ETHIOPIA – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Feed The Future Initiative, EatSafe: Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food, has crowned an idea to improve traditional processing of a staple Ethiopian product as the winner of a food safety challenge.

In April, the program launched a call to apply for an innovation challenge to enable lasting improvements in the safety of nutritious foods in Ethiopia and Nigeria. More than 750 applications were received.

Helen Weldemichael, an Associate Professor at Wolkite University, received the top prize for her mechanized processing innovation to enhance the safety and productivity of processing enset, a staple food for about 20 million Ethiopians.

“It has been a great opportunity to represent my country at such a global event. I would like to express my gratitude to those who led the event and support providers for giving me a chance to deliver safe food to my community by reducing the workload of women,” she said.

Enset (Ensete ventricosum) is a member of the same botanical family as the banana, but unlike its cousin it’s not grown for its fruit, earning it the name, ‘false banana’. The main edible parts of the enset plant are the starchy rhizome and pseudostem.

It is used to make kocho, a bread-like fermented food. Weldemichael said the processing of kocho is carried out in the backyard of a farmer’s home, often by women with traditional knowledge. 

It uses natural microbes and old equipment. The fermentation process is often lengthy, and labor-intensive and can lead to inconsistent and unhygienic product quality. 

Little is known about the microbes in kocho and their roles in fermentation and spoilage said Weldemichael.

She added that the design and development of processing equipment and starter cultures should optimize, standardize and transform kocho into a commercial-level product.

The winner was awarded U.S$10,000, and second and third-place winners received U.S$5,000 and U.S$3,000 respectively, reports Food Safety News.

Oyeyemi Fadairo, whose entry was an inflatable solar tunnel dryer to prevent food spoilage, took second place, while Ruth Ede came in third for her submission that converts bio-waste from traditional markets to high-yield organic fertilizer.

EatSafe: Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food is a USAID-funded, five-year program aiming to enable lasting improvements in the safety of nutritious foods in informal markets by focusing on the consumer.

The program, developed in the wake of the disastrous increases in food prices in 2007 and 2008, has since assisted millions of people in vulnerable communities all over the world in reducing hunger and malnutrition, increasing their agricultural incomes, and creating both on- and off-farm employment opportunities. 

The EatSafe Innovation Challenge is an activity led by the EatSafe Consortium of which The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, Pierce Mill Entertainment and Education, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) are all members.

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