Original text by Jared Yarnall-Schane, updated by Thought For Food

Fixing Solvable Problems Through Impactful Innovation

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the apparent problems. It seems like every news outlet is portraying the world as a place that continues to get worse. The opposite is true, in fact. We live in one of the most peaceful and equal times modern civilization has ever experienced. However, there is still much work to be done. Instead of focusing on these large societal problems that the media brings to light, it is important to focus on solvable problems that affect a huge number of people on a daily basis.

Thought For Food’s call to action is, “How will we feed 10 billion by the year 2050?” This is what activates and unites our community, and together we are moving to a world that is more food secure for all. However, this movement cannot progress without people solving problems within their own communities. We call these problems “bugs.”

Bugs are not societal problems, such as the 3.1 million children that die from malnutrition a year. This is a tremendous issue, but attempting to solve such a large problem likely won’t get you anywhere. Instead, it is important to find a bug.

For example, maybe the children in your community are suffering from Vitamin A deficiency. If only there was a way to create more nutritious versions of the food you already consume – this was Sweetpot Yoghurt‘s idea, and they are continuing to develop this!

Similarly, Lucky Iron Fish created a new cultural practice of placing a piece of iron into smallholder farmers’ cooking pots. The actual product is shaped like a fish, which is the symbol for luck in Cambodia – a country where iron deficiency is one of the largest health problems. While other options exist to solve the problem of iron deficiency, the bug was that these other solutions are not culturally appropriate and could not be integrated into the community. Both of these solutions solve a bug, and in turn, help to address the problem of children dying from malnutrition.

So, now that you understand what a bug is, how do you find them? At TFF, we call this Hunting For Bugs. There is no one right way to do this, but there are several techniques you can use to identify a bug you wish to address. Here are some of our choice strategies:

Research 

Think about the overarching societal issues that you have no idea how to approach. Maybe you are frustrated by the deforestation happening in your home country. You start doing research and identify the leading causes of this deforestation. In many cases, it is probably due to cattle grazing or palm oil production. Perhaps you are interested in palm oil, so you start to understand why people are using it, and find that it is a high-quality oil used in nearly 50% of products bought in the grocery store. You focus on food products and find it is one of the lowest cost oils of its kind on the market. This is a bug for producers – they want high-quality oil at a low price. If you can find a way to create an oil that outperforms palm oil at a lower price, you are solving a bug and taking on one aspect of deforestation. This was the bug that Biteback Insect Oil solved last year!

Reflection

Think about some bugs in your own life. We have all thrown away food because it had spoiled – why did that happen? Did we forget we had the food? Was it stored improperly? Was the fruit overripe when you bought it? Continue to ask why (do it five times for each of these questions) and you will find yourself closer to identifying a bug.

Immersion

The best way to understand a challenge someone else is facing is to immerse yourself in their way of life. Are you interested in helping farmers become more sustainable? Find a way to go and work or volunteer on a farm. By understanding the positives & negatives a farmer experiences and how a farm operates, you can start to identify problems. Maybe you will find that farmers don’t compost because they don’t have the appropriate tractor attachment. There is a bug – by solving this challenge (maybe it’s making an affordable attachment, maybe it’s creating a farm composting service) you are addressing a bug that helps create a more sustainable farm.

Finally, to help you on your hunt, the TFF community has identified some pesky bugs. Take a look below for some inspiration on a bug to tackle, or on finding a bug of your own.

Here are a few essential bugs that need fixing

  • Small scale livestock farmers are not aware of how environmental conditions affect production.
  • How can a producer predict crop yields on a per plant basis?
  • It’s nearly impossible for an extension officer to visit every smallholder farm. How can people get the information they need, when they need it?
  • In many cities, the only affordable food is prepackaged snacks and soda.
  • A fruit that people love in your country can only be grown in tropical areas. Is there a way to grow that food closer to home?

Once you have identified some bugs, sign up for the 2019 TFF Challenge at www.tffdigitallabs.org/signup to start developing your idea!