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Forward-thinking inventors in Africa compete in food safety challenge

The EatSafe Innovation Challenge offers participants a $10,000 prize for developing products for use in traditional food markets and supply chains.

Photo of Oyeyemi Fadairo

Oyeyemi Fadairo, a food supply researcher in Nigeria, was a finalist in the 2022 EatSafe Innovation Challenge. Photo Credit: EatSafe / Technical University of Denmark

Unsafe food, a preventable hazard, is responsible for one in 10 people falling ill and the death of at least 125,000 children globally every year, with low- to middle-income countries bearing the largest burden of foodborne disease, according to the World Health Organization. In April, Feed the Future’s Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) Program carried out a creative solution to tackle this challenge: the EatSafe Innovation Challenge. 

The EatSafe Innovation Challenge is a global contest designed to improve food safety in traditional markets and supply chains. The Challenge mobilized inventors to pitch technologies for the chance to win $10,000 USD to scale these innovations. Judges received about 750 entries and selected 10 finalists who competed in the grand finale at the Technical University of Denmark in October. 

Oyeyemi Fadairo and Tijjani Ali Lawal are two finalists whose technologies were recognized for their tremendous potential to promote food safety in Nigeria. Fadairo created an inflatable tunnel solar dryer, a portable tool to remove excess water and prevent spoilage when storing produce like tomatoes. Lawal developed a solar-powered refrigerating system to preserve fresh vegetables.

The philosophy behind the contest is to empower local innovators who are the real experts of what their communities need. Contestants worked with food vendors and processors in their local communities to develop their innovations. Based on criteria such as food safety and nutritional benefit, adaptability to market conditions, scalability and environmental sensitivity, contestants were judged on their ability to think outside of the box.

 “It’s more of sparking innovative thinking and giving them room and space to really surface those ideas,” says Ritta Sabbas Shine, Innovation Challenge lead.

Oyeyemi Fadairo standing next to a poster describing her invention

Oyeyemi Fadairo’s EatSafe innovation uses an inflatable tunnel solar dryer to remove excess water in food to reduce spoilage. Photo Credit: EatSafe / Technical University of Denmark

Contestants—who include students, researchers and entrepreneurs from Nigeria and Ethiopia—proposed innovations to prevent food safety issues such as spoilage and foodborne illnesses like norovirus, salmonella and E. coli.

In Nigeria, where millions of consumers buy food from traditional markets, Fadairo and Lawal were inspired by their own experiences. 

Photo of Tijjani Ali Lawal

Tijjani Ali Lawal of Nigeria was a finalist in the 2022 EatSafe Innovation Challenge. Photo Credit: EatSafe / Technical University of Denmark

Lawal grew up in rural Nigeria and was exposed to the farm-to-market economy, where vendors source their foods, like meat and produce, from local farmers. While visiting these local markets, he often saw food left in the sun that would spoil or lose its nutritional value. He wanted to develop a food safety solution to support local businesses. That’s when the idea for his solar-powered refrigerator, named Ecotronics, was born. Lawal began testing his innovation through his company, Farmspace Technology, in February. Vendors in local markets have responded positively, reporting a 20 percent decrease in food loss, a 60 percent profit margin increase and a $900 USD increase in revenue.

“It encourages me to be in the business and provide safe food for all,” Lawal said. 

Similarly, Fadairo wanted to find a food safety solution to empower her local community. As a food supply researcher, she often saw farmers and vendors using traditional sun drying to remove excess water from their food. But traditional sun drying is inefficient, because it increases food spoilage and can attract pests, bacteria and mold.

Her inflatable tunnel solar dryers can be used anywhere and are made of flexible material for ease of storage. While testing them in local markets, she demonstrated to vendors that the dryers extended the shelf life of produce such as tomatoes by up to two weeks.

Fadairo hopes to use her portable dryers to influence food policy in Nigeria.

 “The impact is longer than the weeks or months we put into this contest,” she said. “It is a solution for the food industry.”

Note: The EatSafe Innovation Challenge selected a winner in October 2022 and Feed the Future will follow-up with them in a future story.

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