3 Food Innovations Changing How the World Eats

Cricket-raising farms, coffee flour, and mold-killing technology are among the winners of a recent USAID challenge

Inside a “cricket condo.” The condos allow the crickets to live as close as possible to how they would live in the natural world. / Photo courtesy of Stewart Stick, Entomo Farms

What do coffee flour and crickets have in common? How can fruit and vegetables stay fresh longer?

The answers to these questions can be found in the innovative ideas that USAID welcomed at its recent LAUNCH Food Challenge — an open competition that drew 280 innovators from 74 countries.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Cricket-Raising Farms

As the world’s population grows to 9 billion, the demand for alternative sources of protein will continue to rise. Crickets could offer a surprising but promising solution. Entomo Farms has developed a new way to raise crickets at a large scale and at a price point that could support a growing insect-protein industry.

Entomo Farms was founded in 2014 by three brothers who had been raising insects for the reptile trade. In 2013, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization proposed using insects as a protein source for the growing global population. Seeing an opportunity, the brothers set up North America’s first farm for raising insects for human consumption. Since then, Entomo Farms has grown from 5,000 square feet to more than 40,000. It can supply up to 5,000 pounds of raw crickets per week.

More than 50 new startup food producers are working with Entomo Farms to build the market for insect protein. As part of this effort, Entomo Farms provided cricket powder to food producers who have included it protein bars, chips, snacks, cookies, shakes, pasta, pet treats and more. Those products are available online and in grocery stores in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the U.S. and Canada.

Entomo Farms will continue to invest in automation to bring its prices down and is launching several studies to better understand how eating insects affects human health.

Discarded coffee cherry pulp from one week of harvest at a wet mill in Nicaragua, 2014. / Photo Courtesy of Dan Belliveau

Coffee Flour

One of the biggest questions in global agriculture is how we can help smallholder farmers — who run 80 percent of the world’s farms — move past growing and selling just enough food to survive. One way to do that is by helping them find a market for agricultural products they have been treating as waste.

One example is a product called Coffee Flour, which is transforming coffee-growing communities. It is made from the discarded pulp and skin of the coffee cherry, the byproducts of coffee milling. That pulp is dried, alongside coffee beans, and then milled into a nutritionally dense flour that is incorporated into a wide range of foods and beverages.

Dan Belliveau, inventor and founder of Coffee Flour, developed the methods for drying pulp in response to a request from a coffee mill operator in Latin America. Massive piles of coffee cherry pulp were piling up on his farm, reducing his land’s productivity. The world’s population generates about 21 billion kilograms of coffee pulp waste in the process of growing the nine billion kilograms of coffee beans that we consume annually.

At the same time, it is having a big impact in coffee-growing economies. Coffee Flour has created hundreds of jobs at local mills, employing people to dry and ship the product. The company has also structured its business model to share in the value created from pulp with the smallholder farmers.

Murdoch researcher Dr Kirsty Bayliss discovered a plasma treatment to prevent mould on food. / Photo courtesy of Murdoch University

Mold-Killing Technology

Breaking the Mould is a chemical-free technology that can be used to treat fresh fruit and vegetables. It keeps them from becoming moldy and decaying, and extends their shelf life. These features mean that it has the potential to reduce food waste around the world.

Breaking the Mould innovator Kirsty Bayliss pursued this technology as a result of a 2015 research exchange to Thailand. After witnessing the use of technology to control weevils in rice, Dr. Bayliss explored other potential applications. Being a plant pathologist specializing in moulds in plants, the progression to fresh produce was an obvious choice.

Consumers are increasingly demanding chemical-free produce, and food distributors need to reduce costs associated with food waste. The technology also addresses food security issues in developing countries by making sure crops stay fresh long after they are harvested so more food can be made available to more people.

Breaking the Mould has completed 18 months of concept studies with strong results. Next, Dr. Bayliss is hoping to start pilot trials to test the technology in different regions and in commercial facilities.

LAUNCH Food is a partnership between the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, USAID, and a broad cross-sector network of stakeholders and industry leaders.The LAUNCH Food Challenge is the latest in a series of challenges focused on sustainability issues. These challenges bring together networks of smart, creative people to solve difficult challenges and to change the world for the better. You can learn more about us at www.launch.org.


About the Author

Nadia Tronick is a Communication Specialist at the USAID’s Global Development Lab. Follow @GlobalDevLab on Twitter.