability to improve livelihoods (SDG1), and promote gender equality (SDG5).