Health For All: the key role of agrifood MSMES and businesses

The 75th anniversary of the International Health Day acknowledges the achievements made towards improving public health and calls for further efforts in ensuring Health for All. According to the World Health Organization, nutrition and food safety are fundamental to a healthy diet, which is essential for good overall health, well-being, optimal growth and development, and a protection against all forms of malnutrition.

Within this context, the agricultural and agrifood sectors are key to promoting healthy diets and contributing to the achievement of the health related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Throughout the food system value chain, many actors are involved in producing, processing, packaging, distributing, and marketing food to ensure that a healthy diet is affordable, accessible, and available to all.

Discover or rediscover African and Caribbean entrepreneurs who are making significant contributions towards promoting healthy diets for all.

To meet the needs of the world’s growing population, it is necessary to make more food available for consumption – not only by increasing production, but also by reducing food loss and waste. Food losses occur between harvest and the point of sale, mainly due to the lack of refrigeration facilities especially for perishables, unreliable and inadequate storage facilities, and insufficient agro-processing skills among smallholder farming communities. Food waste also occurs at a later stage when retailers, food service providers and consumers discard food for reasons of aesthetics, inadequate storage etc.

Unfortunately, the number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition due to unhealthy or inadequate food consumption, are increasing around the globe. Undernourishment (including being underweight, stunted, and emaciated), being overweight and obesity and micronutrient deficiencies – known as the “triple burden” of malnutrition – are particularly prevalent in developing countries. To meet this challenge, communities will need access to healthy and nutritious diets. However, nutritional foods such as fruits, vegetables and animal protein are more expensive and less accessible than staples such as cereals and starchy roots, as well as processed foods containing excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and preservatives.

As a result, local micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and businesses have a key role to play in making nutritious and safe foods available, accessible, and affordable, for better nutrition. The African and Caribbean entrepreneurs showcased in the PAFO-COLEAD Innovations Series and in the IICA-COLEAD Caribbean Agrifood Business Series* have presented how they contribute to healthy diets. The companies have developed storage, transportation and processing solutions that reduce post-harvest nutrient loss and increase the shelf-life and suitability of food. The showcased MSMEs and businesses work closely with local farmers to supply locally grown produce and ensure food safety and quality. They also employ members of local communities and generate other indirect job opportunities, thereby supporting local economic growth and providing financial means to purchase healthy food and improve living standards.

As a non-profit association that manages and implements development programmes in the agricultural sector, COLEAD – together with its partners – supports agrifood models that address social, environmental, and economic challenges impacting health at national, regional, and global levels. The Innovations Series and the Caribbean Agrifood Business Series showcases entrepreneurs who are dedicated to using their businesses as a platform to promote nutritious diets and make them accessible through healthy, innovative, local, and nutritionally rich products.

The series aims to share the key success factors of these businesses, and to inspire others to seize the opportunities available in the agrifood sector. They also provide a platform to raise the visibility of agrifood MSMEs and connect them with support organisations that help to create an entrepreneurial environment. Further support to agrifood MSMEs through technical support, skills development and access to finance is essential to strengthen food value chains and increase the supply of nutritious food, thus making healthy diets more accessible.

* The PAFO-COLEAD Innovations Sessions and the IICA-COLEAD Caribbean Agrifood Business Sessions, focus on innovations and successes of African and Caribbean farmer-led businesses and SMEs. These activities are supported by the Fit For Market Plus programme, implemented by COLEAD within the Framework of Development Cooperation between the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and the European Union.