A sustainable food system for Nairobi based on smart production, artificial intelligence interface for personalized nutrition and health
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
JKUAT is located within the proposed territorial region of the food system vision. The University’s main campus is 35km from the Nairobi city center and has other satellite centres within the territorial region. The University’s proximity to most government organs that formulate policies relating to Food and Nutrition Security and the peri-urban and rural food producing communities makes it a suitable interlocutor within the food system. JKUAT is currently a regional Anchor University (RAU) in Agri-food Systems and Nutrition with collaboration with academia, industry, government agencies, Non-governmental organisation, and food producers. JKUAT has been involved in the development of various food and nutrition policies and strategies which stimulate agricultural growth.
The university’s mandate is on training, research and outreach for the benefit of the community and industry and has created frameworks that allow it to with other stakeholders to deliver on the Country’s food and nutrition goals. Some of the ongoing initiatives that exemplify this collaborative capacity include; the Legume Centre of Excellence for Food and Nutrition Security, the EU Funded Food Fortification Project, Centre of Excellence for Research and Innovation in indigenous Bioresources and Climate Change Adaptation, National Research Chair on Manufacturing, Institute for Biotechnology Research, Centres for research on insects for food and feed, Africa ai Japan, among others. These centres integrate Food System thinking approaches in their implementation. The existing pool of knowledge and innovations will synergistically create the initial seed for creating a sustainable Food system for Nairobi and its environment. Since 2017, the University has been working with the County Government of Nairobi and other stakeholders to develop an urban food system strategy with support from UN, FAO.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Open air stalls for selling legumes and vegetables
Waste collection around Nairobi
Open air market in Nairobi
Situation in Nairobi Kangemi Area
Map of Nairobi indicating the main regions
Nairobi is the largest urban area in Kenya. The city is home to about 8% of Kenya’s population. Nairobi had an average annual growth rate of 4.9% between 1962 and 2011, while the national growth rate was 2.6%. Although Nairobi contributes 12.7 % to Kenya’s GDP, unemployment and poverty rates are increasing annually. As a result of its particularly rapid growth, the city faces a number of development challenges, including rising poverty and reduced food and nutrition security for the urban poor. The section below provides a deeper insight into the people and place.
People: Nairobi City has a total population of 4,397,073 of diverse races (KNBS 2019). However, Majority of them are black Africans drawn from the 43 tribes of Kenya. Population demography indicates that men are 49.8% of the total population while women account for 50.2%. This indicates that the population is equal by gender. The County has a total of 1,506,888 households each comprising on average 2.9 persons (lower than the national average of 3.9). The County has the highest population density in Kenya with 6247 persons/km2. The education level varies within the County but majority of the residents have basic education (primary or secondary). According to the Kenya Economic survey of 2017, most of the residents (36%) are poor ( monthly income of USD 237 and below). The proportion of the population that belong to the middle income (USD 237- 1200) is 44% while 20% belong to the upper income group (above USD 1200). The growth rate of Nairobi is currently 4.1% a year. It is estimated that Nairobi's population will reach 5 million in 2025 (World Fact book, 2018).
Place – Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya, centrally located within the Country and was founded in 1899 by the British as a rail depot on the Uganda Railway. The city serves as the administrative and commercial capital of Kenya. It has a land mass of 703.9km2 that is surrounded by Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, Nakuru Counties. Other counties which significantly contribute to the food basket of the City include, Muranga, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Embu, Meru, Narok and Nyandarua. The County is subdivided in 11 administrative sub-Counties (Dagoretti, Kamukunji, Embakasi, Kasarani, Kibra, Lang’ata, Makadara, Mathare, Njiru, Starehe, Westlands) of different sizes and social classes. It lies adjacent to the eastern edge of the rift valley at an altitude of 1661 metres above the sea level. The weather is excellent with mild temperatures during the day 20-26oC) though it might get cold during the night. Nairobi is home to thousands of Kenyan businesses and over 100 major international companies and organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the United Nations Office at Nairobi. While the city has made efforts to grow its transport infrastructure (roads, rail and airports), the population growth has created pressure on the existing transport network.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas leading to poverty and food insecurity. Main challenges discussed below:
Diet: In Nairobi, about 1 million people are hungry while a similar number are obese. This is likely to worsen with increased population, food losses and climate change. Most diets are starchy staples with limited protective foods. Other challenges include;
- Inequalities in food access
- Poor understanding on healthy diets
- Dietary transition towards junk foods leading non-Communicable Diseases
Culture: Nairobi has diverse cultures on foods. In the past, local less processed foods were common but they are being replaced by more processed foods which are low fiber and micronutrients, rich in saturated fats and sugar. The key challenges are;
- Perceptions and attitudes which discourage consumption of local foods
- Emergence of fast food chains leading to the preference for over processed diets
- Food taboos and ethnic attachment that hinder consumption of some foods
- Lack of integrated approach for behavior change on diets
- Gender disparities in food access
Policy: Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the current government’s Big Four agenda (2018-2022), commits to food and nutrition security for all Kenyans. However the following challenges exist;
- Weak rural and urban food system linkages
- Production biased policies
- Complex governance systems and implementation failures
Environment. Nairobi once had a reputation as a healthy place characterized by natural forests, and wetlands. Key challenges include;
- Reliance on informal food markets with dilapidated infrastructure
- Increasing food safety concerns and related food borne diseases
- Pollution of key ecosystems (sewage, industrial waste, heavy metals)
- Conversion of fragile ecosystems into built up areas
- Weak regulatory framework for monitoring environmental and safety
- Poor city planning
- Poor management of food losses and waste
Technology: Nairobi is a regional ICT hub and houses leading companies. Emerging food production innovations include vertical gardening, aquaponics and precision agriculture and value addition technologies. The main challenges include:
- Application and integration of technological innovations is limited
- Limited funding for research, innovation and incubation for food business startups
Economics: Nairobi residents spend over 30% of their income on food. This is worsened by rising food prices, poverty and unemployment. Food access is constrained by;
- Lengthy food chains which make food expensive
- High food losses which impede availability and affordability of food
- Poor infrastructure and weak business support
- High volatilities in food prices
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The Nairobi Food System Vision will provide a platform for a more resilient city that will boast of a health population and an environmentally friendly city. The place will be characterized by clean riverine ecosystems, blooming forest cover and well defined transport infrastructure. Food waste and the related environmental pollutants will reduce. It is envisioned that Nairobi gastronomy and diet will move towards healthy traditional foods. Restaurants and hotels will serve cuisines based on local raw materials. Food production will move from traditional agricultural practices to novel food production practices (aquaponics, precision irrigation, cultured meat, etc). It is envisioned that, the supply chain will be shortened through automation and ICT technologies. Artificial intelligence will inform most of the city operations from housing, food, transport, among others. Clean energy systems will serve most city operations. The place will be the envy for many to live.
The people in the city will enjoy better livelihoods due to improved economies and infrastructural development. The burden on health as a result of Non Communicable Diseases will reduce leading to a happier city. People will be more nutrition conscious and will demand for targeted services suited to their lifestyles. The level of knowledge on food systems will improve while attitude and practices that hinder consumption of certain foods will wane out. Nairobians will adopt technologies that promote better health and convenience. It is anticipated that cultural barriers to food consumption that relate to ethnicity will be overcome, Nairobians will boast of Nairobi culture. There will be equity on all aspects among the population.
This will require good governance targeting empowering Nairobians. The rule of the law will be vested on constitutional reforms and working policies. A culture of collaboration among diverse partners will be a critical driver towards sustaining Nairobi and its people.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Proposed content of a plate based on Harvard's theorem
Nairobi Food System Vision 2050. This includes Smart Production, an intelligent interface and personalized diet
By 2050 the urban residents of Nairobi City will be served by a food system characterized by: (a) an efficient, diversified and sustainable food production system, (b) intelligent distribution interface, (c) smart food processing and preparation options, and (d) personalized food service and diets.
1. Smart Food Production Systems
The Nairobi food production system by 2050 will integrate both conventional and emerging food production technologies in both urban and peri-urban areas. The production system will be characterized by:
a) Consolidation of Small-Scale Producers at Peri urban areas – small scale farmers from peri-urban Nairobi will produce a diverse range of nutritious and safe food products using improved technologies. Conventional food production systems will still exist but will require smart interventions (institutional or technological) for them to be economical. To make it attractive, small scale farmers will require incentives to adopt sustainable operation methods (precision irrigation, controlled plant nutrition, pesticide and herbicide free production technologies, quarantine systems etc). What will be more attractive is the consolidation of small-scale farmers’ efforts to serve communities, pooling resources to create the required scale of production. It is foreseen that small-scale farms will specialize in perennial crops of high value. Already, field trials for perennial cereals is being piloted in the US. Consequently, evolution in breeding and biotechnology (biofortification, targeted manipulation of yields, pest and disease resistance) will play a significant role in improving food and nutrition security.
b) Indoor Food Production – since land will increasingly become limited with the growing human population, acceleration toward expansion of food production in buildings will increase. This will include vertical gardening, increase in greenhouses, aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics, soil less farming among other farming operations that requires little utilization of land space. It is anticipated that vertical gardening will comprise of specialized high storeys, one each for vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, aquaponics, cultured meat, office space, parking, among others.
This will increase production volume per unit area. Cultured meat with the right texture, mouthfeel and taste will have become the new norm and this will dramatically reduce the carbon foot print of keeping beef animals. Meat analogues from vegetables will increasingly be available. To reduce the negative impact of distance on food prices, the vertical gardens will be strategically located in different parts of Nairobi to cater for the entire population. It is proposed that one such facility will be in each of the following zones; Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern and Central parts of Nairobi, with a possibility of being replicated elsewhere based on population density. Each facility will produce a diverse range of food products that are nutritious, safe, affordable, culturally acceptable and environmentally friendly. The vertical garden will be powered by solar energy.
c) Aquaculture and Blue Economy exploitation – intensification of aquaculture and sea food production will be critical for increasing the supply of fish and sea foods. This will be coupled by increased exploitation of the blue economy (Coastal region of Kenya). The demand for these kinds of foods will have increased due to globalization and better education. Such practices will lower the demand for land for animal production while giving room for more field crops (cereals).
2. Intelligent Food Distribution InterfaceBy 2050, the transport and distribution channel for foods will have greatly transformed from traditional to novel, technologically driven approaches. The current open-air market systems will reduce and be replaced by tailored service delivery to customers. This will be characterized by:
a) Exploitation of digital technologies: Harnessing the power of digital technologies particularly smart phones will usher a new dawn of communication, transport and distribution. People will easily order their foods using smart phones in the amounts and varieties they desire. To make the right choices, buzz words like low fat, low carbohydrate, sugar free, gluten free, cholesterol free etc. will often be used.
b) Food Profile Scans: To address the demand for nutritious food products, the nutritional composition of each of the foods will be documented. This will require development and employment of non-invasive analytical techniques like Fourier Transfer Near Infra-Red (FT-NIR) to quickly scan the nutrient content of the foods. Information on potential allergens and other toxicants will be fingerprinted. In addition, it will be possible to trace the source of the food. This information will be stored through cloud computing interfaces for use for personalized diets.
c) Artificial Intelligence: Personalized nutrition will have become more important; thus the ability to accurately track every calorie and nutrient that enters our body through a portable or ingestible sensor will become the norm. This data combined with nutrigenomics and individual microbiome will be used determine individual plate portions and their content. Consequently, food waste will become a thing of the past. Clients will get value for money through ordering the quantity and quality of the foods they would want. With this capability for detailed diet tracking, we will move away from one-size-fits-all understandings of nutrition toward a more personalized approach.
In conclusion, it is foreseen that current food delivery channels will be replaced by smart distribution systems. Much shorter and more efficient producer consumer linkages will emerge. Brokers in the food system will become a thing of the past thus making food more affordable and safer.
Some of the technologies that will transform distribution will include:
Automated Vehicle Machines (AVM): we will see widespread use of intelligent unmanned vehicles that will use GIS information to deliver food packages to points of order depending on customer’s needs. The AVM will either be manned from the farm or by a secondary agent hired by the producer. Customers will most likely use smart phone applications to request for their orders and for payment.
Drones: an alternative to AVMs will be use of drones for targeted food delivery. The customer will have the luxury to state the food choice, location for delivery, and the anticipated time of delivery.
3) Smart food processing, preparation and cooking options
Food processing and cooking will evolve to integrate convenience, safety, personalized menus and tailored serving. While conventional food processing technologies will not become extinct, innovations that will target nutrient retention, individualized diet/plate, and customer satisfaction will become more common. This will happen in households and restaurants. Some unique innovations that will hit the domestic and commercial sector will include:
a) Use of Intelligent kitchens – by combining information from personal microbiome, nutrigenomics and nutritional maps of different foods, and by application of algorithms that exploit cloud computing, it will be possible to process or cook any food as per the client’s request. Options for making the food tasty, nutritious, and of the right mouthfeel will be available with a click. The intelligent kitchen will be able to serve different types of foods to persons with different nutritional requirements (children, pregnant women, men) at real time. Households will enjoy more convenience while getting specialized menus
b) Exploitation of 3-D food printers – public institutions (schools, hospitals, prisons) and Hotels, restaurants and cafeteria (HORECA) will opt for 3-D printing of foods. These gadgets will revolutionize the hotel industry. At present, the technology is being piloted with a possibility of becoming available at commercial level in the next decade. Installation of 3-D food printer ATMs in shopping malls will become the new revelation.
4) Personalized food kits: every individual irrespective of gender and age will have access to the quantity and quality of food they will demand for. This will be informed by personal nutritional needs (nutrigenomincs and microbiome) and the available food ingredients. There will be reduced food loss, waste and contamination due to use of intelligent food processing technologies. Each plate, for example, will need to be characterized by lower amounts of starch, increased volume of fruits and vegetables, increased legume utilization, more dairy products, lower amount of fats, reduced sugar and salt usage. According to the FAO food plate (FAO 2011) cereals currently account for 47% of the total plate, oil and fats 11%, sugar 16%, fruits and vegetables 11%, and meat, fish and eggs (11%) (Fraser and Guelph 2015). However, this will have to be adjusted to resonate with the Health Eating Plate model in which fruits and vegetables will account for the lion’s share of the total plate while cereals and fats reduce.
By 2050, people will eat food because they like it. While culture, diet, economics, and environment will be important, science, technology and innovation will be pivotal in driving food production systems, the related delivery systems and food choices. Artificial Intelligence will form the basic hallmark for food choices and preparations. It is foreseen that Nairobi will require developing and implementing enabling policies and guidelines to accelerate attainment of food and nutrition security for better health. It is in this respect that JKUAT will work with Nairobi County, KEBS, Government ministries (e.g. Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Industrialization, Trade, Environment etc.) industry actors, NGOs, development partners among other stakeholders, to make this vision a reality.