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Last month, Nigerian Startup –Coating+ clinched top prize at the Thought for Food Global Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was $10,000 worth of funding for their food preservation idea: lacing fruits and vegetables with a gelatinous substance partly derived from shrimp shells and soy proteins.

The team of four, all postgraduate students of Biochemistry at the University of Ilorin, was awarded because their idea dealt with a real problem in a smart, sustainable way. Preserving food using substance from a cast-off material is efficient and commonsensical. But perhaps its appeal lies, ironically, in the enormity of the challenge it could help tackle.

Consider this. Nigeria has a big food waste problem. One government allied research institution has estimated that the country loses more than $9 billion worth of farm produce to post harvest waste. That’s a huge amount for a developing country to be doing without. This problem is particularly pronounced with fruits and vegetables; over 50% of these products perish before they’re bought. For decades, farmers have had to cope with the destabilizing effect these loses have wrought on their finances.

But it gets even worse. While there’s a lot of food ending up in garbage heaps, a large fraction of the population suffers perpetual hunger. The National Bureau of Statistics’ fifth Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS5) indicates that Nigeria struggles with very high malnutrition rates. That report suggests that 31% of children are underweight, and 43% of children are stunted- both evidence of widespread nutritional deficiency. The contrast between piles of wasted tomatoes and severely emaciated children is worthy of more than just an outcry.

Thankfully, there are startups emerging on the scene with their sights set on tackling this reality. Coating+ fits into this mould. Although it’s still in its formative stage, it holds great promise for the future. It just has to get through to the build up process. The $10,000 prize it’s scooped through the Thought For Food (TFF) Challenge should go a long way in making this happen.

Albert Kure heads the team of young biochemists- including Basheer Balogun, Lukman Abdulwahab, Nsikak Nsima and Suleiman Alakanbe -who’re working on the Coating+ idea. He describes himself as “a wildly eccentric visionary” and says he’s keenly interested in solving nutritional deficiency problems caused by poverty. The team’s solution apparently does require a touch of wild eccentricity to birth. Most new generation food preservation technologies target the European and North American markets. Africa, according to Kure, “hasn’t been on the radar at all.”

The Coating+ product is a transparent gel made from Chitosan, a sugar extracted from the shells of crustaceans (such as shrimps), and soy protein. Laboratory trials have shown that it’s able to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables on which it’s sprayed by up to three times longer.

The Coating+ team say their winnings from the TTF Challenge will go into helping them complete their registration with NAFDAC, and scaling the venture to commercial status.

A lot turns on the success of ideas such as this. Farmers in these parts will be greatly helped by a solution that preserves their produce for much longer. Kure points out that its the farmers who have had to bear much of the cost of wastage. His team’s business model, which gets the Coating+ product directly to farmers, should compensate for this by bypassing retailers and the extra costs they bring.

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This article was first published on 15th August 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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