Innovating for Urban Food Security in Africa

GAIN and international development company, Chemonics, have launched a series of hack-a-thons to find solutions to Africa’s urban nutrition challenges. Rob Henning explains

Feeding Africa’s future megacities is a daunting challenge
By 2050, Africa will be home to some of the world’s largest cities. The population of Lagos alone will approximately triple to 32.6 million between 2010 and 2050 and Lagos will be the largest city in the world with 88.3 million people by 2100. Feeding a new generation of Africans that are disconnected from sources of nutritious foods is an unprecedented and daunting challenge. Compounding this problem of quantity is also a problem of quality: consumers are demanding more processed food that are dense in calories but empty of nutrition.

African food systems are ill-suited to keep pace with the demand for nutrient-dense food
Food distribution systems, including road infrastructure and food safety regulations, are consistently underdeveloped across the African continent. As the average African consumer moves to the end of a long food supply chain, the importance of logistics, cold chains, and the flow of information between consumers and producers becomes a key driver of food security and diversity. Smallholder farmers will also need to dramatically enhance their productivity to both feed themselves and the growing population.

Building these food systems will require disruptive innovation
Although the private sector is beginning to tackle many of these challenges, our belief is that the rate of innovation will not keep pace with the growing demand for diverse, nutrient-dense food such as fruits, vegetables, and animal source proteins. These countries will need to vault to next-generation solutions just as they bypassed landlines and went straight to mobile phones. In other fields such as technology and public policy, participatory innovation processes such as hack-a-thons and design challenges are proven methodologies to “gamify” innovation by generating great ideas systematically and quickly.

Be a food system innovator
The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Chemonics launched a series of hack-a-thons to engage a diverse group of stakeholders in a participatory innovation process to “hack” the problem of hungry cities across the globe, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Over the next six months, we will organize a series of events that will engage individuals from a range of fields such human-centered design, international development, software development, science, venture capitalism, and public policy to quickly advance a series of minimum viable products that can overcome constraints in urban food systems to feed these cities well.

Published 12 July

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