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Belly Button

Solving the hunger game and balancing the diet.

Photo of miles kubheka
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Lead Applicant Organization Name


Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

South Africa

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Melville, Johannesburg

What country is your selected Place located in?

South Africa

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I went to university there and I now work there too.

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.

We are locating solution in the community of Melville in Johannesburg. Melville Koppies lies on the Kaapvaal craton, one of the earliest known pieces of the Earth's crust.

It took about a billion years for the molten planet to begin to form chunks of stable crust, which we call cratons, and which form the nuclei of later tectonic plates and continents.  The Kaapvaal craton is 3.5 billion years old. It seems like a good place to forge the next billion years of planet earth’s existence.

But specifically, Melville has two universities with a desired digital population. Africa has the youngest population in the world. This gives us the opportunity to experiment with tomorrows future population. The youth also adopt technology readily. South Africa also has the perverse challenge of a high unemployed youth. This leads to a challenge where the youth that is meant to be working and taking care of its aging parents instead relying on their parents food grants. This has also resulted in many young people being malnourished and obese as they eat food simply to get full but not for nutritional value.

We have chosen to work with the universities, as they are also a microcosm of society. As many as 30% of the students at these universities are food insecure. You can’t study when you are hungry, this leads to bad grades. Bad grades lead to an economically unviable youth. This leads to food deserts, areas with high unemployment. This requires government to rely in social grants to feed those communities. These communities typically eat poorly and become malnourished and or obese. When obese they get communicable diseases this creates a burden on the healthcare system. Soon all the Sustainable Development Goals are impacted.

The 21st century is the urban century. Like most of Africa and other developing countries, South Africa is experiencing continuing urbanization . By 2050, Africa’s urban population is expected to double, from approximately 1 .23 billion people (in 2015) to 2 .5 billion people, or 60% of the total population (up from approximately 40% in 2009) . The United Nations (UN) estimates 71 .3% of the South African population will live in urban areas by 2030, reaching nearly 80% by 2050 .

Our location is ideal as most university students come from rural areas to the city to study. The more people urbanize the more complex their relationship with food becomes. You ask any urban dweller where their food comes from and they will say the fridge. The more people move to urban areas the farther their food has to travel to get to them. There more food has to travel the more preservatives have to be used. There more preservatives are you there more you requires colourants and stabilizers. Food then needs to be transported to cities which leads to climate change related consequences. This ultimately leads to urban dwellers eating food with high fats and sugars.

We are working with the universities, professors, students and local businesses as well as local government to address these challenges.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The food supply chain is about two centuries old. As soon as we started using steam to industrialise manufacturing, the food ecosystem changed forever. The problem however is that the food supply chain has pretty much stayed the same. How and where people consume food has however changed drastically. The further away food is from where it is consumed there more expensive, more detrimental to climate change it become, the more processed and preserved it needs to be. This leads to food that has very little nutritional value, food that is rich in sugar and saturated fats that are used to mask the taste of the preservatives and colourants.

You can't speak about supply and not speak about demand.The biggest challenge with the food ecosystem however is the fact that the demand side, has never evolved. In a world that is data driven with on demand eating apps, we still do not know who we are feeding and what they are eating in real-time. The data we collect on food ends when the food leaves the retailer or the restaurant. People eat three times a day, if we do not know what or how they eat, this presents many challenges; Over supply of food, food waste, climate change, incongruence between food and culture, incorrect government policies, malnutrition, communicable diseases, high cost of health care, etc.

The food ecosystem is currently run by the supply side as big agri, manufacturers and retail have the resources to be centralized and organized. However, the food ecosystem should be demand driven. What makes great social media platform is a demand side platform that generates its own content. People eat three times a day and therefore their data should be the one that informs the supply side as to what they want to eat, not the other way around. This has been difficult to achieve historically as we had no means to capture thus data. Today we not only able to capture this data but we can also process it in milliseconds. With AI and machine learning this means we also have the ability to predict what and where people will eat. More importantly we can also start prompting people to eat better based on public policy,  their cultures and geographic areas that they live.

The ability to track how the end consumers eat and what they eat daily, is a holy grail that will single handedly change the food ecosystem. The reason why it has not happened to date is because there are too many big building blocks that would have to be addressed before we could get to food singularity. This will require governments, big agri, retail, logistics, manufacturing, market access, technology and even disciplines like anthropology, DNA bio chemists, chefs, big Pharma, nutritionists. Currently, all these stakeholders are in silos.         


Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Belly Button aims to simply digitise every belly in the world! With a touch of a button aim to empower every human to let the food supply chain know who they are, what they can eat, and food can be sent directly to them. We plan to take the thinking out of what or where to eat. We aim to automatically balance the diet for every human alive. We aim to start a  pilot with universities in Melville Johannesburg. In the same way that facebook started in a controlled environment in Harvard university, we aim to do the same. We also know that the is a serious problem of food insecurity in these universities. When you know where the hungry bellies are, you then have a platform that starts to solve for access, nutrition, diets, cultural preferences, food waist, analytics, and predictive modelling. In the same way Uber digitised taxis it has now led to a democratised logistics platform.

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.

Farmers, Manufactures, Retailers and restaurants will know who is hungry around where they are. They will be able to produce the right quantity of food based on historical data. They will know culturally what individuals eat, based on preferences, income and even dna fit! Governments can start enforcing sugar or sodium policies as food will essentially be digitised. Consumers do not understand product labelling as it is too complex. This leads to them not eating nutritional foods. They also don't understand their body times as well nutritional requirements.  The platform would automatically do this for the consumer using big data, AI and machine learning. The platform would also make it possible for small suppliers in ghost kitchens to make food closer to the consumer. The consumer would basically click on the Belly Button app, update their profile once. Every time they are hungry they would click on the belly button app and it would tell surrounding food suppliers that they are hungry, and food would essentially find them based on the relevant AI filters mentioned above. Belly button will give food recommendations based on diet, culture, nutrition, tastes, and previous meals eaten. The future of the belly button app would be a small button that you put over your belly button and it would monitor your stomach grumbles and automatically give you a notification on your mobile device to confirm if you are hungry and ask if it could place the order on your behalf. Finally found use for the belly button hole!

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

"What's for dinner?" is an omnivores dilemma. This question is asked by 7 billion people 3 times a day for lunch as well as for breakfast. Most animals don't have to ask themselves this question as from dusk till dawn their sole task is to eat. Often they eat one thing, as they are either carnivores or herbivores. For the most parts their lives are simple. However, their sole task is simply to eat. This repetitive lifestyle simply does not suit us human beings. We therefore outsourced the farming, manufacturing, and cooking to big industries. This freed us up to do a lot more things than just looking for food, everyday. This as we have come to discover has come with a lot of unintended consequences such as climate change, industrial farming has had impact on both the land and animals.

But because we have move so far from our food both physically as well as nutritionally, most humans don't know nor understand the food they eat. The food ecosystem has also become incredibly complicated. It is run by big agri business, big manufacturing and big retail, Economies of scale have had great advantages and to a large extent have reduced the price of food. This of course has come with many costs mentioned above.

To solve the world food problems including most of the sustainable development goals, it starts with the demand side of food. To be more specific, it starts with the stomach. The growl in one's tummy is an indicator that one need food. But most people don't know what to eat an end up eating the same things weekly. Some people eat food void of nutrition because by the time the growling happens they just want to silence it. Others are on the move so they will grab what is most convenient. Others have to cook dinner for many hungry stomachs so they run out of ideas as to what to cook, and often sleep shop when grocery shopping and buy the same things all the time. Some have specific diets and cultural norms and therefore are limited to what they can eat. Most importantly, most people are limited by financial recourses that therefore dictate the nutritional calories they can get. Almost all people have no clue what they eat.

So solving for the growl is a complicated endeavor that has many moving parts both in the demand as well as the supply side. It is a problem that needs to be solved as it has an impact on the environment, diets, economics, culture, technology and government policy.

A technological food platform that would allow you to tell the food ecosystem around me that my stomach is growliBy click on a on an app I can inform all around me that retail food that I am hungry. They then have an opportunity to bid for my stomach.

Big data, knowing where and what is being eaten by whom would allow the supply side to forecast demand as well produce only what is required solving for food waste. Food waste decrease natural resources used to produce food. Policy can start to shape nutritional diets to be consumed. Based on what people are eating we can start using technological nudges, getting them to eat healthier with carrot rather than stick incentives. This would allow new dynamic food creative to be plugged into the ecosystem to supply more cultural cuisines. With the advent of dark kitchens and dark retail, this allows food to be closer to the consumer. With big data, we would know what individuals are eating daily. Technology is one small component of the solution however it is the thread that runs through the ecosystem. With things like block chain we can also track where the food started from all the way to which stomach ate it and in what format. Currently we have no visibility as to who ate what as soon as the food leaves the retail or the fast food counter. 

The Belly Button vision, is for food to find me three times a day based on what I can afford, what I like, what is good for me, based on my cultural tastes, and even perhaps my DNA fit. Much in the same way we moved from the farms to the city and we industrialized food to the point that we think food comes from the fridge. Perhaps instead of trying to educate people to eat better and care about farm to fork. We believe the horse has already bolted on that one. AI and machine learning should take over that task. It is the first time in human history we have that kind of processing power and data storage ability. The what's for dinner question should be a cloud based AI solution. As a chef I love food and understand it. But not everyone is a chef. I am also a systems engineer, and when I worked at Microsoft I wanted to build my own PCs. But the older I have gotten I buy a Mac. Why? Because it works. It just works. I no longer feel the need to look under the hood of laptop. I just want it to work, and work consistently. And oh, I don't want viruses. We therefore need a food platform that is stable and has no viruses, or pathogens in the case of food.

I look my solution much in the same way as IOS operating system for the Apple iPhone. My platform is like the iPhone IOS; it’s a food operating system. We call Internet Operated Stomach. People will build apps on it. All our IOS does is map all the hungry stomach in any given point. All stomachs are mapped on diet, price point, culture as well as other meta data like allergies, what that stomach ate last time, etc. Once you mapped a community's stomachs you can allow "app" builders to build solutions on top of the IOS.This would allow for independent food growers that supply dark kitchens and dark retailers. This means food will be grown in the correct quantities in the communities is required even in urban environments.  

The food would be delivered directly to the consumer, without the need for many middlemen such as shopping centers. That would mean food would be fresh, this would avoid the current obscene amount of food waste, because food suppliers would know who the end customer is. Food would be tailored to community and end customer needs. Because the food supply is direct the food would meet the cultural requirements of that community and end customers. Minority groups could have their cuisine represented in the food ecosystem. Using predictive analytics we can estimate the number of orders received each day, to deliver fast, fresh, delicious food to the end customer in any given neighborhood. Africa’s percentage of urbanization is double that of the global average. This means more people are going to be living in cities. This will require a food platform that will need to provide nutritious meals anywhere, by decentralizing inventory, maximizing efficiency, and reducing the time and distance between where food is prepared and where it’s eaten.

When you think about it food delivery apps today are already collecting a lot of data on what we eat. The problem with this data currently is one dimensional as well owned by the delivery companies. It is exactly what has happened with big retail. Food retailers have al to of data on food however all that data stays with the retailer making it impossible to have a city, regional as well as a global view of the food ecosystem. You need an agnostic system.

Almost every application that has been submitted to this vision fund is doing amazing things in their respective communities around the world. I have read most of them. One thing they all suffer from is that they all don't know who their individual customer is. They have no way of knowing which stomach they are feeding. However all these solutions will play an important role in the IOS. Almost have every community has a yard, or even a balcony. No matter how small, you could grow something. The problem is almost always you are growing a specific vegetable or herbs. You have to essentially grow this for your own consumption, as there is no platform you can flag that you have rosemary that you would like to sell. If you a great indigenous home cook, you have no platform that you can use to indicate that you make and sell great curry. There could be a hungry stomach right next door to your apartment that would love that home cooked meal. 

Before the apple IOS, software applications were written by big companies with teams of nerdy software developers. Today a 9 year old can write a game that could make them a billionaire. Before YouTube broadcasting was owned and dominated by behemoth multinational and state broadcasting agencies. 7 years ago brewing was reserved only for industrial scale brewers like SAB Imbed, today a 22 year old is a craft brewer with a global and loyal following. Democratizing the food ecosystem with a platform is what is going to fundamentally change the world food ecosystem.

Food however has a real challenge unlike software. With software the worst that can happen is that your device is infected with a virus or malware. With food if you get infected with food poisoning you would get really ill and possibly die. Food is also heavily regulated and so it should. Apple gives developers tools and training tow write for IOS. This is crucial because if you empower many people to write apps your platform it makes the platform valuable to the consumers. The platform then attracts more consumers. More consumers attract more developers to write applications. Apple computers, still approves every single application in order to make sure viruses or malware. The platforms core role is to be stable and always available. This means the platforms integrity is crucial. Health and safety policy will drive IOS. In many communities there is no health and safety, or nutritional oversight in many of the food facilities. This is mainly because the government agencies that are tasked with oversight simply don’t have the resources. 

Digitizing the stomach allows food service providers to no longer bid for share of wallet but for share of stomach. Whilst not everyone has smart devices, if we digitized just the people who have smart devices, the social and environmental impact alone will benefit all of society.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Photo of Jaco Oosthuizen

HI Miles
Nice to see another South African entrant. I know you have worked on a campaign with one of our farmers. Could we connect?

Photo of miles kubheka


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