New African Non-Profit Says Alt Protein Can Help Tackle Continent’s Food Security and Nutrition Challenges
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Launched last week, the Plenty Foundation is a new non-profit aiming to address the challenges in Africa’s food system through biotech solutions and key multisector partnerships. Speaking to Green Queen, its founder Arturo Jose Garcia explains how the organisation hopes to boost the continent’s food and nutrition security, and the role alternative proteins can play in creating a sustainable food system.
A fifth of Africa’s population – that’s 278 million people – is undernourished, and 55 million children under the age of five are stunted due to severe malnutrition, according to Oxfam. The Global Network Against Food Crises has found that at least one in five Africans goes to bed hungry, with an estimated 140 million people in Africa facing acute food insecurity.
This is the backdrop the Plenty Foundation is launching in, hoping to reduce undernourishment rates, produce successful R&D outcomes, and increase the adoption of biotech solutions to uplift Africa’s food system. The organisation will combine philanthropy, commercial R&D and market partnerships, blending modern tech with local understanding to enhance and accelerate the development and availability of sustainable food options.
How cultivated meat can help Africa’s food system
Chief among these are alternative proteins like plant-based and cultivated meat products, which will play “a crucial role in transforming Africa’s food systems”, according to Plenty Foundation founder Arturo Jose Garcia. “Cultivated meat offers an efficient and sustainable means to provide high-quality protein without the significant land, water and feed resources required for traditional livestock farming,” he tells Green Queen.
“For regions of Africa facing scarcity, cultivated meat presents an innovative solution to meet the protein needs of the population without exacerbating resource constraints.” Africa’s population is expected to grow from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050 (meaning a quarter of the global population would be African) – and the demand for meat is expected to skyrocket with it.
While the organisation promotes plant-based diets for their sustainability and health credentials, it recognises the “cultural and nutritional importance of meat in many African diets”. This is why it advocates for cultivated meat as a complementary solution, “providing the sensory and nutritional benefits of meat without the environmental drawbacks”.
Jose Garcia adds that different regions of Africa have unique challenges, and each needs tailored solutions. “In some parts of Africa, introducing more animal protein can be beneficial, especially in areas where malnutrition is prevalent,” he says.
“Sub-Saharan Africa faces acute challenges like malnutrition, droughts and limited agricultural infrastructure. Cultivated meat can address malnutrition by providing essential proteins. In Western Africa, where livestock farming is prominent, transitioning to cultivated meat can reduce overgrazing and desertification.”
Partnering with Newform Foods and NGOs
The foundation is enlisting the help of its commercial partner, Newform Foods (formerly Mzansi Meat), Africa’s first cultivated meat company. “We’re embarking on an innovative project: combining cultivated fat with existing alternative protein products,” notes Jose Garcia. “This approach retains the sensory and nutritional richness of meat while drastically reducing the environmental footprint.”
He adds: “Essentially, we’re bridging the best of both worlds – offering the taste and nutritional profile of meat and the eco-friendliness of plant-based sources. Our goal is to provide a holistic solution that caters to cultural preferences, health needs, and the planet’s wellbeing.”
The non-profit says its success wouldn’t just be measured in terms of the number of meals provided, but also in the quality of those meals and the long-term sustainability of the solutions implemented. Its partnership with Newform Foods combines cutting-edge tech with a deep understanding of local needs to offer sustainable and nutritionally rich food options. “We believe that such entrepreneurial initiatives, backed by venture capital and strategic partnerships, can catalyse significant positive changes in Africa’s food systems.”
The Plenty Foundation has also submitted an application to ProVeg International’s Kickstarting for Good incubator programme, which supports non-profits, impact initiatives and social startups transforming the food system. “While our central commitment is to our collaboration with Newform Foods, we are excited about the potential to collaborate with organizations like ProVeg, especially given their recent expansion into Africa.”
Additionally, the organisation plans to team up with local NGOs on the distribution and acceptance of cell-cultured meat to ensure its solutions are “grounded in local realities”. “Partnering with such entities can significantly enhance our efforts, promoting cultivated meat as a viable, sustainable, and nutritious solution for the African continent,” explains Jose Garcia.
The future is exciting
He’s optimistic about the future of the region’s food system. And why wouldn’t he be? When it comes to cell-cultured meat, consumer reaction is encouraging. An October 2021 poll found that 60% of South Africans are ‘highly interested’ in trying cultivated meat, while a further 53% said they were ‘highly likely’ to purchase products made this way. In fact, 31% said they were open to paying more for cell-cultured meat. Brands like Newform Foods and WildBio (formerly Mogale Meat, which unveiled Africa’s first cultivated chicken) are pioneers in this space, but won’t be the last ones.
“Having witnessed the challenges of industrialised animal agriculture firsthand, the innovations emerging from Africa’s food sector fill me with hope,” Jose Garcia says. “Trailblazers like Essential and De Novo Dairy are redefining food production with their unique approaches. West Africa boasts companies like Veggie Victory and Baby Refill, leveraging indigenous crops for plant-based products.
“Meanwhile, East Africa, with initiatives such as Kelp Blue, explores the vast potential of algae and seaweed as protein sources. With support from entities like Co-Creation Hub and Vegan Africa Fund, Africa is solidifying its position in the global alternative protein scene.”