Sustainable Food Systems
A plant-based milk made from the Bambara Groundnut; creating opportunities for smallholder farmers, remediating degraded land, and providing affordable nutrients to malnourished populations.
One-line solution summary:
A nutritious plant-based milk made from a climate-resilient crop known as the Bambara Groundnut.
Pitch your solution.
We are addressing both global (a) malnutrition and (b) environmental degradation caused by intensive monoculture farming practices.
We have developed a new plant-based milk called Bambara Milk. It is made from Bambara Groundnut, a nutrient-rich, climate-resilient legume that can grow on poor, dry soils without the need for fertilizers and pesticides. It can be used in agricultural intercropping systems to remediate degraded land.
Our solution involves (a) working with smallholder farmers (especially female farmers) to scale-up cultivation of Bambara Groundnut and (b) leveraging food science to process it into a nutritious Bambara Milk.
The project aims to (a) provide new income opportunities to smallholder farmers, particularly those struggling from falling yields of existing commodity crops due to climate change and land degradation, (b) remediate degraded land through the intercropping with Bambara Groundnut and (c) provide a nutritious, affordable plant-based milk for malnourished communities.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Our project aims to address the loss of agricultural diversity, where only 3 crops (rice, wheat and corn) make up 60% of plant-based calories in most diets (WWF). This is caused by the consolidation of the agri-food industry to achieve economies of scale by specializing on a select group of calorie-rich but nutrient poor crops.
This loss of diversity adversely impacts the health of our people and planet:
People: There is a paradoxical situation where 144 million children are stunted yet 38.3 million are overweight or obesity. 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition in developing countries while rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising in these countries (WHO).
This is due to the prevalence of calorie-rich but nutrient-poor foods, which is a consequence of the over-reliance on a small number of agricultural commodity crops.
Planet: The loss of agrobiodiversity, coupled with intensive monoculture farming practices, has contributed to over 75% of Earth's land areas being substantially degraded (IPBES). Climate change is predicted to exacerbate this problem. There is a great need to restore agrobiodiversity through the cultivation of climate-resilient crops (e.g. through intercropping systems).
What is your solution?
Our solution is the development of Bambara Milk: a nutritious and affordable plant-based milk made from Bambara Groundnut which is protein-rich, has a balanced macronutrient profile and contains important micronutrients such as calcium and potassium. This makes it ideal for a nutritious beverage application (GBIF) such as a plant-based milk. We have developed processes to create Bambara Milk with minimal degradation to the nutrient content, while maintaining good sensory properties (e.g. taste, texture and color).
The Bambara Groundnut is drought-tolerant (can survive in areas with as low as 300mm in rainfall) and capable of growing on poor soils as a legume (Food Sci Nutr). Its ability to fix nitrogen means it requires little to no fertilizers to be cultivated, reducing the capital outlay required as well as reducing GHG emissions (FAO).
As a short-rotation crop (120 days), in can be cultivated throughout the year in the Northern and Southern hemispheres - we currently source it from smallholder farming communities in West Africa. In the future, we plan to establish a new farmer outreach program in Southeast Asia, particularly on degrading palm oil plantations that are degrading in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Farmers: We currently source Bambara Groundnut from 2 farming villages in Ghana. Each village has a to no infrastructure and only a basic primary school. The villagers grow the Bambara Groundnut for sustenance as well as an insurance crop. We partner with these communities to scale up Bambara Groundnut production without adversely impacting their way of life, and offtake supplies from them as directly as possible (avoiding middlemen) to ensure they can retain more revenue.
By 2025, we plan to expand our farmer outreach program to Southeast Asia to work with 9,000 farmers to grow over 42,000MT of Bambara Groundnut, resulting in total farmer revenues of about USD2.2m
Malnourished communities: Malaysia experiences a double burden of stunting and obesity (UNICEF). Our initial plan is to distribute Bambara Milk in Malaysia (e.g. by working with government ministries to include Bambara Milk in schools at low cost). We can lower the cost of Bambara Milk for these communities by expanding our farmer outreach program to achieve economies of scale.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Promote the shift towards low-impact, diverse, and nutritious diets, including low-carbon protein options
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Challenge and your selected dimension.
- We believe that the availability of Bambara Milk will contribute to a more diverse and nutritious diet because it in high in protein and rich in micronutrients. As the Bambara Groundnut can be grown on degraded land with low agricultural input, we believe we can make Bambara Milk relatively affordable.
- To secure our supply of Bambara Groundnut from smallholder farmers, we support them with efficient and optimised agri-systems and package of best agricultural practices, to increase yields particularly on degraded land. Our end-goal would be to remediate degraded land, particularly marginalised palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Singapore
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
If you have additional video content that explains your solution, provide a YouTube or Vimeo link here:
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
The market for plant-based milks (e.g. almond, soy and oat milk) is growing, yet these products fail to satisfy both criteria of being nutritious and sustainable (e.g. Soy requiring rich soil in the Amazon, Almond requiring high amounts of water, Oat and Almond having low protein content):
Our solution is to use Bambara Groundnut which is high in protein and can be grown sustainably (with little water, fertilizers on degraded land). Our solution is innovative because:
- We are using a nutrient-rich, climate resilient crop that is ideal for intercropping systems and can be grown by smallholder farmers with relatively low financial outlay;
- There are other companies in the process of developing "lab-made" milk (e.g. through fermentation or cell culture). While these solutions aim to replace the dairy industry, it fails to provide existing dairy farmers with an alternative means of income, which may compel them to move into cattle farming for livestock (which is relatively worse than the dairy industry in terms of sustainability). Our solution provides an opportunity for dairy farmers to shift to grow Bambara Groundnut that may yield the same or more income on a per hectare basis.
- We have developed know-how to process Bambara Groundnut into Bambara Milk that retains most of its nutrients and has compelling sensory characteristics (e.g. taste, texture, color), as well as proprietary formulations for downstream applications (e.g. manufacturing of vegan yogurts and cheeses through 100% natural processes).
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
We have the following core technologies:
- Understanding of Bambara Groundnut agricultural practices. As a non-commoditised crop, we had to collaborate with smallholder farmers to understand how Bambara Groundnut is grown and how agri-systems could be developed to maximize yields on degraded land. This is important to expand our farmer outreach program in West Africa and Southeast Asia.
- Extensive know-how on various Bambara Groundnut landraces/varieties for food applications. There are thousands of Bambara Groundnut landraces that can be found today. We have tested and evaluated many of these varieties for food applications (e.g. understanding taste, texture and nutritional profile) and have a good understanding of the relative pros/cons of each variety for specific use cases.
- Proprietary Bambara Milk processes. To develop a plant-based milk with ideal sensory properties (e.g. no green note, creamy texture, good nutritional content), we had to develop proprietary processes using food science and technology.
- Proprietary formulations. We have conducted many trials to develop specific formulations of Bambara Milk for various applications (e.g. Barista milk) and downstream applications (e.g. yogurt, cheeses, spreads).
The combination of these technologies enable us to:
- Scale up cultivation of Bambara Groundnut in different regions with different climates/soil conditions; and
- Scale up production of Bambara Milk that outperforms other plant-based milks in terms of taste, texture, nutrition, affordability and sustainability.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
- Evidence of Bambara Groundnut cultivation scale up in Southeast Asia: There are research institutions in Southeast Asia that have explored the cultivation of Bambara Groundnut in Southeast Asia (see CFF for example). Our in-house expertise has further validated the potential of Bambara Groundnut to be grown on a commercial scale with both native West African as well as Southeast Asian varieties (it is known as "Kacang Bogor" in Indonesia and currently being grown in local smallholder farming communities).
- Evidence of our proprietary processes creating a compelling proof-of-concept Bambara Milk: We have conducted sensory evaluation of our Bambara Milk with an dairy expert consultant who provided positive feedback on its neutral taste (i.e. lack of green note).
- Bambara Milk has been shown to have good texture/foaming properties:
- Bambara Milk also has the visual appearance closest to cow's milk in terms of color:
- We have carried out a protein analysis from an independent consultant who has confirmed that Bambara Milk has relatively high protein content (about 30g per litre) compared to other plant-based milks like Oat and Almond Milks.
- We believe that Bambara Groundnut is more sustainable compared to Soy, Almond, Oat and Cow's Milk (Planta) in terms of:
- GHG Emissions: Bambara Groundnut requires little to no fertilizers to grow.
- Land Use: it can grow on degraded land.
- Water use: it can survive in areas with 300mm of rainfall.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
- Supporting smallholder farmers in scaling up cultivation of Bambara Groundnut, particularly on degraded land
- Developing Bambara Milk, including other dairy alternative products such as Bambara cheeses, yogurts and spreads
- Marketing Bambara Milk to key B2B and B2C customers
- Increased cultivation and supply of Bambara Groundnut on degraded land in West Africa and Southeast Asia
- Development of compelling dairy alternative products using Bambara Groundnut
- Increased demand for Bambara Milk products
- Short-term outcomes:
- Increased incomes for smallholder farmers. We are currently conducting a pilot smallholder farmer outreach program with villages near Tamale, Ghana, to scale up cultivation of the Bambara Groundnut. By collaborating with the farmers and aggregators, we understood that by purchasing Bambara Groundnut at contracted prices would be a substantial source of new income for these remote villages.
- Shift from cow's milk to Bambara Milk. We project that Cow's Milk production emits 6.5x more GHG, uses 30x more land and 45x more water than Bambara Milk. If consumers shift towards Bambara Milk, there is a great potential to reduce many of the adverse effects of the dairy industry.
- Pilot-scale Bambara Groundnut farm in Southeast Asia. Through initial sales of Bambara Milk, we can invest in a pilot-scale Bambara Groundnut concept farm in Southeast Asia to scale cultivation regionally.
- Long-term outcomes:
- Reduction in deforestation. By providing meaningful incomes to smallholder farmers (e.g. palm oil farmers who are experiencing falling incomes due to decreasing yields and phasing out of EU biofuel subsidies), there is a lower likelihood of farmers encroaching into forests to grow more palm trees (which causes forest fires and haze in Southeast Asia).
- Reforestation of degraded land. The increased use of Bambara Groundnut especially in intercropping systems has the potential to rehabilitate degraded land (European Journal of Agriculture and Forestry Research).
- Mitigating malnutrition in impoverished communities. By scaling-up Bambara Groundnut cultivation on degraded land without little agricultural input, we can reduce its costs by 30-50%. This allows us to sell Bambara Milk at price points similar to Soy or Cow's Milk, ensuring an affordable source of nutrition to communities.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
- Farmers: We are currently serving 2 villages near Tamale that grow the Bambara Groundnut (population of 300-400). Next year, we project to expand our farmer outreach program to 2,000 farmers in both West Africa and Indonesia. By 2025, we will engage 15,000 farmers producing 42,000MT of Bambara Groundnut annually.
- Consumers: We will set up a Bambara Milk pilot plant next year (annual production capacity of 1.25m litres a year) which can supply about 48,000 people with plant milk (assuming an average weekly consumption of 0.5l a week). By 2025, we would have established a industrial-scale Bambara Milk line (annual capacity of 31.25m litres a year), which can supply 1.2m people with plant milk with the same assumptions.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
- Bambara Groundnut Outreach Program:
- 2020-2021: Expanding our existing farmer outreach program in Ghana to more villages. In the next 5 years, we hope to expand beyond Ghana into other West African countries e.g. Mali.
- 2020-2021: Establishing first Bambara Groundnut supply chain in Southeast Asia (Indonesia). In the next 5 years, we hope to expand the outreach program into Malaysia, Thailand and potentially Queensland, Australia. By 2025, we would have developed know-how, agri-systems and package of best practices that can be replicated to more farming communities who would like to use Bambara Groundnut in intercropping systems.
- Bambara Milk Production. 2020-2021: Establishing our Bambara Milk pilot line (annual capacity of 1.25m litres/year). By 2025, we will establish our industrial-scale Bambara Milk line (annual capacity of 31.25m litres/year). This industrial production line can be easily replicated in any urban environment.
- In the context of Covid-19 and the disruptions in global food supply chain, we hope that our efforts will strengthen both food and nutritional security in the next 5 years in the following ways:
- Bambara Groundnut is a hardy crop - its seeds can be harvested and stored for up to 2 years (before de-shelling). This makes it an ideal raw material for a plant-based milk because it can be stockpiled for a relatively long period of time.
- By processing Bambara Groundnut into a fresh "pasteurized" or UHT milk, we avoid the need for the importation of cow's milk into regions that do not have local dairy industries (e.g. in Southeast Asia).
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
- Regulatory. Bambara Milk can be sold in all regions except the EU as Bambara Groundnut is considered a novel crop under the novel food regulation.
- Market. Bambara Milk will be initially difficult to market because there is no widespread understanding or awareness of the Bambara Groundnut.
- Financial. As our project covers both agriculture and food, there is an increased risk in the project (i.e. the success of Bambara Milk is dependent on the success of the Bambara Groundnut cultivation scale-up and vice versa).
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
- Regulatory. We believe that applying for authorization under the EU novel food regulation should not be an obstacle because Bambara Groundnut has a history of being traded and consumed by West African communities residing in the EU.
- Market. We believe we can use the novelty of Bambara Milk as a marketing differentiating factor. Consumers are increasingly becoming more aware of sustainable alternatives (and there is interest within the vegan community to discover new varieties of plant-based foods).
- Financial. We have mitigated the risks of our dual approach in agriculture and food as we have already developed a portfolio of other products that use the Bambara Groundnut, and this is evident in our existing supply chain from Ghana. This shows that we have already succeeded at the early stage to source Bambara Groundnut, so there should be no supply chain issues for Bambara Milk.
What type of organization is your solution team?For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
If you selected Other, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
30 full-time employees
How many years have you worked on your solution?
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Our team comprises key individuals who have extensive industry experience and technical expertise:
1. Agriculture and Sustainability: Lucas van der Walt works closely with the farming communities who grow the Bambara Groundnut for us. He brings over 20 years’ experience in agriculture and environmental sustainability from McCormick, Olam, and DLH Group.
2. Research and Product Development: Margit Langwallner is a food fermentation and microbiology expert who oversees the R&D for our dairy-free products. Margit has over 20 years’ experience in both the foodtech space and the dairy industry. She is the co-inventor of 3 of NamZ’s patents.
3. Factory Operations: Vinod Vallayil manages NamZ’s factory and food production operations. Vinod brings more than 20 years’ experience in food production from McCormick, Unilever, PepsiCo, Symega and AB Mauri.
4. Strategy and Business Development: Christoph Langwallner is an entrepreneur who brings over 20 years’ experience from Olam, Omega Technology and Kerry Ingredients. He founded Symega in Kerala, India, in 2006 which eventually became India's largest seasoning house.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Our current partners for this project are:
1. Scott Poynton (founder of Earthworm Foundation (formerly The Forest Trust)). Scott is a trusted advisor and expert on sustainability. He is experienced in assisting companies develop policy responses to sustainability issues that concern them, as well as building capacity to implement such policies. Scott's role in the project is to work on the project plan and objectives in engaging farming communities in Southeast Asia to grow Bambara Groundnut, and to determine monitoring and evaluation process.
2. Stuart Higgins (founder of Oikoi and PT CHC). For
the past 15 years Stuart has been managing agricultural R&D projects
primarily across SE Asia. He provides support to agricultural
research, development, extension and survey activities to inform and monitor
development project interventions and private sector investments in
agriculture. Stuart is working with us to assemble technical teams near palm plantation land to support farmers with the know-how to grow the Bambara Groundnut.
What is your business model?
- Key Resources: Our employees and technical expertise (on both agriculture and product development).
- Partners and Key Stakeholders: Our network of shareholders and existing partners in the dairy/dairy-alternative space, and partners who work closely with smallholder farming communities.
- Key Activities: Working with smallholder farmers to provide expertise on scaling up Bambara Groundnut cultivation, purchasing supply directly from farmers, processing Bambara Groundnut into Bambara Milk, developing IP.
- Cost Structure: Staff salaries, cost of farmer outreach program, production costs of Bambara Milk.Channels: Online store to sell Bambara Milk, and offline channels (e.g. cafes, retailers).
- Surplus: Profits will be used to expand our Bambara Groundnut farmer outreach program to provide more income to a greater number of farmers and to positively impact a greater area of degraded land.
- Segments: Bifurcated strategy - initial sales to the health/sustainability conscious consumer, long-term sale at low cost (with government support) to malnourished communities.
- Beneficiaries: Smallholder farming communities.
- Customers: B2B customers (e.g. hotels, restaurants and catering), B2B retail (e.g. listing in online and offline supermarkets), our own B2C brand called WhatIF Foods and working with governments to distribute Bambara Milk at low cost (e.g. in schools).
- Beneficiary Value Proposition: new income from use of degraded land.
- Customer Value Proposition: a novel, affordable, sustainable and nutritious plant-based milk.
- Revenue: Proceeds from sale of Bambara Milk
- Impact measures: Quantities of Bambara Groundnut purchased from farmers (linked to incomes earned, degraded land remediated) and Bambara Milk sales (linked to nutrition).
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
Why are you applying to Solve?
We are particularly interested in being part of Solve's community to connect with like-minded enterprises and potential project partners/collaborators (see below).
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
- We would be grateful for progressive online/offline distributors or retailers who may want to list Bambara Milk in their stores.
- We welcome people who are interested to work in the dairy alternative / novel crops space to join our team.
- We are looking for local partners (particularly in West Africa and Indonesia) who can assist with the monitoring and evaluation of our Bambara Groundnut farmer outreach programs, in particular how these are impacting farmers' way of life, livelihoods and farmland.
- We would be grateful for any media exposure on our mission of reintroducing agrobiodiversity, and how Bambara Milk aims to address this.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We hope to connect with the following:
- Universities/research institutions working on agrobiodiversity/novel crops, including crop breeding programs;
- Food manufacturers aiming to incorporate novel crops into their product portfolio and/or developing dairy alternative products;
- NGOs working closely with smallholder farming communities to implement diversification strategies;
- Food scientists and engineers in the dairy or plant protein space; and
- Farming communities/collectives aiming to shift away from monoculture farming practices.
- Mark Lim Corporate Strategist, NamZ Pte Ltd