Smart Food—labeled good for you, good for the farmer, and good for the planet—are highly nutritious, protein-packed, and climate-smart crops like sorghum, millets, and grain legumes. Many companies combine innovation and these staple crops to offer more nutritious and drought-resistant products to consumers worldwide, but there are a few noteworthy women-led businesses preparing the field for Smart Food.
According to the U.N. Secretary General, António Guterres, “We live in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture.” Women face hurdles that many men do not have to overcome, such as discriminatory laws, regulations, and social norms. However, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes rural women as agents of change in communities. Through their various jobs, including “farmers and farm workers, horticulturists and market sellers, businesswomen, entrepreneurs and community leaders, they fulfill important roles throughout agrifood value chains, as well as in the management of natural resources such as land and water.”
According to the United Nations, women play a critical role in “enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security, and eradicating rural poverty.” Women typically invest more in their communities and families through their businesses, which helps raise entire communities out of poverty. The FAO states, women’s “determination, ingenuity, and success [turn] the challenges of poverty, hunger, and hardship into opportunities for both the economic and social well-being of their families and communities.” Slurrp Farm, Mathesis Engineers, and CropConnect are all women-led businesses that face gender-specific hardships, but overcome these challenges in efforts to bring healthier snacks to the market, empower local farmers, and enhance sustainable supply chains through their individual work.
Meghana Narayan and Shauravi Malik founded Slurrp Farm with no prior experience in the food industry to develop healthy, kid-friendly food products. The Slurrp Farm mission is simple: “to engage children to eat well and make eating [healthy food] fun for them.” They integrate fun flavors with traditional family recipes, creating easy and nourishing food choices. The company designed their products with children in mind and use smiling cartoon animal characters on colorful packages and simple descriptions.
The primary ingredients in Slurrp Farm’s products include finger millet (ragi), foxtail millet, sorghum (jowar), whole wheat flour, oats, green gram (moong), and Indian lentils (daals). All are high in dietary fiber and low on the glycemic index and, as stated on Slurrp Farm’s website, finger millet contains 10 times the calcium of wheat and rice, which is crucial for growing children and adults. Slurrp Farm also maintains that their products are free of preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, stabilizers, and trans fats.
Similarly, Mathesis Engineers uses local grain supplies to add nutrition to people’s daily diets in “ready to eat and ready to make formats.” This company works at the intersection of mathematics, science, and philosophy and established a food products division led by Padmavati Annapurna. Annapurna’s belief that food can act as medicine inspired her to create millet-based snack products, which are also free of any artificial preservatives, colors, and additives.
As a woman entrepreneur and parent, Annapurna faces both challenges and positives in her work. She sees the maternal question, would “we give this to our own children,” as a positive that enhances their “commitment to be honest and supply food that is healthy and hygienic.” On the other hand, family commitments pose a challenge for marketing products and growing the company. Overall, the food products division of Mathesis Engineers aims to not only increase production and export snack products but also to “supply these nutritionally rich foods to the various feeding programs” that help feed people who would otherwise go hungry.
Puneet Jhajharia and Ishira Mehta, founders of CropConnect, kept the entire life of a crop, from farmer to consumer, in mind in creating a company that aims to “increase market access of produce, provide traceability, decrease wastage, and improve farmer incomes.” Jhajharia and Mehta spent the first few years of CropConnect traveling rural India surveying the vast diversity of crops, out of which came their traditional grains and food brand, Original Indian Table. This brand supports farmers growing traditional and drought-resistant crops, like those of Smart Food, by connecting them with interested consumers. By bringing Smart Food crops back into the forefront of the market, Jhajharia and Mehta highlight the importance of resilient crops that “are adapted to the local agro-climatic conditions” and work with the environment to continue production for generations to come.
These are just a few of the women-led businesses that are using Smart Food crops, like sorghum, millet, and grain legumes, to enhance food security, create healthier snacks, and ensure crop resiliency for the future. These companies harness the power of traditional crops to create innovative and easy to eat products while helping farmers work in unison with the environment, displaying “the crucial role of women in development and the need for their participation in decision-making processes to ensure sustainable development.”