Team Nexus, from University of Nairobi, wins Unilever’s ‘The Great Millet Quest’ contest




Unilever, in partnership with Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) and the University of Nairobi, has announced the winner of “The Great Millet Quest.” Launched in January 2024, the competition challenged university students to unleash their creativity and develop sustainable, innovative products centered around millet, a highly nutritious and drought-resistant grain.

In 2023, the United Nations declared the year as the Year of Millet – an opportunity to raise awareness of the multiple benefits of millet, from nutrition and health to environmental sustainability and economic development. This also helps accelerate SDG Goal 2, which is tseo achieve food security and improved nutrition, end hunger, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.

(TOP: University of Nairobi’s Team Nexus members pose with their dummy cheque after winning The Great Millet Quest sponsored by Unilever. BELOW: The first runners-up, Team Kalmi).

University of Nairobi’s Team Nexus emerged as the winner, highlighting their product: Milcracks. These healthy, probiotic-infused crackers are made from millet and essential seeds served as a standalone snack or breakfast. Milcracks aim to combat micronutrient deficiencies. They secured the top prize of Kshs 500,000. The first runners-up, Team Kalmi, developed a precooked, ready-to-eat puffed millet product, earning them Kshs 250,000 while the second runners-up, Team SoyMill, created Soy Mill Noodles and were awarded Kshs 100,000.

“The Government introduced the Flour Blending Initiative in 2021, which is informed by Kenya’s growing concern of the predominantly consumed high energy-based diets that commonly lead to ‘hidden hunger’. The main goal of this flour blending push is to make underutilized crops more value-chain competitive, improve nutrition and create employment opportunities. The crops targeted for this initiative are sorghum, cassava, millet, and sweet potatoes which can be locally available to be blended with either maize or wheat,” said Agriculture CS Mithika Linturi, in a speech read on his behalf by Calistas Kundu, Director Food Crops at the ministry.

“Millet is a nutritional powerhouse, resilient to adverse climatic conditions, making it ideal for smallholder farmers. These student innovations demonstrate millet’s potential for creating a healthier, more sustainable future. We are committed to supporting these ideas, driving sustainable growth, and making a lasting impact on our communities and environment,” said Unilever CEO, Luck Ochieng

The Great Millet Quest aims to unlock the untapped potential of millet, fostering its role as a primary grain in Kenya’s agricultural landscape. By promoting the use of climate-resilient crops, the competition directly addresses the challenges posed by climate change and contributes to national food security.

“Millet, with its rich nutritional profile, holds the potential to address both food security and nutritional needs in Kenya’s rapidly expanding population. Its adaptability and versatility position it as a valuable crop for sustainable agriculture. Through partnerships with Unilever and the education sector, we aim to unlock its untapped potential and create a healthier, more resilient future,” said George Njoroge, FtMA Kenya Country Coordinator

Millet, known as a “Nutri-cereal,” is packed with essential vitamins, minerals (such as iron and calcium), protein, antioxidants, and starch resistance. Its resilience to adverse climatic conditions, including drought, heat, and pests, makes it an ideal agricultural value chain for smallholder farmers. It requires minimal inputs, such as water and fertilizer, and can thrive in diverse environments, including low and high altitudes.

“Changing the food ecosystem requires creating demand for sustainable ingredients like millet. This will require exciting marketing, collaboration, and tenacity. Unilever’s Great Millet Quest project embodies this effort. Partnering with FtMA, we have trained over 800 farmers in regenerative agriculture, aligning with Unilever’s Net Zero pathway. Youth involvement in innovation is crucial for a sustainable future, and this initiative empowers them to protect and shape it,” said Dexter Adeola, Africa Platform Lead, Nutrition.

KIRDI Director General Dr Calvin Onyango – centre – awards second runners-up, Team SoyMill, who created Soy Mill Noodles and were awarded Kshs 100,000 in the Great Millet Quest competition that unveiled the winners at a ceremony held on Friday, June 21, 2024 at Radisson Blu.

Millet stands as a beacon of sustainability in Kenya and Africa. Its rich nutritional content, adaptability to diverse climates, and minimal resource requirements make it a valuable crop for smallholder farmers. Unlocking its untapped potential will ensure food security, improved livelihoods, and a resilient agricultural future.

“Developing our millet crackers fortified with probiotics has been an incredible journey. We’re not just excited about this win, we’re passionate about the opportunity it presents to innovate and make a real difference in Kenya’s food landscape. We’re eager to collaborate with Unilever and the wider organization to bring our millet crackers to market. We believe this product has the potential to revolutionize snacking in Kenya, offering a nutritious and sustainable option for everyone,” Team Nexus said after their win.

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