Euglena-Fortified Cassava (EFC) Foods in Nigeria

EFC Program

The goal of this work is to design a program that would introduce euglena-based ingredients and food products into Nigeria, and eventually, the entire African food market, and to validate sustainable deployment models that increase food security, reduce malnutrition, and improve the climate impact of food production. This technology can leverage the abundant starch resources available in developing countries and upcycle them into value added food products, livestock supplements and bio-fertilizers, thus creating additional production value and market opportunities for essential farmers and food enterprises in these regions.

Program Background

In 2020, estimates show that 346.6 million people in Africa faced severe food insecurity, an almost 20% increase from 2019. Africa’s growing food insecurity is coupled with widespread micronutrient deficiencies and other nutrition-related health issues such as obesity and stunting. In Nigeria, despite being Africa’s largest economy with the fastest growing population; 48% of the population still live in extreme poverty and are significantly affected by nutritional deficiencies and food insecurity. The added threat of climate change has only increased food insecurity across Africa. Noblegen, together with Resourced, recognizes the global need for change within our food systems but appreciates that current approaches may not support the paradigm shift necessary to create a healthier, more equitable future for all.

Program partner, Noblegen has unlocked the potential of the microorganism, Euglena gracilis (Euglena), as an environmental and nutritional resource with endless applications. Euglena presents an opportunity to help developing nations strengthen their food systems while addressing nutritional deficiencies and food security. Euglena can enrich the nutritional profile of traditional African foods, without altering the familiar taste, texture and cooking characteristics. Additionally, Euglena can grow on (and de-contaminate) many food-processing and agricultural waste streams (e.g., cassava processing waste) to produce higher value end products for use in products such as animal feed or biofertilizer.

Program Vision

As the largest agricultural commodity in the fastest growing population in Africa, the cassava value chain in Nigeria represents huge potential. At the same time, this production system still suffers from significant challenges and bottlenecks. Cassava is the largest crop by volume produced (up to 60M tons annually). Gari (fermented cassava) alone represents as much as 20% of total food energy in many Nigerian households. However, Gari production wastes roughly 20% of the total volume, equivalent to 10-15M tons a year, in the form of peels, flesh and small/unusual tubers. The waste from cassava processing facilities poses a significant threat to human health and the environment. Water collected from a well located near a cassava processing site was found to have cyanide levels of 7.6 mg/L, which is 76x the acceptable standard put forth by the WHO (0.1 mg/L). Chronic exposure to cyanide in humans can result in a variety of negative health effects such as permanent paralysis, nervous system lesions, liver and kidney damage, and miscarriages to name just a few. Euglena has the ability to act as a bioremediating organism and effectively utilize heavily polluting waste streams from cassava processing sites as a nutrient source for biomass growth; simultaneously producing high value, nutrient-dense products for use across many industries.
Traditional staple foods in Nigeria such as cassava, rice, maize, and yam – all carbohydrate-heavy cereals, roots, and tubers; account for 67-73% of caloric intake. Approximately 40% of these staple foods are lost as food waste before they reach consumers in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially cassava, with a shelf life of only 48 hours for fresh tubers. In addition, these carbohydrate-rich foods contain little to no dietary fat, protein, or micronutrients, meaning they are calorically dense, but nutrient deficient. As a result, 48% of the Nigerian population still live in extreme poverty and are significantly affected by nutritional deficiencies and food insecurity. There is an immediate opportunity to introduce Euglena based food products and ingredients as a nutrient source into the food system in Nigeria to dramatically improve the nutritional status of its population. The incidence of disease caused by undernutrition and prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies will inevitably decrease with the introduction of Euglena-based products into this growing market due to the various high-value metabolites, such as amino acids, vitamins, fats, and paramylon (Beta- 1,3 glucan) found in Euglena biomass.

Utilizing Noblegen’s innovative cellular food solutions, this project aims to address the key challenges by:

  • Piloting euglena-fortified cassava foods to provide new and nutritious alternatives for starchy staple
    traditional foods
  • Conducting pilot research that lays the groundwork for growing local production capacity of
    euglena-based ingredients and foods
  • Assessing substitution of fermentation feedstocks with local materials, including cassava starch
    and waste streams, to maximize crop utilization and reduce diffusion of toxic byproducts (as possible; contingent upon securing additional funding)

    Noblegen’s robust production technology offers the ability to geographically tailor their processes to incorporate regionally sourced inputs (e.g., waste from cassava processing activities) and adjust final products to accommodate local tastes and nutritional needs. Through the utilization of existing commercial facilities in North America, as well as repurposing global assets, the decentralized supply chain model being proposed offers the freedom to enter and evolve with regional markets in a cost-effective and environmentally conscious manner, by simply installing and/or retrofitting additional fermentation tanks and downstream processing equipment as needed to meet growing demand in each region. Minimal training is required to operate the proprietary production process, which can also be managed remotely. The ability to expand as needed and remotely operate production decreases risk of production losses, costs, and inconsistencies, and offers an uninterrupted, reliable year-round food supply anywhere in the world. The vision of this work is to make biotechnology accessible to all and most importantly, put it into the hands of those who can benefit most from it.

    Commonly referred to as the ‘Hidden Hunger’, micronutrient deficiencies have some of the highest prevalence in African nations. These include deficiencies in iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin B. In addition, insufficient consumption of protein is also an ongoing problem in developing nations, such as Nigeria. Many diets within these countries are not only deficient in the amount of protein, but also in the quality of the protein being consumed. Euglena cultivation produces a high quality multi-functional ingredient which contains complete protein, amino acids, fats, vitamins and Beta-1,3-glucan. Euglena protein is highly digestible, with a PDCAAS score of 0.97-1.0; and contains all essential amino acids. Noblegen can drastically improve the nutrient profile of traditional foods, specifically cassava-based products through the direct inclusion of nutritionally rich Euglena flour into the final food product, or by incorporating live Euglena culture directly into the traditional fermentation process.

Key Deliverables and Outputs

  • Using imported Noblegen produced Euglena-PRF, develop a fortified gari/HQCF product with increased protein and micronutrient content
  • Forecast changes in cost of fortified HQCF/gari ($/kg) to enable price comparison with currently available fortified gari products (e.g. Super Gari or other comparable products)
  • Complete growth media composition analysis to support localization and switchover of nutrients and growth substrates for euglena flour production in Nigeria
  • Identified commercial and manufacturing integration pathways to scale processing and product uptake with in-field partners, including facilities assessment and requirements design (methodology scale-back to technical transfer strategy; full re-design contingent upon securing additional funding)
  • Validate market acceptance and demand for traditional food products enriched with Euglena ingredients (both processors and customers)
  • Complete market landscaping and pricing analysis to build the business case for EFC foods, including assessment of animal feed applications and institutional (e.g. school feeding programs) channels as part of the market entry strategy (focus on food market; animal feed and institutional as possible, contingent upon securing additional funding)
  • Assessment of functional characteristics such as organoleptic and cooking qualities for use in further optimization processes; product design adjustment to reflect local evaluations (contingent upon securing additional funding)
  • Plan for establishing regional Euglena flour manufacturing capacity co-located with existing cassava processing facilities to produce full-cycle fortified cassava foods (gari and HQCF)

Program Outcomes

This project will pilot euglena-fortified cassava foods in Nigeria and assess the potential for commercial uptake and production capacity scaling to manufacture euglena-based ingredients and foods locally. In the long run, the strategic objectives are: (i) improved nutritional security and (ii) reduced malnutrition and health challenges for poor and vulnerable people, as well as (iii) improved environmental impact for local food production. This work will lay the foundation for expanded future initiatives that realize those objectives.

The Primary Outcomes for this initial phase are:

  • Proven viability of EFC Foods to enhance nutrition of cassava staples
  • Business case built for commercial scale-up of local manufacturing capacity of EC Foods

In partnership with