DUBAI: A world without hunger? A planet where no man, woman or child goes hungry? It’s a possibility that deserves to be pursued and many efforts are under way across the globe to make this happen and right here in the UAE, the Expo 2020 Dubai’s Expo Live programme, a partnership endeavour that harnesses $100 million (Dh367 million) to help improve people’s lives and preserve the planet, is having a tremendous impact internationally. Till date, the Expo Live partnership has benefited 120 grantees from across the globe. Gulf News speaks to two international enterprises who have made a huge leap in realising their ambitions to improve people’s lives thanks to the Expo Live grant.

JAPAN: Marugohan by Second Harvest

Completing the circle of food and giving back to the community

In a country that generates about 4 to 6 metric million tons of food waste annually and 20 million people live below the poverty line, how does an individual make a difference?

Let’s hear it from Charles McJilton, founder and CEO of Second Harvest Japan (Marugohan). Second Harvest is the first nationwide food bank in Japan that receives help from a swathe of entities, corporate donors and individuals.

“We collect food from a wide variety of resources and distribute them either in a B to B model — agencies, non-profits — or B to C, where we deliver directly to householders,” says McJilton.

What is Marugohan?

“It means Circle of Food (maru = circle and gohan = food). It was incorporated in 2002 and since 2003, has been providing food to people,” he says.

How Marugohan was born

“We discovered that there is a reticence, a reluctance, on behalf of the people in Japan to receive aid,” says McJilton. How could that be overcome?

“So a year ago, we were discussing this and there were two of us and a Japanese person in the room and he gave us an idea — ongaishi, which means, to give back,” says McJilton. “I resonated with the word because when I give presentations in Japan about what we do, why we do it, I use that word and

I see the audience nod as if to say ‘I get it’.”

Launched a year ago, it was serendipitous that “when the Expo Live application came through, it dovetailed to ask for funding to take it to the next level. Expo Live funding really helped us accomplish that,” says McJilton.

Why Marugohan is so appealing

“Marugohan will create a virtuous cycle in which people will give back as they receive food assistance. Each time someone takes home food, he or she will make a commitment to do something good [by paying it forward].

The operating principles of Marugohan are based on three easy steps:

1. Write a letter to the government/founder/stakeholder/food donor telling them what the programme means to them.

2. Volunteer time.

3. Bring someone down, introduce someone to Marugohan, tell someone about us.

Why food loss and hunger are not related

It is important, McJilton says, to make the distinction between food loss and hunger. “Even though we emotionally connect to hunger, the two issues are separate problems and require separate solutions.

“Food loss is a natural by-product of our market system. We are never going to go to zero. There are 165 definitions for food loss in the world. So if you say 1/3rd of the food is being wasted, what definition is it based on?”

Discussion about food waste/food loss will be much more productive if we look at it from the perspective of what we can do with our limited resources, and as companies will tell you food waste/loss begins and ends with the consumer, says McJilton. “It’s about preference.”

Food safety net is more doable

“Let’s make a food safety net,” says McJilton. It is analogous to having, for example, a health safety net in society. When his baby daughter needed a heart surgery, the Japan’s health care system made it available to him, free of cost.

“So, in Japan, if you fall sick, you know you have health care. That gives you peace of mind,” he says.

The same principle applies to a food safety net.

“Even if you yourself don’t need food, you will go to sleep knowing everyone in your country has access to food,” he says. “With that, people feel proud, connected, they feel good even though they do not personally know those who are going hungry.”

“There is a financial component to it,” says McJilton. “In the food that is collected and made available [forward], there’s a value of money that is ploughed back into the community. If Second Harvest did not exist, that amount of money would not have gone back into the community. What was an economic waste at one end becomes an economic plus on the other.”

‘How Expo Live helped us’

“Expo Live helped us to go from an idea to the [certainty] that, ‘We are going to make this happen,” says McJilton.

GHANA: Unique Quality Product Enterprise

How a tiny seed brought about a big transformation

It can grow anywhere, everywhere. It can grow come flood or drought. It can grow on lands that have been abandoned because they are no longer fertile. It needs little water. Grow it for three years, it will even regenerate the land on which it grew. Plus, it is packed with nutrients.

Give a big hand to fonio, a tiny, humble, seed from the millet family that is transforming the lives of women in northern Ghana, who were for long on the margins of a social system that offered them little help, thanks to the efforts of one woman.

“Basically what we are doing is reviving a wild cereal that went extinct in northern Ghana for about eight decades, to solve the problem of land access for women,” says Salma Abdulai, founder and CEO of Unique Quality Product Enterprise.

Abdulai is engaging women to be the most important stakeholders in the food value chain, “to be able to make an income and improve their livelihoods, whilst adding value to the cereal.”

Why shouldn’t land belong to women too?

“We have the traditional challenge in northern Ghana because of our inheritance system,” says Abdulai. “It is a challenge we all grew up with. The land goes from son to son. It makes it impossible for a woman to have access to land.”

Abdulai grew up witnessing the challenges. “My mom would tell me how they used to do menial jobs, just to make an income, on men’s fields. She used to say every time, ‘If only 
I had one acre, I could a lot with this’.”

Hardships however often nurture within them the seeds of opportunity, and fonio was that seed.

Birth of an idea

“We have a lot of land in Ghana that the men have used and left as those lands are no longer fertile,” says Abdulai. And she also was aware that fonio can grow anywhere. The idea for her enterprise was born. If women can grow fonio on the land that the men no longer wanted, it would be the start of their own engagement with land, and empowerment.

“If we can grow it and ... it can solve the problem that my mother went through and so many other women now need not go through ... that is the passion that drives me,” says Abdulai. “I went to meet the chief [of the community], who is a learnt man, he was a teacher, and I know that in that community, the women have no land to farm and even the land that was not being put to use, the men were not willing to release it to them.”

But Abdulai refused to budge.

“It took me two days ... I said I was not taking a no for an answer, and the chief said, ‘This lady is very, very strong and I want to get rid of her’. So he gave 10 acres for the women [to farm].”

It was the start of the Unique Quality Product Enterprise. The year: 2013. They started with 10 women. It was a pilot project and “the women did really well,” says Abdulai.

Today, her enterprise sells fonio to schools, markets and supermarkets. “We have 100,000 customers,” says Abdulai. They also export fonio to US, Canada and Italy. “And now we want to start looking at the UAE, and the Gulf region,” she says.

Is fonio the new superfood?

Yes, according to Abdulai. “It is packed with nutrients. It has folic acid for pregnant women, iron for children. It’s for the health-conscious, for those who want to reduce weight and eat high fibre.” The seed expands on cooking, “so a small quantity makes you full,” says Abdulai. You can use it in salads, beverages, make bread, toss it into stews, the possibilities are endless.

‘How Expo Live helped us’

“Expo Live is not just giving me money, they are giving me connections,” says Abdulai. “And the networking is great.”

Connections, she says, are more valuable than money. “That’s what is scaling up because scaling up means being in other regions and territories that need your services. Through Expo Live, I have been able to get to someone in Nigeria. “The opportunities Expo Live has given us are limitless. We only need to be able to take advantage of them.”