Preserving African Food Microorganisms for Green Growth

Project summary

The aim of the project is to turn the food sector in West Africa into a driver of sustainable growth, improve food security, create new business opportunities, ensure job generation, alleviate poverty and create stronger linkages between relevant stakeholders. The major part of West African foods are fermented (i.e. foods produced by the activity of microorganisms) and do play a predominant role in the diet of West Africans. Fermented foods have many advantages; they are produced from local crops, at reduced energy cost, they are nutritious and generally free from pathogens, they have a long shelf life and can be stored unrefrigerated. They are mainly produced and sold by women and constitute an important source of family income. Globalization and urbanization however challenge the traditional food culture and thereby the livelihood of many families. To preserve these valuable foods it is important to up-scale from household to semi-industrial scale, control these otherwise spontaneous fermentation by adding starter cultures, introduce quality control systems, increase the productivity and quality in the production chain, improve marketability by developing business models and implement sustainable packaging technologies and ways of distribution. West African microorganisms are unique and an important natural biological resource well-suited to the West African climate and crops. To obtain a sustainable West African food production it is therefore important to preserve the inherent microbiota of West African fermented foods. The project will isolate and scientifically characterize these microorganisms, establish national bio-banks in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin, develop technologies for production and distribution of starter cultures to SMEs, create new market opportunities through up-scaling from house-hold to semi-industrial scale, upgrade specific indigenous foods to convenience food – produced and packaged to fulfil the needs of an urbanized population.


Project completion report:

The establishment of bio-banks in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin opened up new opportunities for research on fermented foods ensuring the West African microbial heritage. The bio-banks provide strains for research work for enhancing quality and safety of traditional fermented foods. Further, they offer the West African partner institutions the possibility to produce starter cultures for the West African food industry and offer inherent West African cultures for research in all sectors. The appointed staff in charge of the bio-banks at FRI, DTA and UAC were trained in culture-collection management at the commercial culture-collection “Belgian Coordinated Collection of Microorganisms”.

A large number of lactic acid bacteria and yeast strains have been isolated from fura, nunu, lait caillé and mawè. Relevant technological properties including acidification and aroma formation have been determined for the microorganisms and further the probiotic potential of some yeasts isolated from nunu, lait caillé and mawè was determined. These results formed the basis for development of multifunctional starter cultures, especially designed for fura, nunu, lait caillé and mawè with microorganisms originating from the respective products to upgrade the West African food sector from spontaneous to controlled fermentation, ensuring safer food products. The implementation of starter culture at the SMEs has been highly appreciated and approved, due to the improved quality of the obtained products. The bio-banks and equipment (fermenter, freeze-dryer) established during the project, forms an important basis for implementation of microbial starter cultures at the SME level.

The knowledge of conducting value chain analyses and business models of the food products being investigated for process upgrading was an important part of the training and education of researchers. It provided them with an understanding of the wider setting into which their scientific results will be applied and the framework conditions for successful research results uptake by industry. It also enabled researchers to map the various actors that were involved in the process at various intervention points. In this project, this was achieved through the establishment of national stakeholder platforms on which SMEs, governmental and regulatory agencies was involved. Value chains for the fermented food products fura and nunu from Ghana, lait caillé from Burkina Faso and mawè from Benin were identified as having a strong potential for green growth.

The selected SMEs in each partner country were trained in the use of the business model canvas to identify and build relations within their value chain in order to control quality and maximise their profits. The workshop gave practical hands on training, enabling all partners to develop their business models.

Training of PhDs and master students together with exchange visits built the capacity at institutional level.

Brief popularized abstract:
The main purpose of the GreenGrowth project was to turn the food sector in West Africa into a driver of sustainable growth by upgrading food products ensuring quality, safety and marketability. A major part of traditional West African foods are fermented, hence being produced by the activity of microorganisms. In this project, identification of food value chains with potential for green growth formed the basis for selection of fermented foods to upgrade. Microorganisms driving the food fermentations were identified and their relevant technological properties characterized, which formed the basis for development of microbial starter cultures.

Implemented at SMEs along with new business models these starter cultures changed the processing from spontaneous to controlled fermentation leading to improved quality and increased safety of the fermented foods. Establishment of bio-banks in the three countries have secured the microbial heritage of the West African countries, which expand the project impact. Through the project, methods for development of semi-commercial production, packaging and distribution of starter cultures were identified as areas requiring further research efforts.

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