Hidden hunger
Hunger is a prevalent issue throughout many developing countries. Numerous studies have shown that hunger can have detrimental impacts, including low health and high child mortality. One consequence of hidden hunger that is less explored is the decrease in productivity that results from a nutritional deficit. Whilst this effect may initially pale in comparison to other much worse consequences, the downsides to lower productivity are critical and can lead to a much larger, intergenerational cycle of poverty than previously assumed.

Studies have demonstrated that reduced calorie intake can lead to significant decreases in productivity, which can create an inescapable cycle. A randomized control trial conducted by economist Heather Schofield revealed that an additional 700 calories each day could lead to a 10% increase in income, due to the increased physical and cognitive productivity gained. So, how can lower productivity create a cycle of poverty?

Nutrition-Based Poverty Traps

A poverty trap is a non-linear relationship between one’s current and future income. There is a strong correlation between malnutrition and poverty, but it is heavily questioned whether this leads to the formation of a nutritional poverty trap.

Much research has been completed surrounding the potential existence of a nutrition-based poverty trap, and some deny its existence whilst others support the theory. Studies completed by economists Duflo and Banerji demonstrate the evident existence of poverty traps such as these, stating there may even be a clear link between income and future income of undernourished parents and children respectively, all because of a nutrient-deficient diet. This is because lower-earning parents tend to consume less nutrient-heavy food, which can lead to stunted development for a child, beginning as early as in utero, thus creating a brutal cycle. This micronutrient-deficient lifestyle can also be referred to as ‘hidden hunger.’

Hidden Hunger

Hidden hunger is when one’s diet is severely restricted, resulting in nutrient-poor food intake. Micronutrient deficiencies include those such as iron and zinc deficiency, which can result in poor body development and health.

Hidden hunger is reinforced in countries where there is heavy reliance on low-cost, low-nutrient foods, such as rice and wheat. This type of hunger is not so much to do with a lack of calories, but more a lack of nutrients, hence it is considered ‘hidden’ due to lack of an obvious problem. Crops such as these, whilst providing energy and sustenance, have a low amount of nutrients. Micronutrient intake for low-income groups is much lower than what would normally be required for a healthy diet, due to challenges of affordability and shocks to global food systems. The long-lasting effects of hidden hunger can be detrimental. There is a high cost to malnutrition; it is estimated that around 149 million children under the age of 5 are stunted, which is roughly 22%.

The Solutions to Hidden Hunger

There are no direct means of tackling hidden hunger; it is a complex issue that requires a multidimensional response in order to ensure that all those in poverty are able to access a nutrient-heavy, balanced diet. Past solutions range from cash and in-kind transfers to innovations designed to increase nutrient and mineral consumption.

While cash transfers can be successful in poverty alleviation, consumers do not always choose to purchase the most optimal foods for nutrient maximization. In-kind transfers would likely be more beneficial in a scenario such as this, due to certain innovations that can facilitate a nutrient and mineral-rich diet.

Innovative solutions to hidden hunger range from food engineering to create additional nutrients, to devices that aim to increase biofortification. Strengthening staple foods is a successful means of food fortification. A few examples of innovations and solutions that achieve this are as follows:

  • Lucky Iron Fish: A Lucky Iron Fish is a reusable and simple method of infusing food with additional iron. By adding an Iron Fish into boiling water for just 10 minutes, a food dish could gain an additional 6-8 mg of iron.
  • Iodized Salt and Oil: Adding iodine to food staples is another way of preventing nutrient deficiency. Iodine is essential for preventing stunted growth in infants and young children.
  • Fortified Fish Sauce: This creation has previously been used on childbearing women in Vietnam, and is another successful method of controlling iron deficiency. This idea includes the fortification of any staple food or condiment with iron but has been specifically trialed with fish sauce, a regularly consumed condiment for many. The results include higher levels of hemoglobin and decreases in the prevalence of anemia and iron deficiency, thus enabling successful development for infants in utero.
  • Plumpy’ Nut and Other Acute Malnutrition Products: Nutriset is a company producing ‘Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods’ (RUTFs), which are food packages specifically engineered for children and adults suffering from severe malnutrition. Their products are compact and simple, containing around 500 calories in a single sachet. Other creations of theirs include ‘moderate’ and ‘acute’ malnutrition treatments, as well as preventative products to help maintain a healthy diet.

Tackling hidden hunger is the key to breaking the poverty cycle created by malnutrition. Innovations such as these, as well as successful foreign policies to tackle hunger, will ultimately lead to a successful eradication of undernutrition, alleviating many from absolute poverty.

– Hannah Bugeja
Photo: Flickr

Help People in PovertyResearchers and innovators across the world create inventions that can help people deal with the impacts of living in poverty or hunger. Here are five inventions helping those in need.

5 Inventions to Help People in Poverty

  1. The Lucky Iron Fish — The Lucky Iron Fish is a small invention that reduces iron deficiency in marginalized communities. Iron deficiency impacts energy levels, concentration, memory and cognitive development. Iron deficiency impacts over 2 billion people globally, making it the most widespread nutritional disorder around the world. Additionally, women are more affected by this deficiency, especially during pregnancy. People can add the Lucky Iron Fish to boiling water so that it can enrich vegetables with iron.
  2. 3D Food Printing — Food printing is a relatively new innovation. It is a potential solution to global hunger. Nevertheless, 3D food printing can create a stable food source for impoverished areas. This innovation can address malnutrition through custom features that allow creators to set standards for nutritional additions. The printers also have on-demand usage. This is a suitable solution for countries dealing with natural disasters in which food production or food supplies are unstable. Food printers can bring these benefits to impoverished areas and also produce less waste.
  3. Feedie — People already love to snap pictures of their delicious meals before posting them on social media. Feedie is an app that allows users to help feed people around the world by just taking a picture of their meal. Each picture turns into a donation to the Lunchbox Fund which it can then use to produce meals for people in poverty all around the world.
  4. Golden Rice — Vitamin A deficiency has become a public health issue due to the impact the deficiency has had on children around the world. Vitamin A deficiency is responsible for over 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness in children under the age of 5. Golden Rice is a type of rice that has been genetically modified to contain three new genes that help create provitamin A. The Filipino government was the first to allow Golden Rice for direct use. Many countries rely on rice as a food source; Golden Rice is an innovation that will not cause drastic changes to current diets.
  5. Growing Shoes — Many children in poverty around the world are at risk for soil-transmitted diseases and parasites if they cannot afford a suitable pair of shoes. Growing Shoes is a durable shoe that expands in several places, allowing children to adjust the size as their feet continue to grow. The shoe can grow up to five sizes. Growing Shoes are specifically meant to help children in poverty who are constantly on the go and need protection from environmental factors. 

As long as poverty and hunger continue to be a global issue, people around the world are creating new products to help people living in these destitute conditions. These small inventions help an entire community through iron fish, a grain of rice or growing shoe at a time.

Camryn Anthony
Photo: Flickr

How Technology is Improving Africa
Africa is the poorest continent in the world with every second person living below the poverty line. From extreme hunger to illnesses and to insufficient agricultural infrastructure, Africa’s population is suffering. Fortunately, groups of researchers and people are continuously creating solutions to change these conditions. Here are four inventions that show how technology is improving Africa.

NEWgenerator Sanitation Systems

Since 2002, a group of researchers at the University of South Florida have been working on a new type of wastewater treatment system that will address sanitation issues in poor countries. They invented the NEWgenerator, which is a solar-powered generator that turns wastewater into recyclable clean water, nutrients and energy. Waste from the toilet enters the tank and it treats the water in a manner that is similar to a coffee filter. As a result, chlorinated water releases that people can use to flush the toilet and irrigate for agricultural purposes. The breakdown of organic material in the waste produces biogas, a form of energy. Lastly, this method releases nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste that people can use as fertilizer for agricultural purposes.

The NEWgenerator stays inside a container that batteries power, allowing the unit to be completely self-sustainable. Solar power and biogas from the waste power these batteries, making this device completely independent. The NEWgenerator received initial testing at a school in South India, where the invention succeeded in recycling thousands of gallons of water for 100 people per day. In 2016, the NEWgenerator’s lead professor, Daniel Yeh, earned a $1.14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to install an improved version in Durban, South Africa. The generators will connect to Community Ablution Blocks (CABs), facilities comprised of toilets and showers. This will multiply the NEWgenerator’s ability to produce water by 10 times and serve up to 1,000 people per day. The research group is currently working on this installation and its dedication illuminates how technology is improving Africa.

SafariSeat Wheelchairs

One in 200 people in East Africa has a disability that affects their mobility, forcing them to remain in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. Janna created SafariSeat and a small group of designers who wanted to help people regain their independence and livelihoods. It is a new wheelchair design that can navigate rough terrain found in South Africa and other developing countries. It works through a lever system, where the person can pump hand levers to control the wheelchair’s speed and power. SafariSeat’s goal is to implement an open-source toolkit in developing countries where the blueprints are free and the resources necessary to build these wheelchairs come from bicycle components at a low cost for local workshops. An open-source toolkit has three components that contribute to its success: the use of diagrams for building purposes, a communication network and a design portal where people can submit ideas for improvement.

In the past two years, SafariSeat set up two workshops, one in Kenya and one in Tanzania. It initially produced the first 50 wheelchairs in Kenya and the first 150 wheelchairs in Tanzania. After these successes, it implemented the SafariSeat Outreach program, which is a team that identifies people with disabilities in Kenya who live in isolation and need SafariSeats. Currently, the founders are working on building a third workshop in Uganda in hopes of expanding their reach and number of wheelchairs. Their ultimate goal is to broaden their impact on the rest of the world, specifically to countries undergoing wars.

Mazzi Cans

Africa has five times as many dairy cows compared to the United States with a total of about 49 million cows. Millions of farmers rely on cow’s milk as their income and source of nutrition for their families. However, if milk does not receive proper handling or storage during the time people transport it to markets, it can develop harmful bacteria that cause illnesses. Since milk contains important nutrients, vitamins, calories and minerals that can fulfill healthy dietary needs, it is necessary for farmers to be able to safely transport their milk. Mazzi is the answer to this problem. It is a 10-liter container system that makes it more efficient for the collection and transportation process. It provides a milking funnel over a durable container stronger than normal Jerry cans and its shape makes it easy to clean, preventing bacteria or soil from accumulating in the container.

Mazzi emerged by partnering with the Global Good, an organization that works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Intellectual Ventures. Currently, Mazzi is available in Kenya and Ethiopia, with the goal of expanding to Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. It will continue working on making this product more cost-affordable for small farmers.

Lucky Iron Fish

Another technology that is improving Africa is the Lucky Iron Fish which a group of researchers in a Canadian university created in response to the 2 billion people suffering iron deficiency. Iron is a crucial nutrient that helps blood transport oxygen from the lungs to the body. Without a sufficient amount of iron, people experience fatigue, weakness, lack of concentration, shortness of breath and headaches. People can put the Lucky Iron Fish in the pot or pan in which the food is cooking, releasing 6 to 8 milligrams of iron that the food absorbs. This is about 40 percent of a person’s daily iron intake levels. With the return of iron to a child’s diet, they can focus better in school, leading to higher performance results. For working persons, their improved concentration gives them a chance to earn higher incomes.

Once someone buys an Iron Lucky Fish, the organization contributes an equal amount into its Impact Fund. The company uses its Impact Fund to donate Lucky Iron Fish to developing countries and improve educational resources in communities. Women and men receive training to deliver Lucky Iron Fish within these countries and raise awareness about how to solve iron deficiency. In 2018, 54,000 people around the world received a Lucky Iron Fish. Many people (5,175) in Benin, a country in West Africa, were among these individuals. Currently, the organization is looking for more partnerships with NGOs to expand its impact from 88 countries to the rest of the world.

New technology is proving to be one of the crucial answers helping Africa out of extreme poverty with the dedication of numerous research groups and motivated people. These four inventions show how technology is improving Africa each year.

Jane Burgan
Photo: Flickr