Innovation of the Week: It’s All About the Process

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With training from the organization, Mazingira, Esther Mjoki Maima now processes her groundnuts without any preserves or chemicals. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Zambian grocery stores are filled with processed foods from around the world, from crackers made in Argentina and soy milk from China to popular U.S. breakfast cereals. In addition to these foreign foods, however, are also variety of locally made and processed products, including indigenous varieties of organic rice, all-natural peanut butter and honey from the It’s Wild brand.

It’s Wild was started by the Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) over 30 years ago to preserve and protect wildlife. But the organization soon learned that in order to protect wildlife, it would need to address the lack of income sources for local communities that were sometimes forced to resort to poaching elephants or other wildlife in order to earn enough to feed their families.

To do this, COMACO organizes farmers into producer groups, encouraging them to diversify their skills by raising livestock and bees, growing organic rice, using improved irrigation and fisheries management and other practices. The organization supports the creation of regional processing centers and trading depots to make it easier for farmers to process and transport their crops. Their products are then sold under the It’s Wild brand in supermarket chains in Zambia, such as ShopRite, Checkers and Spar. And the organization tries to do as much of the product distribution as possible so that the money stays with the farmers, not middlemen, improving local livelihoods and preserving local wildlife. (See also: Peanut Butter and Progress)

And all across sub-Saharan Africa, other organizations are providing farmers with the processing skills and materials they need to improve their incomes and support their families—and that can produce unexpected benefits, including wildlife, reducing food-born health risks, and improving access to education.

In Kenya, the Mazingira Institute  is working to create awareness about climate change, human rights, and urban agriculture. And they’re also training communities to learn better skills to increase income generation and well-being—including training in how to process foods to preserve them longer and make them more appealing to consumers.

Mazingira, for example, helped Esther Mjoki Maifa, an entrepreneur in Nairobi, capitalize on a growing interest among Kenyans for natural healthy products by training her to process groundnuts without any preserves or chemicals. It takes her about one day to produce 50 kilograms of groundnuts and she sells jars from 200-300 shillings each. Eventually, Ms. Maifa is hoping to make enough money from her products to purchase her own nut grinding machine.  (See also: Mazingira Institute and NESALF: Training a New Breed of Farmers)

In Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, the East Africa Dairy Development (EADD) project is helping livestock farmers to improve the processing and preservation of milk in order to produce better tasting and longer lasting dairy products which are also safer for the consumer. EADD encourages farmers to join cooperatives (See Innovation of the Week: Farmers Groups and Cooperatives), giving them access to group owned and run refrigerated milk collection centers, significantly reducing the financial burden of the process. The milk is then transported to a milk processing facility and sent to market where the processed milk will receive a higher price than unpasteurized milk. It also stays good longer and reduces the risk of food borne illness. (See also: Improving Incomes with Milk Processing)

In Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria, the World Cocoa Foundation is providing cocoa farmers with hands-on training on production, pest and disease management and post-harvest techniques. The region accounts for nearly 70 percent of the world’s cocoa production, 90 percent of which is grown on nearly 2 million small family farms. Almost 16 million people depend on this crop as their main source of income and being able to properly process cocoa can make a big difference in income for a family. One farmer in Côte d’Ivoire, Ekra Marceline, was able to more than quadruple  her cocoa harvest after receiving training from a Farmer Field School supported by WCF. She was able to build a solar dryer to produce higher quality beans and the additional income she earns enabled her to send her children to school and build a new home for her family. (See also: Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs)

To read more about how training in processing techniques can improve incomes and provide other benefits, see also: Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value, Reducing Food Waste, Investing in Better Food Storage in Africa, and Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods.

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