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CoE Articles

SMART foods aim to get the best out of African resources, says Emmambux

Published September 13, 2021, by Morgan Morris

CoE-FS principal investigator Professor Naushad Emmambux has delivered his inaugural address, titled ‘Technological Innovation for Food and Nutrition Security, and Sustainability: A food biopolymer perspective’.

Outside of the laboratories, some smart thinking is going to be required if Africa is to make any real inroads into its pervasive food insecurity problems, as decreed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

According to some estimates, some 100 million people in Africa are currently facing “crisis, emergency or catastrophic” levels of food insecurity. At least another 100 million are believed to be undernourished.

Inside the labs, scientists like Professor Mohammad Naushad Emmambux are applying their minds to ways in which they can make a contribution to reducing hunger and malnutrition. And as Emmambux, based in the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria (UP), explained in his inaugural lecture on 7 September 2021, SMART foods may be part of the answer. View the full lecture, titled ‘Technological Innovation for Food and Nutrition Security, and Sustainability: A food biopolymer perspective’, here.

Prof Naushad Emmambux delivers his inaugural lecture on how technological innovations can aid food and nutrition security.

SMART foods are defined as food crops that are Safe, Marketable, Affordable, Ready to Eat, and Tasty. Even more ambitious than that, they are considered as means to tackle everything from malnutrition (by replacing energy-dense foods with nutrient-dense foods), to environmental degradation (by reducing food, plastic and chemical waste).

In his research group at UP, scientists are working on a host of projects, explained Emmambux, who is also a principal investigator within the Technological Innovation programme of the DSI/NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

He and other scientists are, for instance, looking at the design of complementary baby foods that would combat protein energy malnutrition; investigating ways to reduce the energy density in foods through increasing resistant starch; and testing technologies that could increase nutrient density in foods using indigenous African crops like sorghum. At the same time, researchers are also exploring the design of biodegradable packaging systems; developing food-processing technologies that are more energy efficient; and conducting research into food crops that are able to withstand challenging climate conditions.

But tackling widespread food insecurity and man-made climate change requires collaboration and a transdisciplinary approach, said Emmambux. Even within his own work, he relies on an assortment of associates, from nutritional and sensory scientists to polymer scientists and engineers.

“For me, research collaboration within my discipline and between disciplines is very important for synergy,” he said.

 

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