28 May 2019 is World Hunger Day. We sat down to interview Mathieux Maillette de Buy Wenniger, Food Technologist at Kemin and Project Leader for the World Food Programme (WFP). Today, more than 800 million people in the world do not have enough food. Kemin has been a partner of WFP since 2004 and we continue our fight to put a stop to hunger, once and for all. In 2018, the Kemin partnership with WFP impacted 25 million lives.
Today is World Hunger Day. What are the biggest hunger challenges the world is facing right now?
Even though the world’s food production is sufficient for the entire population, over 800 million people continue to suffer from hunger. A big problem is that in developing countries, most of the food gets lost between the farm and the markets. On top of that, conflicts have a major impact on the accessibility of food markets and efficiency of supply chains. But most disturbing is that in developed countries, we waste about 30% of our food at the end of the food chain. Working towards a better distribution of food may be the most gargantuan challenge. But one way to do so is drawing attention to the matter with World Hunger Day. That’s an initiative of The Global Hunger Project, an NGO focusing on fighting hunger on a global scale.
A similar organisation and the one you work with, the World Food Programme (WFP), has a far-reaching approach to battle hunger.
First, we determine between two different kinds of hunger. On the one hand, there’s acute hunger after a major catastrophe event such as a natural disaster. On the other, there’s structural malnutrition due to diverse causes such as conflict, climate change, problems in the supply chain, and often, it’s a combination of both. The World Food Programme is part of the United Nations, tasked with fighting both types of hunger. They assist 91.4 million people in 83 countries.
What kind of support does WFP offer?
WFP’s Humanitarian aid for acute hunger aims to nourish people while in the meantime the supply chain and food markets can be restored. High Energy Biscuits are an example of the types of food that are used for this purpose. They can be distributed easily, but also have a relatively long shelf life. Food is stored in warehouses in strategic locations, to allow immediate distribution in case of a disaster such as in Yemen or Haiti. WFP also works on long-term projects to treat and prevent chronic malnutrition.
Next to High Energy Biscuits, what other food sources does WFP distribute?
WFP distributes staple foods such as cereals, pulses, rice and cooking oil. To break the circle of malnutrition, WFP also distributes uniquely formulated supplementary food for baby nutrition, and other food sources containing added vitamins and minerals. But next to food distribution, they also provide knowledge to governments, supply chains and farmers to allow them to improve the production of food and reduce losses along the way. Another part of WFP’s assistance is focused on repairing the damaged infrastructure that hinders access to food markets by suppliers and consumers.
How do they determine who is most in need of help?
Because the first 1000 days of a new life are most important towards later development of a human being, WFP has a strong focus on infants, young children and women of child-bearing age. A malnourished mother is unlikely to give birth to a healthy child. But the goal is, of course, to help as many people as possible.
Kemin has been involved with the World Food Programme for many years. Could you tell more about their partnership?
Kemin Industries has been a long-term partner of WFP. Our partnership started in 2004 as a private partner. Kemin’s assistance consists of knowledge and expertise on the improvement of the shelf life of processed foods that WFP purchases and distributes across the world. In addition, we sponsor two full-time food technologists who work at WFP. In the past, we’ve guided them in developing a quality management system relating to food quality and food safety.
And where do you come in?
My job position is fully dedicated and sponsored to WFP. I assist WFP’s experts from the Food Safety and Quality unit in Rome, by conducting long-term shelf life studies, performing spot checks on the quality of food products stored in the field and by advising them on specific issues or questions. Shelf life studies and spot checks are based on the chemical analysis of primary and secondary oxidation products. We combine the chemical analysis with sensory evaluations to determine if food is still acceptable, or to determine the shelf life under the harsh storage conditions in the field.
That means WFP works with Kemin products?
Our range of products may sometimes be helpful towards the production of food for WFP, especially regarding shelf life. Most importantly, we offer advice and expertise to manufacturers collaborating with WFP.
Devoting your expertise to WFP, do you see any progress of your collaboration?
It’s very satisfying to see that previous advice to add certain antioxidants to a recipe has lead to an increased shelf life of the product when we follow-up on its long-term storage in the field. This means the product can reach more people as it can be stored during a longer period and remain fresh.
Kemin products respond to food waste prevention. Do you see their importance increasing towards the future?
Absolutely! I think that antioxidants will increasingly be used to extend the shelf life of processed foods, as the demand for convenience foods will rise with increasing population and prosperity. Selecting the right antioxidant for a specific food product will allow local producers to grow their market into regional distribution chains. The trend to look for natural alternatives will benefit our portfolio of products, because Kemin has a completely vertically integrated chain of production.
WFP already offers help to a lot of people in need. Yet, according to the numbers, that’s "only" 10 percent of those who have to live with hunger. How do you reach the remaining 90 percent?
Globally, there are about 113 million people that live with acute hunger. The main focus is on the people that are most in need, and in that regard, their aid is quite successful. WFP depends completely on government funding, corporate partners like Kemin and private donations. We can reach more people by spreading the word, stimulating local communities to take initiative, having large manufacturers use lean processes to reduce waste and look at ways to use their waste streams to create extra revenue and further reduce waste. Innovative solutions are another way of reaching large communities. Did you know that €0.45 can feed a child for a day? WFP facilitated the creation of the ShareTheMeal app, which allows you to make small donations that can have a big impact on the lives of malnourished people.
Since 2015, 17 Sustainability Development Goals have been adopted worldwide to improve the general life-quality by 2030. Do they help towards achieving your goals?
The SDG’s definitely help. Also, when it comes to hunger, we do see improvements. It progresses slowly because there are still a lot of conflicts in the world. But investing in local initiatives that help communities to become self-sufficient is the right approach.
One of the main objectives of the United Nations is Zero Hunger. Do you think it’s an achievable goal?
Within the 17 SDG’s, reaching Zero Hunger by 2030 is the second highest priority. That means that considerable funds are being used to empower local governments to stimulate change, to train local communities with the right skills to fight hunger, poverty and lack of education. It is a difficult task, but I certainly hope we can achieve Zero Hunger. Today, we have a lot of channels to bring world hunger to attention and show people what happens with their contributions. Kemin and I will definitely continue the fight!