Developing Economies

Social impact technology company, United Needs, works under the belief that the world is at its healthiest when interconnected. In order to disrupt cycles of poverty for rural farmers while simultaneously strengthening Earth’s food system, the organization is introducing new mobile technology to bring together advanced and developing economies.

In the next 34 years, the world will see an increase of 2.4 billion citizens. To feed this population the global food supply must increase by 69%, which means that finite agricultural resources must be used in the most effective way possible.

At the same time, the increase in population presents an exciting opportunity for smallholder farmers to play a large role in the expanding food economy. The United Needs website calls this “convergence of market forces” a chance for impoverished farmers to “grow their way out of poverty.”

In the current climate, small farmers in developing countries struggle with a variety of challenges. While small farms can be extremely productive, too few selling opportunities exist and farmers often lack access to traditional credit facilities. When market options are available, several levels of middlemen often consume most of the profit.

Research by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector showed that improving the financial state of the rural poor is one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty at the bottom rung of the financial ladder.

United Needs works on projects that seek to empower rural farmers as a means of alleviating poverty and building a sustainable food economy. Their methods involve breaking down barriers to profit by connecting developing economies directly with advanced ones.

With the motto “high tech with a high purpose,” United Needs keeps technology at the heart of its strategy. In order to “cut out the middleman” preventing smallholders from accessing credit and capital, the company created a mobile app that allows farmers to directly contact microfinance institutions and buyers. Customers interested in buying in bulk can bundle crops from multiple small farmers together to build large orders.

This high tech process is creating a more connected global economy by offering opportunities for advanced and developing economies to support one another through food production and consumption.

Jen Diamond

Photo: Flickr

refrigeration technologyRefrigerators. Everyone has one. Often filled with smelly leftovers and the occasional moldy cheese, they are a staple of the American way of life. However, refrigeration is not a luxury that everyone enjoys.

Without refrigeration technology, food is at constant risk of spoiling. Globally, tons upon tons of food is lost each year, and a lack of refrigeration plays a part in this. Some sources state that one-third of food produced today will end up being lost for one reason or another. Others say that around 40 percent of food is lost before it reaches markets. Either way, the number stands around 1.3 billion tons a year.

Putting these statistics into monetary form might give even more perspective and clarity. Around $1 trillion worth of food is lost each year around the world. In India alone, $6.8 billion worth of fruits and vegetables are lost a year.

Before continuing, it is important to recognize the distinction between food waste and food loss: “Food loss refers to the decrease in edible food mass at the production, post-harvest and processing stages of the food chain, mostly in developing countries. Food waste refers to the discard of edible foods at the retail and consumer levels, mostly in developed countries.” Food loss is a problem common to the developing world.

A lack of any way to keep fruits and produce cool is usually the reason for their loss, although it should be acknowledged that simply throwing extra food out is also a problem, albeit in more developed countries. A deficit in access to cold chain technology – refrigeration for goods en route to their final destinations – has a major role in food loss. The food that does not spoil on its way to its destination faces the challenge of finding refrigeration once it is delivered as well.

A new piece of refrigeration technology hopes to solve these food loss problems. Called Evaptainers, they are the solution to the fact that 45 percent of the produce grown in Africa is lost before it reaches consumers. The idea began in a class at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where students were challenged to come up with something that would change lives. The Evaptainer was the result.

The Evaptainer is a low-cost, mobile, electricity-free cooling unit that can be used to either improve the cold chain or refrigerate fruits, vegetables or meat in one place. Evaptainers use evaporative cooling instead of vapor-compression, which is more energy-intensive, to keep the cost and energy use low.

How does the Evaptainer work? Everyone has experienced evaporative cooling at some point: the sensation of a breeze cooling skin after swimming is essentially what it is in action. The device itself has two parts: an inner area where goods are kept, and a layer of sand in between the produce and the outer wall of the container. When water that has been added to the sand evaporates, it lowers the temperature of the food chamber by up to 20 degrees centigrade.

Refrigeration has always been a struggle in the developing world. Often, there is a lack of electricity to power cooling units, and so food ends up being lost. Once Evaptainers go into production for commercial use, it will be interesting to see the impact they make in the developing world. Keep an eye out for this one in the future.

Gregory Baker

Sources: FAO, UN Non-Governmental Liaison Services , Evaptainers, The Guardian
Photo: The Daily Banter

Each year, industrialized countries like the U.S. waste just about as much food as the total net amount of food that is produced in sub-Saharan Africa. That is 222 million tons wasted in comparison to 230 million produced.

In 2009, the amount of food wasted was equal to more than 50 percent of cereal crops produced globally, which is 2.3 billion tons of food.

The United States Department of Agriculture began its U.S. Food Waste Challenge in June of 2013. Along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, their goal was to acquire 1,000 supporters by 2020.

Some of the goals are to minimize food wasted in school meal programs, find ways to reuse food that is rejected from the market due to “un-sellability”, estimate the amount of food waste in the U.S. each year, and discover new technologies that decrease that amount.

The initiative is much needed, considering that the average American consumer throws away ten times the quantity of food that someone in Southeast Asia does. That number has grown by 50 percent since the 1970s.

On average, American wastes about 40 percent of all food. Waste takes place on farms, in grocery stores, in homes, and in landfills. That is equivalent to 20 pounds per person, $165 billion, and one fourth of all freshwater per year.

Studies show that if America reduced food waste by just 15 percent, the amount of food saved could feed more than 25 million people per year.

Fresh water is a precious resource all over the world, and 80 percent of it is used to produce food in the U.S. Food production also uses half of the country’s land and ten percent of the nation’s total energy budget.

Food that decays in landfills now makes up nearly 25 percent of total U.S. methane emissions.

Yolanda Soto is looking to dramatically reduce the amount of food wasted in America by saving 35-40 million pounds of produce every year. She does this by collecting food rejected at the U.S.- Mexican border and shipping it to needy families in the U.S. and Mexico.

More than 50 percent of food grown in Mexico and imported to the U.S. is inspected and rejected at the border near Nogales, Arizona. Each trailer carries about $70,000 worth of food.

Soto started Borderlands Food Bank in the 1990s after being shocked at how much edible produce is tossed despite the high percentage of people plagued by hunger.

The organization’s focus is “to provide fresh, nutritious produce to people in need, advocate for the hungry, and help eradicate malnutrition and hunger.”

Beginning with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, imported fruits and vegetables undergo inspection by around 40 different government agencies. Produce is taken out of commerce if it does not meet the USDA’s standards for quality and size.

“It’s perfectly good,” says Soto about the produce she redistributes, “but because it had some scarring, they couldn’t sell it. Who’s going to buy it?”

The truth is, American’s have this idea that in order to taste good, food has to look perfect. Anything less than perfect is rejected.

– Lillian Sickler


Sources: NPR, The Huffington Post Border Lands Food Bank National Resources Defense Council World Food Day U.S. Environmental Protection Agency USDA
Photo: Takepart

Dupont Invents Life Saving Packaging
DuPont, in collaboration with Simonalbag, recently launched “MixPack,” the first flexible package in Mexico capable of combining high-and-low resistance seals. This new technology is proving to be a life saving solution to malnutrition in rural communities.

Between 1,000 and 3,000 Tarahumaras indigenous people live in the remote caves of Chihuahua, Mexico. They are isolated and poor, when droughts come they have no access to drinkable water, and no water for farming – thus unable to feed themselves.

The MixPack product is a bag with two compartments, which are separated by an internal seal made of DuPont Surlyn®. This solution prevents the mixing of the milk powder with the purified water that is contained within the same packaging unit. Then, when needed, by squeezing the package, the inner seal breaks mixing the ingredients – resulting in a nutritious and healthy drink for children.

Dupont has started a program that provides milk for children living in these areas. CEO Alvaro Navarro states that MixPack was the result of a dream to help people nourish their children but have no way to refrigerate baby milk or do not have a source of drinking water. He projects MixPack will revolutionize flexible packaging around the world.

“I have a dream and a mission to alleviate hunger through science and innovation,” said Navarro

– Mary Purcell