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Biofabrication for sustainable packaging:Armenia

Biofabrication: transforming food waste into sustainable packaging for food systems.

Photo of Alessandro Moretti
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

World Food Programme Armenia

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

N/A

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.wfp.org/

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

  • Under 1 year

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

Yerevan

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Armenia

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

Shirak, Lori and Tavush provinces

What country is your selected Place located in?

Armenia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Armenia, country of Transcaucasia, is lying just south of the great mountain range of the Caucasus. Modern Armenia comprises only a small portion of ancient Armenia, one of the world’s oldest centres of civilization.

Though a small country of 29,743 km2, Armenia boasts more plant species (3,000) than the vast Russian Plain. Nevertheless, agriculture in Armenia has to contend with many difficulties. Cultivated lands occupy less than two-fifths of the total area. Agriculture contributes to 25 percent of the GDP, yet Armenia is highly dependent on food imports for domestic consumptions. Food-insecure households in Armenia make up 16 percent of the population and this has severe geographic disparity. 40 percent of extremely poor live in the northern provinces of Shirak, Lori and Tavush.

Shirak Province covers an area of 2,680 km2. Around 80% of the total area of the province are arable lands, out of which less than 40% are ploughed. With even such a small portion of land being used, the fertile Shirak plain is the largest producer of grains and potato in Armenia.

Lori Province covers an area of 3,789 square kilometres. It is a mountainous area with vast arable lands, out of which 17% are ploughed. The province is connected with a railway and is on main regional roads.

Tavush Province has a poor agricultural index with only 4.8% of share in the total annual agricultural product of Armenia. Around 41% of the total area of the province are arable lands, out of which half is ploughed.

Armenia and particularly the northern regions are perhaps the most beautiful corners in the Caucuses with a huge potential for development and yet are struggling to overcome poverty. Effective use of the human and natural potential could ensure food-appropriate self-sufficiency, create a favourable business and investment environment, nutrition and food safety for population health, targeted assistance of vulnerable groups, reduction of social polarization, and efficient use of natural resources.

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.

There are approximately 3 million people living in Armenia. Armenians constitute nearly all of the country’s population; they speak Armenian. The Armenians were converted to Christianity about 301 CE and have an ancient and rich liturgical and Christian literary tradition. Displacement and migration play an important role in the memory and lived experience of Armenians. For centuries, Armenians have been forced to leave their places of residence because of political and religious persecution, difficult economic conditions, and natural disasters. In some regions (the north-Lori) the population decreased by as much as 28% in the last 20 years. Seasonal labour migration and remittances have constituted a crucial survival strategy for many Armenian households to this day due to high levels of unemployment across the country, particularly rural areas. Of the approximately 11 million Armenian, more than 8 million live outside the country.

The population of these regions (the northern 3 provinces) consists of 24 percent of the total population in the country:

Shirak- with a population of approximately 250,000, the province is mainly formed by rural communities (116). Locals are known for their sharp sense of humour and hospitality. Shirak is home to many former and current World, Olympic and European champions in several types of sports who competed under the flag of Soviet Union and later under the Armenian flag.

Lori, as populated as Shirak, is also mainly composed of rural communities. The majority of Lori population is ethnic Armenians, however, small communities of ethnic Russian Molokans, Orthodox Russians, Ukrainians and Greeks also live in this norther province. You can still very much feel the communist history via apartment blocks and abandoned factories alongside of the road which creates interesting contest with the beautiful nature. It also hosts two UNESCO world site heritage monasteries, Sanahin and Haghpat.

Tavush, mainly composed of rural communities is smaller in population size (approx. 130,000 people) is one of the most vulnerable provinces of the country. Studies show that Tavush has been inhabited since the stone age. The surviving medieval settlements, fortress and monasteries confirm the ancient history of Tavush and prove that the territory was extensively populated in the early Middle Ages. The northeaster corner of Armenia is under a great pressure because of the ongoing conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan. The bordering communities, now very small, are living with a fear of invasion every day. 

Despite the potential of Armenia’s human and natural resources, a combination of poverty, structural inequalities (including gender inequalities), as well as limited labour market opportunities further hinder economic development and access to healthy diets in all three regions.

WFP Armenia is convinced that by optimally capitalizing on the country’s and people’s potential we can invert the vicious cycle of malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty to drive the establishment of new drivers of growth and lead Armenia to achieve Zero Hunger thanks to regenerative and nourishing food systems.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

8173

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

616087

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

Presently 16% of the Armenian population is food insecure due to limited availability, access and utilisation of nutritionally diversified food. Regional disparities, particularly in the northern regions of the country bring these levels up to 24%. In these same regions, food insecurity is most often also accompanied by poverty affecting one every two persons.

Food systems in Armenia today are unable to meet the food security needs of the population and are also environmentally unsustainable. Existing interactions between humans and nature are leading to negative effects on both the ecosystem and the wellbeing of all living species. New solutions are needed to redesign food systems and its components to meet present needs and those of a growing population by 2050. WFP Armenia aims to address food waste and environmental unsustainable packaging within nutrition sensitive food value chains.

Globally one third of food produced for human consumption is lost annually, and Armenia with its broken food systems is not an exception. Half of the locally produced wheat is lost during production, processing and consumption. This entails not only a reduction in the supply and quality of nutritious food but also that natural resources such as land and water, are being over-exploited with very small returns. Improving all segments of the food system is of utmost importance to minimise food waste. Innovative solutions are needed to transform food loss and re-introduce them in the food system.

Looking forward, the Government of Armenia is expecting its population to increase by 50% as of 2050 reaching 5 million. Plastic is being extensively used in all industries, including food production and consumption. Therefore, the amount of plastic required to meet the needs of a growing population will also double. Pollution associated with plastic waste in Armenia is currently estimated at 5,000 to 6,000 tons annually and has a growing tendency. A few years ago less than 15 percent of total plastic waste was recycled. The rest remained in the local environment - burdening landfills, contaminating water sources and farmland, and posing risks to biodiversity and public health. The Government of Armenia has shown its political willingness to address this problem by passing a bill that will ban the production and use of single-use plastic bags by 2022. Yet, no viable and sustainable alternatives are being developed to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Reducing plastic consumption and minimising food waste are the two major challenges of existing food systems that WFP Armenia aims to address through the 2050 Food System Prize.

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

To address those challenges, WFP Armenia aims to introduce a ground-breaking solution based on natural technology, biofabrication: transforming food waste into sustainable food and non- food packaging. Leveraging on WFP Armenia’s model of nutrition-sensitive food value chain, the 2050 Vision Prize fund will be used to introduce this new approach for innovative packaging, that comes in a form of a new completely compostable material. Designed to address the growing consumer demand for sustainable and innovative packaging choices, biofabrication promises a solution for plastic packaging waste pandemic.

Throughout the food value chain, food and agricultural waste will be collected and combined with bacteria to grow a molecular structure that can be transformed into a nature-based material to package food and non-food products. When the food is consumed, the package can be decomposed leaving zero traces in the environment. Biofabrication has already found a wide use in many industries, e.g. medicine, technology, sustainable fashion and supply chain. However its potential for food industry is still at an experimental stage and has a great potential for growth. 

Thanks to biofabrication, WFP Armenia will address two key concerns of existing food systems in the country and around the world. To reduce food waste and dramatically reduce the production and consumption of plastic by introducing environmentally sustainable packaging solutions.

WFP has already developed a nutrition-sensitive food value chain model that looks at agribusinesses as a catalyst to improve the production, processing and marketing of nutritious products. The model aims to improve the stability, availability, access and consumption of nutritious food to support achievement of food security, equitable economic growth and improve the health of the population. By introducing biofabrication technologies into this model we aim at decoupling our expected results from negative environmental impacts.

 By investing in biofabrication through WFP in Armenia, the funds will aim to test the applicability of this novel technology to sustainable packaging for food and non-food products and if successful, scale it up to all food systems in the country and beyond.

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.

 

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

If thirty years ago my parents were asked how they envision the food systems of 2020, they would speak about how to produce more food and how to process it better for it to last longer on the supermarkets shelves. It was the time when mass consumption society was booming. My parents couldn’t even picture the world I would be living in today and the consequences of their actions on our well-being and the ecosystem.

Today the society is becoming increasingly aware that food systems are failing us. We are getting sick, millions go to bed every day on an empty stomach and the ecosystem is collapsing. Today is the day we must consider ourselves as one with nature; as one living organism and as a society in which nature technologies can become the driving force sustaining our existence.

The World Food Programme (WFP) in Armenia has introduced a model of nutrition-sensitive food value chain to address food insecurity, drive equitable growth and improve the health of the population. However, the lack of innovative green technologies makes this system not entirely free from food waste and is yet to find a sustainable solution to package short-lived products, including food, without harming the environment. The first is a missed opportunity to meet food security, while the second comes at the expenses of the ecosystem. We need to rethink the system and turn problems into innovative yet sustainable solutions.

With the help of the 2050 Vision Prize, WFP Armenia wants to introduce a revolutionizing technology to address the above-mentioned challenges by adopting biofabrication.  This nature technology has the potential to combine food waste with bacteria to create a natural, fully compostable packaging material. Biofabrication is a growing field already providing innovative solutions to many fields, yet its application to food systems is still very limited. If successful, WFP Armenia has the potential to bring the use of this technology to global scale by 2050 and fundamentally challenge the status quo of existing food systems. 

Operating in 85 countries and supporting the food security needs of 87 million people around the world, WFP recognizes food systems as a vehicle to end hunger globally. With the initial investment from the 2050 Vision Prize, WFP Armenia would be able to test and show the potential of this technology. This in its turn will put biofabrication under the spotlight, attract donor interests and scale it up as the future global solution for regenerative food systems.

Supportive and forward-looking policy frameworks are key to insure the sustainability and effectiveness of innovative solutions. On the other hand forward looking policies require innovative solution for the first to materialize. Specifically to Armenia as in many other parts of the world, the government is actively engaged in progressive environmental policies and has recently passed a bill to ban all single-use plastic bags coming into force in 2022, yet no viable alternatives are foreseen. WFP Armenia sees biofabrication as the viable alternative to be introduced in regenerative food systems for all packaging solutions that requires joint effort from the public and the private sector, the civil society, governments and institutions to succeed. To the benefit of this vision, Armenia is now considered the Silicon Valley of the future and a hub for development of innovative technology. If there is a place in the world where innovative solutions for food systems could be found, this is Armenia, and this is the time.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

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Photo of Constanza Castano
Team

Hi, Alessandro Moretti ! Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Thank you for sharing your well-illustrated project with us. Please make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.

Here is the link to the pocket guide: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o8WGMus6-V8GywWdlNwmCpk7I1fMVzcQ/view

All the very best for the Prize!

Warm regards,

Constanza