How can pearl millet and cowpea be good for healthy diets?

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This blog post is written by Sunera Zulficar Nurmomade, PhD student at the Department of Molecular Sciences at SLU in Uppsala.

Mothers are informed about the interview process. Photo: Sunera Zulficar Nurmomade

When I think about undernourished children in Mozambique, I wonder how I can contribute as a researcher to reduce these alarming malnutrition rates in my home country. 

In 2020, I was in Cabo Delgado (the northern part of Mozambique), doing fieldwork. I had the opportunity to talk to and ask some questions to mothers and community leaders to understand the problems connected to undernourished children in these areas. These questions and observations were important to understand food habits, cultural choices and traditions, which helped me to develop different ideas for the project. The idea to choose pearl millet and cowpea in my research is because these grains are locally produced, available, affordable, nutritious and drought resistant. During my fieldwork it was possible to interact with the people in these communities to understand the problems and explain how these grains can be a potential choice to incorporate into their diets, especially into children’s diets, to prevent malnutrition and food insecurity. Furthermore, how to apply traditional processing methods to these grains, such as soaking, germination and fermentation, and why it is very important to apply these treatments to enhance the nutrients and make them bio-available and bio-digestible.

Mothers are informed about the interview process. Photo: Sunera Zulficar Nurmomade

Pearl millet (left) Cowpea (right) Photo: Sunera Zulficar Nurmomade

Soaking, germination and fermentation have been used as traditional processing methods for decades in some parts of African communities since it is affordable and effective in improving nutritional quality and reducing the anti-nutritional factors of the grains. In addition, these traditional processing methods benefit grain digestibility and give favourable characteristics to the final product.

Germinated grains have a high activity of hydrolytic enzymes, which is important for breaking down the major compounds such as starch and non-starch polysaccharides, to reduce the viscosity of thick porridges without dilution with water. Using flour from germinated grains increases energy density and improves the content of some nutrients. On the other hand, fermented grains are important because microorganisms and enzymes produced by the natural microflora alter the composition of the substrates in various ways, improving texture, taste digestibility and nutritional value.

Pearl millet and cowpea are as nutritious as other grains; the key is to know how to prepare them to enhance the nutrients and reduce the anti-nutrients present in the grains. Pearl millet is a good source of macronutrients such as fat, protein, carbohydrate, and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. It is also a gluten-free product. Cowpea is a plant protein source used to enrich infant cereal food. Its high lysine content makes it an excellent enhancer of protein quality to add as a complementary ingredient. Moreover, it is beneficial for people that do not have access to animal protein.

Why is this important to know and why is it interesting to study the effect of traditional processing methods on the grains?

Mozambique is a low-income country in the southern part of Africa; 43% of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. Food quantity is not always the principal problem, improper feeding practices, i.e. a poor combination of food products, and insufficient knowledge on enhancing nutritional quality through traditional processing methods are the primary problem. This project provides knowledge on changes caused by traditional processing methods on the physicochemical and microstructure properties of pearl millet and cowpea grains and gives potential knowledge about the raw material and possibilities to develop new novel food products.

My study showed that the traditional processing methods, such as germination and fermentation, positively affects the grains, changing the physicochemical properties and microstructure characteristics. Germinated pearl millet showed high enzyme activity, which reduced the amount of total starch content and amylose content, something that is important to increase the energy density of the porridge and soluble dietary fibre. These soluble fraction of dietary fibre are essential because it attracts water and turns to gel in the gut, trapping carbohydrates and slowing the absorption of glucose. Fermentation also changed the physicochemical and microstructure properties of pearl millet and cowpea. However, total starch and amylose content was not affected by fermentation.

This research can have a global impact contributing to Agenda 2030 by improving nutrition and achieving food security. We all know that malnutrition is one of the biggest problems in the world, and this research can help other countries facing the same problem as Mozambique.

 

Read more? Visit the webpage about millets at SLU Global.

 

We remember Mersha – a representative of the long-term cooperation between Wondo Genet in Ethiopia and SLU

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This blog post was written by Gun Lidestav, Mats Sandewall (Department of Forest Resource Management) and Torgny Söderman (School for Forest Management) at SLU
For more than 35 years SLU has been engaged in a development cooperation with Ethiopia on building a faculty for forest and natural resources at Wondo Genet. More than a hundred Swedish and thousands of Ethiopian students, teachers, researchers and staff have been engaged in the endeavour. Today Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources is a national university faculty and an educational institution that provides the Ethiopian society and government with sector staff and specialists.
Mersha in the 1980s (Photo: Omer Studio)

A strong profile in the cooperation was Mersha Gebrehiwot. She was one of the first female Bachelor’s students from Wondo Genet in the joint SLU-Wondo Genet academic programme that started at SLU, Skinnskatteberg, in 1987. Mersha first got a diploma degree from a Sida sponsored programme at Wondo Genet followed by a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from SLU/Skogsmästarskolan (1988-1990). She then worked as a teacher at Wondo Genet and she later built her academic career through a Master’s degree and a PhD from Umeå/Skinnskatteberg and worked within the cooperation until 2022.

Mersha in the 2020s (Photo: Marine Elbakidze)

As a teacher, Mersha was an inspiration, especially to female students. But above all she was down-to earth in her teaching role in forestry subjects and she engaged herself in the relations between the staff of the college and its surrounding people, be it “encroaching loggers” or farming communities. For us foreign guests at Wondo Genet, Mersha was the one who always looked after us with great generosity.

Mersha as teacher (Photo: Marine Elbakidze)

As a researcher and development agent, Mersha’s desire and drive was always “to make a difference”. Her doctoral thesis is a good example of that. Her attitude influenced her choice of subject, research questions, scientific methods and the way she carried out the fieldwork. With respect and integrity, she approached complex problems on how land use changes affects food and livelihood security and the survival of the women and men in rural households. Her informants were not only data sources but also real people to whom she constantly related her research. It also characterised how she communicated the results, regardless if it was among local farmers or high-level decision makers.

Mersha as researcher (Photo: Mats Sandewall)

In all these respects, Mersha set an example to all of us who did research and development together with her. For those who have a particular commitment to issues of gender equality her involvement in IUFRO Research Group “Gender and Forestry” was essential. With Mersha as the local organiser, the 3rd Gender and Forestry Conference was successfully carried out at Wondo Genet College in November 2013. The conference involved 50 researchers and students from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. (Recently, she contributed to the ongoing programme, Catalysing the Ethiopian Forest Sector Development, by describing gender gaps and gender mainstreaming efforts, and training of forestry extension agents in gender-sensitive approaches.)

Mersha in Ukrainian environments (Photo: Marine Elbakidze)

Mersha had an admirable ability to find herself in the most varied environments and contexts, and thus also make others feel comfortable and appreciated. We are many friends and colleagues that miss her, but just as many who draw inspiration from the example she will continue to be.

Mersha in Ethiopian environments (Photo: Marine Elbakidze)

A scholarship fund is being established based on donations from Swedish and other colleagues in the memory and spirit of Mersha for providing awards to Wondo Genet students (further information through Torgny.Soderman@slu.se)

Mersha and Swedish supervisee Helena in Skinnskatteberg. Helena made her thesis in Wonde Genet. (Photo: Torgny Söderman)

 LOSS and DAMAGE – two words with so much meaning.

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This blog post is written by Hanna Wolf, Division of Environmental Integration SLU and advisor at Sida’s Helpdesk for Environment and Climate Change.

Climate activists at COP27
Photo: UNFCCC_COP27_19Nov22_CivilSocietyActions_KiaraWorth-8, CreativeCommons

LOSS and DAMAGE. Two words with so much meaning. For some it means the difference between hope and despair and for others it means facing costs and responsibilities. This year’s UN Climate Change Conference Of the Parties in Sharm El-Sheikh Egypt, COP 27, was the first COP where Loss and Damage were put on the agenda. For some that was a win in itself, for some it meant trouble.

COP 27 cannot be considered a success, far from it. It was only in the last minute the line on 1.5 degree Celsius target was kept. And a lot in the outcome text presented after two days overtime of negotiations, are missing. For example, much needed climate actions to drastically reduce emissions were not addressed. It is clear that the decision makers in Sharm El-Sheikh have not listened to what science tells us: e.g. that emissions peak before 2025 is necessary, the phase down of coal, and phase out of all fossil fuels is a must to limit global warming well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. That is the goal of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.

However, this year’s conference closed with a reported breakthrough agreement to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters.

This outcome moves us forward,” said Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary. “We have determined a way forward on a decades-long conversation on funding for loss and damage – deliberating over how we address the impacts on communities whose lives and livelihoods have been ruined by the very worst impacts of climate change.”

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) reports that the decision means that Governments agreed to establish new funding arrangements, as well as a dedicated fund, to assist developing countries in responding to loss and damage. Governments also agreed to establish a ‘transitional committee’ to make recommendations on how to operationalise both the new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 next year.

But, the outcome is hardly a victory to celebrate for the most vulnerable countries. Just imagine Pakistan, still struggling with the devastating floods earlier this year, as an example of the need for a loss and damage fund, with over 1700 lives lost and destruction of critical infrastructure, loss of schools for millions of children, hospitals and health centres destroyed and livelihoods, farms and homes gone. I can’t help wonder, can that ever be compensated for? The progress on loss and damage is indeed historic and has the potential to support and increase the support for the most vulnerable. But lots of work has to be done before that is a reality.

For me in my role as an advisor, working with environment, climate and development, I have followed the meeting with great intensity. Although not physically present, I have been able to follow both side events and official meetings. Reports, comments, tweets, live streams and various notifications have strangely, despite the seriousness and the gloomy tones, given me energy to continue work for climate justice and climate action. From this year’s COP, I especially take with me, an increased dedication of keep referring to science in all my advisory services and that all my recommendations should be Paris aligned.

Decisions taken at the Sharm El-Sheikh climate change conference can be accessed here:  Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference – November 2022 | UNFCCC

More information on the Paris Agreement can be accessed on UNFCCC webpage: The Paris Agreement | UNFCCC


The Division of Environmental Integration at SLU was established in 2018 and works for an increased environmental integration in various sectors in society. The division manages Sida’s Helpdesk for Environment and Climate Change in cooperation with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

 

 

Video shoot with SLU Youth Institute

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This blog post was written by Viktoria Wiklicky, Research Assistant at the Department of Energy and Technology; Environmental Engineering Unit, SLU and first published at the blog Kretsloppsteknik.

To promote SLU Youth Institute and the advantages for high schools becoming part of it, Viktoria Wiklicky was invited to talk about the Black Soldier Flies in their 2022 launching video. Fly larva composting is a tool to close the loop of a now linear food production system and aims to make food production more circular. Promoting the technology to the next generation will ensure that our passion and our ideas will be continued in the future.

SLU Youth Institute aims to create interest among Swedish youth for global food security and to find sustainable solutions to the global challenges based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The programme was founded 2020 and is part of the many Youth Institutes coordinated by World Food Prize Foundation. High school students engage with local leaders and experts to discuss critical global challenges, participate in hands-on activities, and explore exciting ways to make a difference in Sweden, across Europe and around the world. By the way, also the larvae showed their best side in the spotlight of the cameras and luckily, cameras cannot record smell (yet).

SLU has an important role to play in the implementation of Agenda 2030, in Sweden and beyond.

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This blog post was written by Jens Olsson, researcher at the Department of aquatic resources,Vice Dean responsible for environmental monitoring and assessment at the NJ-Faculty; and coordinator for SLU Water Forum.

Photo: Jens Olsson

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is an annually recurring meeting that serves as UN’s platform for sustainability and focus on reviewing the progress and achievements of Agenda 2030. This years’ forum took place in early July, and was the first since the pandemic to be held on site in the United Nations headquarters in New York. The theme for the meeting was recovery from the pandemic while also advancing the implementation of Agenda 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals (SGD’s) in focus for the meeting were SDG 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), 14 (Life Below Water), 15 (Life on Land) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

As SLU has extensive and decisive knowledge for the implementation of at least SDG 14 and 15, we were invited by the Government Offices of Sweden to be part of the Swedish delegation for HLPF. In my role as Vice Dean responsible for environmental monitoring and assessment at the NJ-Faculty and coordinator for SLU Water Forum, I participated as SLU’s representative in the delegation.

The reports shared at the meeting on the progress towards global sustainability was anything but positive. Despite that we are approaching the half-time summit of Agenda 2030, it is apparent that goal fulfilment is moving too slow, and in many cases in the opposite direction to what is desired. This is mainly the result of the Corona pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also due to a lack of political will and societal commitment. The Ministerial declaration following HLPF was also one of the weakest so far, with substantial backlash with regards to gender equality and rights of vulnerable groups.

In spite of this negative development, during HLPF it was clearly stated that we now must go from words to action and accelerate the implementation of the extensive societal transformation needed to reach the ambitious goals of Agenda 2030. This also to hamper the impact of the concurrent and multiple global crises including climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. What was also obvious at the meeting is that the perspectives of young and vulnerable people are essential for this transformation to happen, as is making use of local knowledge from, among others, indigenous people. It was concluded that economic growth needs to be decoupled from negative impacts on biodiversity, and that we are at a stage in time where knowledge for reaching the goals is available. Now, perhaps more than ever before, political will and societal commitment are essential to move from words to action.

Photo: Jens Olsson

For me this was a true personal experience, and despite the reports of slow progress and backlash towards reaching the goals of the Agenda in 2030, it was fascinating to see and meet that many countries and committed people in one place at one time. In spite of all the bad news, the spirit of hope was present, and I witnessed that the majority of participating countries shared their ambitions for a more sustainable future. It was also instructive to be part of a large and inclusive delegation with participation from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds including representatives from governmental agencies (for example The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management), the civil societies, youth organisations and municipalities, and also politicians.

I think that for the implementation of Agenda 2030 in Sweden and beyond, SLU has a key role to play. However, we need to raise awareness of the Agenda in our organisation and accelerate our positive impact and contribution to social and environmental sustainability. Even more, I believe that we as a university can make a greater contribution with knowledge, data, advice, innovation and education to support the achievement of the ambitious goals of the Agenda.