Smart Food: good for you, the planet and the farmer

Smart food

About Smart Food – the triple benefits

Smart Food is a new concept that comprises of food that is: Good for You * Good for the Planet * Good for the Farmer.

Smart Food is one solution that addresses some of the largest global issues in unison: poor diets (from malnutrition to obesity); environmental issues (climate change, water scarcity and environmental degradation); and poverty.

They hold the potential for significant impact on the large global issues. This is possible not just by popularising them but also “mainstreaming” selected Smart Foods back as staples in developing countries.


As this has not been achieved before, we have to do things differently. The approach will be consumer-driven rather than the more traditional production focus – but also encompassing all segments to ensure the whole value chain is developed and connected back to farmers.

Initially, the major focus will be on millets, sorghum and grain legumes. We are joining forces with food processors to create modern convenience products that retain the nutritional value of the food, targeting urban and global markets that are typically the low hanging fruit, a larger market for the farmer and the aspirational markets that can change the image of foods and influence the rural food demands.

We will also link back to the farmers with programs that ensure that rural communities benefit from the market growth, both in terms of livelihood and nutrition.


Decades ago, ‘food security” used to be the key issue for developing countries. That was until starvation was significantly reduced and hidden hunger became more apparent, and ‘nutrition security’ was added. More recently, the UN and others organisations have underlined the imperative for ‘sustainable diets’, which they define as “diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security…”, and the urgency to set targets to strive towards this.

The attention next needs to focus on Smart Food – food that is good for you, the planet and the farmer, so that some of the major global issues are tackled in unison. To be able achieve this on a large scale, Smart Food should be mainstreamed in developing countries.

Breaking through the Food System Divide

The challenge with bringing Smart Food into the mainstream is the pre-existing food system divide, in which for decades the majority of investment has been funneled into 3 major crops – rice, wheat and maize. Whether it is R&D, big company investment, policy support, or development aid, the ‘Big 3’ have seen the majority of investment.

We know there is a need for more diversity in diets and on the farm. The Big 3 provide approximately 50% of the world’s calories and protein. About 45% of the private sector’s investment into agricultural research converges on one crop – maize.

So the Smart Food initiative aims to diversify the Big 3 and create the Big 5 and eventually the Big 7, and so on. This will require mainstreaming more foods, and it is important that it is not just any food but selected food that is good for you, the planet and the farmer.

Image and Value chain challenges

The challenge with mainstreaming Smart Food is that they often have an image of being old fashioned or food for the poor. Also, as they have seen considerably less investment, the value chains are not well developed and the supporting environments e.g. policies, are often weak.

Some of the many exciting successes so far:

  • Smart Food was selected by USAID and Australia as the top ten food innovations for 2017 out of 280 applications from 74 countries.
  • We have run a Smart Food reality TV show in Kenya
  • We have a Paris-based Senegalese chef ambassador
  • We also have rural women as Smart Food ambassadors covered by BBC
  • Jamie Oliver also blogged about millet as a Smart Food being one of the “Four new food products that are disrupting traditional supply chains”
  • India’s Prime Minister recently advocated for more attention to millets.

A Smart Food Endowment Fund is now being established and strategic partners are being sought to commit to the cause and jointly take this initiative forward globally.