PHOENIX, Arizona — Africa is home to an abundance of rich, natural resources. The continent has the highest concentration of “oil, copper, diamonds, bauxite, lithium, gold, hardwood forests” and nutrient-rich superfoods. Although Africa contains all this inherent wealth, the native African people have barely reaped any of the benefits as the continent still trails behind in advancement due to profuse corruption, lack of policies on wealth management, inadequate resource distribution, political instability and exploitation. Even though Africa’s natural resources are sought after, 433 million Africans lived in extreme poverty in 2018. But, this is slowly changing as startups and NGOs have begun to support the African community by harnessing the power of Africa’s superfoods. These superfoods are enhancing local community involvement in sustainable agriculture in Africa.
The moringa tree has 13 variant species that are indigenous to the African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Angola and Madagascar. Moringa is drought resistant with nearly all edible parts — each flavorful and packed with nutrients. This includes the “leaves, leaf powder, pods, seeds, flowers, roots and bark.” The leaves, particularly, are very high in protein, vitamins A and C as well as other essential nutrients. This means moringa can treat both malnutrition and obesity at the same time. Additionally, moringa trees serve as wind barriers, prevent erosion, enhance hydrological cycles and give semi-shade, which is excellent for intercropping methods where intense and direct sun can cause damage to crops.
A California-based startup called Kuli Kuli is drawing America’s attention to the nutrient-rich superfood with its moringa energy bar, shot and powder products. The startup collaborates with 18 women-led family farms in 13 different developing countries to generate economic growth, enhance women’s empowerment and encourage sustainable agriculture. Kuli Kuli has since generated $5.2 million worth of income for local moringa farmers and has planted and protected more than 24 million moringa trees.
Fonio is a treasured source of nutrition for mothers in West Africa. The grain is often given to babies as their first solid food as it is full of amino acids and important nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium. Fonio is also a source of slow-digesting, complex carbohydrates that provide the body with energy throughout the day. One of its most unique attributes is that the plant grows quickly, draws its own water and does not require rich soil, which allows it to flourish in dry climates like the areas bordering the Sahel region.
Even though it grows easily, most Senegalese farmers struggle to make any profit off of Fonio as processing Fonio can be laborious and expensive. Yolele, a startup co-founded by Senegalese-born, New York-based Chef Pierre Thiam and Philip Teverow, developed an export market that improves the lives of West African fonio farmers. Yolele partnered with the nonprofit organization, SOS Sahel, to train and equip smallholder farmers for increased productivity through sustainable farming. This will allow communities living in poverty to support themselves through agriculture.
Spirulina has been around for more than three billion years. In the 1980s, the U.N. declared the blue-green bacteria as one of the most promising solutions for malnutrition worldwide. Spirulina lives and grows in very mineral-rich soda lakes and has highly concentrated amounts of vitamins A and B12, lipids, iron, carbohydrates and nucleic acids. It has especially high amounts of protein — 60-70% of its dry weight. These proteins contain amino acids that are essential to spirulina’s nutritional value.
Humanitarian organizations like the WHO often address malnutrition in high conflict areas with exports of therapeutic milk. Conflict, crisis and other factors sometimes affect this supply. Ariel Kedem, Israeli-American and founder of Africa 2030, noticed this first hand in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and has championed spirulina alongside local partner, the Pole Pole Foundation, as a more long-term, sustainable alternative.
Together, the team has helped develop the production of spirulina in the DRC, treated malnourished children, supplemented local diets and provided a dependable source of income for communities.
Gum arabic is a natural tree sap harvested from the acacia tree, which grows wild in Africa. It is used in the production of inks, paints and ceramics. It also supplements foods and beverages. The sap adds natural prebiotics and soluble dietary fiber and has a wide range of other health benefits.
Kenya is currently producing about 400 metric tonnes of gum arabic annually but production has the potential to reach a calculated 12,000 tonnes. Self Help Africa is an NGO that aims to make this a reality. The organization has established the AgriFI Kenya Challenge Fund to give monetary and technical support to the Kenyan-owned company, Acacia EPZ. This assistance will open the company up to European markets, provide income for an estimated 6,700 low-income households and encourage local community involvement in sustainable agriculture in Africa.
Advocating for Sustainability in Africa
When given the resources and opportunities to do so, the people of Africa are more than capable of rebuilding their own communities. Although importing food products from other countries is helpful in the short-term, it is not a sustainable, long-term solution and does not give Africans a chance to achieve self-sufficiency. It is time for Africans to benefit from their own natural resources. The markets of superfoods like moringa, fonio, spirulina and gum arabic are excellent starting points that encourage local community involvement in sustainable agriculture in Africa.
– Alyssa McGrail