Don’t repeat the mistakes of West’s ‘broken’ food system in Africa, businesses warned

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/ FG Trade
Image: Getty/ FG Trade

Related tags Nigeria Africa

Developing markets in Africa are keen to avoid the mistakes of Western food systems swamped by unhealthy and unsustainable diets, FoodNavigator hears.

West Africa is often associated with problems such as malnutrition, food security, water scarcity and the need to make crops more resilient. But as African countries grow – particularly its largest Nigeria which is projected to be the third most populated nation in the world after India and China by 2050 – so too should the focus on informing people about the importance of balanced, healthy and sustainable diets and the need to avoid consuming unhealthy Western diets that are rich in unsaturated fats, salt and sugar, and damaging to both people and the planet. So says Hakeem Jimo, co-founder of VeggieVictory, Nigeria's first plant-based food tech company, which was recently ranked in the global FoodTech 500 leading companies.

Jimo also heads up ProVeg’s recently opened Nigerian office​. Naturally, he’s calling for more plant-based options in the country. Though not because he wants ‘to tell people to go vegan’, but instead to preserve Nigeria’s plant-heavy food traditions. These are at risk, he and others believe, amid fears of Africa being pushed to adopt a Western model based on mass industrial agriculture, fossil-fuel-based inputs, and ultra-processed foods. As Nigeria’s population accelerates, for example, meat consumption in Nigeria is expected to grow by more than 300% by 2050. ‘Lifestyle’ diseases, like type 2 diabetes, meanwhile, are already on the rise in the country, believes Jimo. “Nigerians have a strong heritage of plant-based foods and we want global corporations to support that and to invest in Africa for a sustainable future,”​ he said.

For example, he notes Burger King “has bent over backwards to provide a delicious range of plant-based options for the millions of customers who stream into its fast-food outlets across Europe every day. Nestle deserves a loud applause too for launching a plant-based version of its iconic Milo chocolate drink in Asia way back in 2021. And it is exciting to hear that the global dairy company Arla is set to launch a plant-based version of its hugely popular spread Lurpak in the UK and Denmark in 2024. But here in Nigeria, we are somewhat puzzled.”

All three companies – Nestle, Burger King and Arla – are promoting their green credentials outside of Africa, but not bringing them to Africa, he complained. “Instead, we must watch as sustainable food production picks up a gear elsewhere, whilst Nigeria must witness the opening or expansion of animal-based food facilities within its borders,” ​he said, referring to Arla’s new dairy production facility for Nigeria. “It is a counterproductive pattern that wastes time on the precious climate clock that ticks for us all,” ​Jimo continued. 

Africa ‘feeling impact of climate change the most’

Many would applaud Arla for expanding in a country with high levels of protein deficiency and where demand for milk is outstripping supply. But Jimo believes a protein mix is needed to tackle deficiencies. “It is crucial that we inform citizens about how they can meet their nutritional needs with plant-based sources,” ​he said.

“We would rather the companies simultaneously bring plant-based food options to Nigeria, and leap-frog to sustainable food production – rather than repeat the mistakes of developed countries – to ensure that the positive impact that the shift to plant-based food has had on continents such as Europe is not cancelled out in Africa,” ​he added. “This is particularly important as Africa is among the places that feels, and will continue to feel, the impacts of climate change the most.”

The planned launch of Arla’s plant-based spread, he added, was calculated on the basis that growing numbers of young people are opting for these more climate-friendly foods. “We do not believe young people in Nigeria are any different. They also see a future where sustainably produced food is essential for humanity to both survive and to thrive on an environmentally impoverished planet under climatic conditions less favourable than previous generations have witnessed.” 

Hakeem Jimo will be speaking at FoodNavigator’s coming Climate Smart Food Digital Summit

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