Cutting Back on Food Waste in Tanzania: A Conversation with NovFeed’s Diana Orembe

Diana Orembe demonstrates her fish feed solution.
Diana Orembe, CEO and Co-Founder of NovFeed, demonstrates how biotech is used to turn waste into sustainable fish feed for smallholder farmers.

A new report from the UN Environment Programme shows that in 2022 alone, the world wasted a staggering 1.05 billion tonnes of food. Food loss and waste were also found to account for 8-10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

As the world marks the 2024 International Day of Zero Waste on March 30, innovations are urgently needed to help reduce food waste – and other forms of waste – globally. In Tanzania’s agri-food system, Diana Orembe is doing exactly this through her innovative biotech enterprise, NovFeed.

NovFeed was founded to create a more environmentally sustainable and affordable way for smallholder farmers to feed their farmed fish, which also ensures they can continue to be engaged in and create more decent work opportunities. The enterprise began collecting discarded fish and fruits from marketplaces and using this food waste as a raw material to produce alternative protein for fish feed. In 2022, NovFeed was awarded a prize from MEDA’s pitch competition for these efforts, which helped take the business to the next level in terms of its efficiency and impact.

We sat down with Diana Orembe to learn more about her passion for the zero-waste movement and how NovFeed is taking a leadership role in this space in Tanzania.

A conversation with Diana Orembe, CEO and Co-Founder of NovFeed

How did you first become interested in the zero-waste movement? Was there anything from your personal life that inspired you to create a business that addresses waste?

Diana Orembe: From a young age, I’ve been fascinated by science, and one of the earliest lessons I learned was about the detrimental effects of waste on our environment. Growing up, I developed a strong desire to live in a clean and healthy environment, free from the hazards that waste attracts, such as disease-carrying pests. However, I couldn’t ignore the stark reality of waste accumulation, particularly evident in public markets where heaps of fruit and vegetable waste often end up in landfills.

Entering university, I pursued entrepreneurship courses tailored to scientists, which opened my eyes to the potential for scientific innovation in addressing societal challenges. It was during this time that I delved deeper into concepts like the circular economy and the value of biowaste utilization. These insights fueled my curiosity about the zero-waste movement and convinced me of the significant role scientists can play in finding sustainable solutions.

Inspired by this realization, I founded NovFeed, driven by the belief that my scientific background could be instrumental in tackling one of society’s most pressing issues: waste management. NovFeed represents my commitment to leveraging scientific knowledge and entrepreneurship to create tangible, environmentally conscious solutions that benefit both communities and the planet.

What impact do you see waste having on human health, the economy, and the environment in Tanzania?

Orembe: Waste has a multifaceted impact on human health, the economy, and the environment in Tanzania. Firstly, from a health perspective, improper waste management can lead to the spread of diseases as waste serves as a breeding ground for pathogens and pests. This poses significant risks to public health, particularly in densely populated areas where waste accumulates.

Additionally, the environmental consequences of waste mismanagement are profound. In Tanzania, as in many other regions, improperly disposed waste pollutes land, waterways, and air, contributing to environmental degradation. This pollution not only harms wildlife and ecosystems but also affects the quality of life for residents.

From an economic standpoint, the costs associated with inadequate waste management are substantial. Direct expenses include the resources needed for waste collection, transportation, and disposal. Indirect costs arise from environmental damage, such as soil and water contamination, which can impact agriculture and tourism sectors vital to Tanzania’s economy.

How does NovFeed address these challenges?

Orembe: With population growth comes an increased demand for meat and animal feed and a subsequent increase in associated waste that is released to the environment in various forms. These factors all contribute to an increase in CO2 emissions. A growing population also has to be fed and some of those nutrients come from the natural water bodies, which leads to a diminishing number of fish. One of the main players in this scheme are fish farmers, who are heavily impacted by the economy and climate change. Due to the high cost of protein-rich fish feed, these farmers are forced to spend 70 percent of their production on pricey feeds like soy and fishmeal. This global problem will hit Africa harder than the developed world.

NovFeed has developed a proprietary chemical-free biotechnological platform where organic waste is converted into a natural, traceable, and safe non-animal protein source aquaculture feed. The platform allows us to replace the production of unsustainable protein ingredients, like fishmeal and soy protein concentrates that are extensively used in aquaculture feeds globally.

What are some new innovations happening in the zero-waste world that you are excited about?

Orembe: An innovation that particularly excites me is the development of smart waste management technologies, including sensor-based waste sorting systems and digital platforms for optimizing waste collection and recycling processes. These technologies enhance efficiency, accuracy, and transparency throughout the waste management supply chain, facilitating better resource utilization and reducing environmental impacts.

NovFeed’s waste reduction impact continues to grow today. The enterprise has received a 1 million USD grant for winning the Milken-Motsepe prize in agritech after receiving MEDA’s pitch competition award. This will support the enterprise to further scale its operations, reduce waste, and sustain decent work opportunities for more smallholder fish farmers.

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  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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