Rolling Back the Clock: Charting a New Food System for Africa

by Andrew Miller and Michelle Adelman

What if you could roll back the clock? Back to a time before the Great Recession, before the impact of global warming, killer hurricanes, country-sized firestorms, melting glaciers, and industrialized factory farming with animals injected with hormones and antibiotics. To a time when shopping local was the only option, the Farmer’s Almanac could be relied upon and nutrition was guaranteed. This is the opportunity that presents itself to the African continent. A young continent, with 60% aged 25 or below, Africa has yet to adopt many of the nutritional trappings or agricultural practices that have befallen its Western industrialized counterparts for the majority of the 21st century. This is due in part by lagging development, but also in part to the traditional plant-based diets of the majority of African nations. In pre-colonial times, African fishermen and hunter-gatherers primarily ate grain (corn, sorghum, cassava) and locally available fruits and vegetables. Red meat was only consumed when they were able to successfully catch game, or on special occasions when the whole community was together and they could slaughter and eat an entire animal. This dietary tradition and practice has continued into modernity and reflects the current state of the dietary habits of most African consumers.

Clearly Africa is in a different place than the Western world. Prior to the 1960s, the United States consumption of beef and dairy came from predominantly small, family-owned farms with naturally raised and grown livestock and grain. Following that period of citizen-agriculture, came the ’60s and 70’s when America began a mad race to perpetually ‘keep up with the Joneses’ via the acquisition of increasingly processed foods like cereal, pop tarts, and a plethora of new fast foods.  Got Milk? became a campaign and ground beef became center of the plate of family meals.  The cultural advent of convenience over nutrition, the ’80s through the early 2000’s saw the demand for processed foods, meat and dairy skyrocket almost exponentially. The impact of this socio-economic trend is more than visible today. Cases of diabetes, heart disease, and other lifestyle diseases associated with the overconsumption of processed foods, meat and dairy have increased over the years and have been laid bare by the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

To put America’s meat and dairy consumption into perspective, let’s look at the numbers. Americans on average consume roughly 222 pounds of meat per person every year. Compare that to the African continent by region and the contrast is startling. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, on average Sub-Saharan Africans only consume 30% of that: 68lbs per person per annum in meat and dairy products.  As more and more young Africans acquire gainful employment and join the middle class, meat and dairy consumption is increasing at least at 4%. According to a 2011 statement from the African Development Bank, the African continent’s middle class has tripled in size to encompass 34% of the entire population. Even so, 60% of farmers in Africa are considered smallholders, a clear indication that industrialized agriculture has yet to take full hold over the continent. The continent is full of young people who can be encouraged to care about their health and the sustainability of their environment. Additionally, the majority of Africans are lactose-intolerant, enabling an important platform to promote plant-based dairy products in place of animal-based products.  

We have a unique opportunity:  what if you could roll back the hands of time and avoid factory farming and prevent the overconsumption of animal-based meat and dairy?  Africa can leapfrog over the West’s processed and industrialized trough of food despair and become a true plant-based continent. Infinite Foods, a go-to-market platform for leading plant-based food brands, is pioneering the plant-based revolution in Africa. Infinite Foods provides end-to-end turnkey services for brands like Beyond Meat, Miyoko’s, Oatly and Good Catch to reach the 1 billion sub-Saharan African consumers. 

Together with international brands, Infinite Foods is incubating local brands and manufacturing opportunities.  The goal of Infinite Foods is to help Africa successfully leap into a plant-based food system that nourishes people, protects the environment and uplifts farmers. A sustainable and healthy future awaits the African market and plant-based platforms like Infinite Foods will be rungs on the ladder to reach that future.

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