World Food Day 2023: Preserving water as life through sustainable food processing

Water is essential to life on Earth. Water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface and is essential for the human body, as it makes up about 60% of our bodies. Water is essential in producing our food and overly supports livelihoods.  

However, this precious resource faces risks that threaten its availability to the continent. Rapid population growth, economic development, urbanization, and climate change threaten water availability. What we grow, what we eat, and how food is produced, affect and are affected by clean water availability.

During this year’s World Food Day, we recognize the role food processing plays in the protection of water as a valuable resource. The TechnoServeAINFP (Alliance for Inclusive and Nutritious Food Processing) Program works with food processors through various interventions to enhance the safe use and preservation of water in nutritious food processing. 

Food processing for environmental sustainability water preservation

To combat the effects of harsh climatic and environmental conditions that put water resources at risk, the AINFP program supports food processors using drought-resistant crops as raw materials in processing nutritious foods. Sorghum and Finger Millet are again becoming staple foods in Africa as a source of food security. 

Food processors such as Dashcrop Ltd and Simply Foods in Kenya process millet flour and millet instant porridge, respectively, that are available in the market as sustainable, nutritious, and affordable products from these climate-resilient crops (Sorghum, Finger millet, Amaranth, and Cassava) grown by contracted smallholder farmers in different regions in Kenya. The program also works with food processors using low quantities of similar raw products to process snack bars and granola, such as Nature Ripe Ltd Tanzania, where Sorghum is used to add texture to the bars while providing nutrients such as iron, fiber, and protein. 

Sorghum and finger millet are two types of millets that have several benefits for the environment and water preservation,

  • Water conservation – Millets have a low water footprint, which means they use less water per unit of yield compared to other crops, making them an excellent choice of raw material in an era of climate change and depleting natural resources. 
  • Soil conservation – Millets have deep roots that help them access nutrients and moisture from deeper soil layers. They also have a low nutrient requirement, resulting in low usage of fertilizer as compared to other crops. Reducing the risk of soil degradation and pollution.

Samples of raw finger millet and fortified millet floor from Dashcrop Kenya Ltd 

A crowd sampling Uji Tayari, instant porridge made from whole-grain finger millet, at the Simply Foods expo stand during the Nairobi International Trade Fair.

Improving water efficiency through regenerative business practices  

Water is extensively used in food processing as a processing aid, an indirect additive, and a food ingredient. It is used in abundance in its gaseous, solid, and liquid states to enable a successful processing cycle. However, food processing can be wasteful of this vital resource. According to global research water consumption in food processing varies depending on the product type. Still, on average, it ranges from 0.3 to 35 m3 per ton of product produced – this, in turn, results in a significant amount of water lost in the process per product. 

To reduce water loss in food processing, the AINFP program is integrating regenerative practices to ensure sustainability and correct use of water in processing factories. An example of food processors benefiting from regenerative practices are Shambani Milk and Zanto Foods in Tanzania. Shambani Milk is a dairy processor based in Morogoro, Tanzania, processing fresh milk, mtindi (cultured milk), and yogurt in different flavors. Milk production requires significant amounts of water, which in turn produces water waste. Through the program’s regenerative practices, Shambani Milk has installed a wastewater treatment facility where all wastewater is remediated before being released to the garden for irrigation purposes.


Images of Shambani Milk water waste management system

At Zanto Food Products Ltd, a food processor based in Unguja Zanzibar, processing tomato sauce, is also implementing wastewater treatment to minimize environmental impact. After being treated, the water is similarly channeled to the tomato farm behind the factory for irrigation.


Before and after images of wastewater management at Zanto Foods in Zanzibar 

Water conservation and preservation is a crucial aspect of food processing. AINFP is committed to scaling regenerative practices and working with food processors to incorporate raw materials in food processing that are beneficial to the environment. Additionally, the program is creating awareness of the importance of conserving water to overall production costs by encouraging the reduction of water consumption and reuse in the processing floors. This can be done by accurately measuring and monitoring water consumption, increasing staff awareness, and improving water efficiency initiatives. 

As part of TechnoServe’s new strategy on Environmental Sustainability and the Regenerate 30 goal aimed at benefiting people, nature, and climate, the AINFP program is applying regenerative business practices to food processors across our work in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia to enhance sustainable food processing practices. 

Food processors and other agribusinesses are optimal entry points to build sustainable food

systems that place water at the very core. The Regenerate 30 goal will help them reduce waste, use renewable energy, source from smallholders who adopt regenerative practices, and provide affordable and nutritious food to millions of consumers.


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