From Fish Feed to Coffee: Supporting Innovative Supply Chains for the Future of Food

Diana Orembe presents her business idea.
Diana Orembe, Founder and CEO of NovFeed, an innovative agritech company that produces climate-friendly fish feed

Across the globe, our food supply is under threat. Extreme weather events fueled by climate change are putting countless foods at risk. From shortages in one of the main protein sources for three billion people to the caffeinated drink enjoyed by many every morning, the way we eat and drink will inevitably change if drastic action is not taken.

For the last 70 years, MEDA has worked with entrepreneurs and small businesses to build more resilient and sustainable agricultural supply chains capable of supporting this type of action. Our experience has shown that innovative entrepreneurs often hold the key to developing the practical solutions needed to transform food systems. At this year’s Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, MEDA shared its work in this space. Two businesses that have excelled with MEDA-provided financial incentives over the last five years were also represented by their founders. These entrepreneurs are contributing to resilient supply chains for fish and coffee that can ensure improved food security in the years to come.

NovFeed turns discarded fruit and vegetables into climate-friendly fish food

While fish continues to be a key source of protein in many countries, wild fish stocks for human consumption are declining. This has resulted in increasing global demand for farmed fish. However, farming still requires fish feed that is made from smaller wild species, thereby continuing to deplete the food chain. In response to this challenge, Diana Orembe has designed a more sustainable solution for smallholder aquaculture farmers in Tanzania. Transforming food and farming waste into protein, Diana’s biotech company NovFeed is creating a bacteria-based alternative to fish feed.

MEDA recognized the potential of the idea and, in 2022, provided a financial award to NovFeed as the winner of one of its pitch competitions. NovFeed used this funding to develop a pilot facility and went on to win a 1 million USD grant for the Milken-Motsepe prize in agritech. Bolstered by this support, NovFeed is building resilience for Tanzania’s fish farming supply chain. The new feed contains 30 percent more protein than traditional soybean and fish-based feed options, offering improved fish growth and survival rates. This innovation contributes towards more sustainable and resilient aquaculture that can help ensure fish remains a source of protein for the billions who depend on it globally.

DeLaFinca builds resilience in Nicaragua’s coffee supply chain

Across the ocean in Nicaragua, coffee production is impacting — and being impacted by — climate change. Developing new strains of beans and growing coffee in labs have emerged as innovative solutions to address and adapt to the increasing challenges of rising temperatures, new pests and diseases, and extreme weather events including droughts and floods. Mayerling Gurdián and Heberto Rivas of the award-winning coffee brand, farm, processor, and café chain DeLaFinca have stepped up as trailblazers in this space.

With a matching grant provided by MEDA, DeLaFinca was able to establish a coffee lab where it tests and analyzes different coffee bean processes. Feedback from the lab is rapidly provided to producers, fostering a continuous feedback loop across the supply chain. Through this process DeLaFinca has been able to rescue local coffee varieties facing extinction from climate change and to create new products from coffee waste. One of these products is an innovation called “Cherry Cola,” a carbonated beverage made with leftover coffee pulp that would otherwise cause pollution when it decomposes. By building innovation into its supply chain, DeLaFinca can better respond to the impacts of a changing climate and continue to produce coffee to sell in Nicaragua and beyond.

Supporting entrepreneurship in food systems transformation

These innovations are part of the needed transformation in food systems – the benefits of which are worth 5 to 10 trillion USD per year, according to the newly released Global Policy Report from the Food System Economics Commission. While much lower than the potential gains, implementing actions towards transforming food systems will still require significant investments. This will be challenging for low- and middle-income countries to accomplish within their budgets. It will also put pressure on the supply chains operating within these nations. For instance, the report found that financing smallholder farmers to support system transformation would cost an average of 6 billion USD per year, and training agricultural entrepreneurs would cost an additional 1 billion.

Transforming food systems therefore requires the adoption of a coordinated and inclusive lens in the creation of policies and regulations. Canada’s new Resilient Agri-Food Systems Framework takes this approach by focusing on sustainable agri-food value chains and inclusive food systems governance as two of its key action areas. In the European Union, a set of policies and strategies have also been developed to encourage more sustainable systems. The strategies require higher standards from countries in the Global South that are producing food, including those related to deforestation and measuring climate impacts across supply chains. They also include partnership agreements with other regions, notably with Africa, to meet the new standards.  

These advances in the policy landscape are critical to realizing the benefits of food system transformation, facing the climate crisis, and supporting the more than 600 million people across the globe who are expected to experience hunger by 2030. However, we need to find ways to equip entrepreneurs with the financial incentives they need to be active players in advancing climate adaptation and food security. Without them, we may lose the innovative and practical solutions needed to protect our favorite foods, and the staples many people need to survive.

Representatives from DeLaFinca, NovFeed, and MEDA present their work at the 2024 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin.
Representatives from DeLaFinca, NovFeed, and MEDA at the 2024 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture

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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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