Together We Can Resolve The Nutritional Paradox

Solution 2: Sustainable nutrient-rich supply

Janelle Limqueco, Innovations Manager, NamZ Pte Ltd

Integrating more nutritious crops in sustainable farming systems


At the Breakthrough Experience Event, 2019 held on May 7 to 10, 2019, local and international senior leaders from diverse backgrounds gathered to collaborate and strategize on resolving the quadruple burden of hunger, obesity, micronutrient deficiencies, and the destruction of our planet caused by our food system – the Nutritional Paradox.

Six areas were identified as key levers to changing our food system, one of which is leveraging on a Sustainable Nutrient-Rich Supply in order to:

  1. To achieve a more nutritious food produced in a more sustainable farming system
  2. To integrate nutritional crops into the current system
  3. To create incentives for farmers and relevant partners in producing high nutrient crops

The problem

A staggering 75% of our calories come from just 12 crops and 5 animals, leading to:

  • reduced diversity in our nutrition,
  • crops (and animals) that are vulnerable to climate volatility, pests, and diseases, and
  • farmers with limited choices of crops to grow

300,000 plants are actually potentially fit for consumption, so there is a great opportunity for us to eat a greater variety of crops!

What are these crops and animals that you speak of?

Using the latest available data from the FAO database, here are the 12 crops and 5 animals we rely on the most:

Why does it matter?

Relying on a few crops for food poses challenges to our health, our food supply, and the farmers who grow them.

Our health 

Go to the supermarket and you will probably find the top 4 crops (wheat, sugarcane, and rice, and corn) in majority of the products on the shelves. These crops are carbohydrate-rich and protein-poor. Fibre and micronutrients are often removed during food processing, leaving us with mostly calorie-dense food products.

Our food supply

Paradoxically, the system that allowed us to have plenty of food today could be the very system that threatens our food supply. As we pursued maximizing yields, diversity of crops have shrunk into single, standardized varieties that allowed for economies of scale. History shows us the dangers of relying on single varieties of crops. Between 1845 to 1849, 20 to 25% of the Irish died from the Irish Potato Famine when a potato blight wiped out potato crops all over the country. More recently, our supply of bananas is being threatened by the Panama disease that is killing banana plants from Asia to Africa because of our heavy reliance on a single banana variety, the Cavendish – 99% of exported bananas and half of all produced worldwide are Cavendish. Diseases, pests, and a volatile climate can all threaten the viability of our food supply.

Our farmers

In our increasingly consolidated modern food system, retailers and manufacturers hold significant power and leverage, dictating the types of crops that farmers should grow. After all, relying on only a few crops as raw ingredients simplifies inventory management and supply chains. With only a few crops in demand, many farmers are left with no choice but to grow these crops and be subject to more intense competition with other farmers, leading to devastatingly low returns enough to dissuade young farmers from continuing with farming.

The Solution

A Sustainable Nutrient-Rich Supply needs to provide more nutritious food/agricultural commodities produced through a more sustainable farming system.

This is reached through a 4-stage continuous process:

  1. Identify potential target foods/ingredients by cataloguing all relevant farming and processing systems
  2. Screening these targets for economic & environmental sustainability whilst assessing nutrient qualities under various downstream processes
  3. Identifying the suitable pathway for uptake (for example ingredient integration vs. replacement)
  4. Uptake of the outcome through specific Farmer/Behavioral incentives


Critical success factors

  1. Credible definition of a balanced nutritional diet
  2. Economic feasibility
  3. Sustainable environmental & socio-economic systems
  4. Stakeholders willing to engage
  5. Effective risk mitigation