Traditional fermented foods to promote food and nutrition security in Africa (FermFood)

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.

The choice for fermented foods is justified by the fact that 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 or (digital) representation (“twin”) of the current reality and solutions to allow findings to be widely applied in Africa and beyond.

The core disciplines in our project are food technology, microbial ecology and business development with links to fields of human nutrition and gender studies. Our specific objectives for each of the three products are:

1.    upgrading of traditional processing

2.    generalising and exploiting functional properties to maximize human nutrition benefits

3.    fostering women entrepreneurship, and

4.    interdisciplinary integration

These objectives are rooted in ongoing research of the WU and African participating staff, among whom are several Wageningen PhD graduates holding key positions at our African partner institutions and members with long-standing expertise from previous INREF projects among Wageningen staff. The project outcomes will consist of capacity building, scientific results, practical applications and their dissemination to relevant stakeholders. The capacity building will benefit those recruited for the project but also all those involved due to shared learning.