The Coating+ team of biochemists Albert Kure, Basheer Balogun, Lukman Abdulwahab and Suleiman Alakanse winning the 2018 Thought For Food Grand Prize. Jelmer de Haas

Nigerian biotech startup Coating+ has won the top prize of $10,000 at the 2018 Food for Thought Summit in Rio de Janeiro for their innovative idea on food preservation.

The biotech group based in the University of Ilorin developed a transparent gelatinous coating that is sprayed onto fresh fruit and vegetables to prolong their shelf life.

The product is made using a combination of chitosan – a sugar which can be extracted from shrimp shells – along with soy protein and micronutrients, and its preservation qualities are set to save farmers money on unsold produce.

The group had set out to solve three problems in the country.

In Nigeria, the aquaculture industry makes up a significant portion of the nation’s industry. With over 100,000 metric tons of fish being produced annually, the industry creates both wealth for the economy and a sizeable amount of shrimp shell waste.

Globally, 32 per cent of food produced goes to waste – enough food to feed 1.6billion people. In Nigeria alone, over ₦28.4billion is lost in the tomato market. It’s one thing to say we need to produce more food to feed the world, but an effort must also go into saving what we already have.

Malnutrition – in particular, micronutrient deficiency and protein-energy malnutrition – is a huge issue in some parts of Africa. Thirty-five percent of children under the age of 5 are stunted, and 24% are underweight due to lack of nutrient intake in their food and drink.

Coating+ is focusing on using the spray on fruit and vegetables that don’t require peeling – such as tomatoes and grapes – so that the nutritional value of the coating is also consumed.

The company was born out of a group of biochemistry master’s students at the University of Ilorin. Albert Kure, one of the five team members working to get Coating+ to market, pitched the innovative solution to the 2018 Thought For Food Summit judges, and brought the team to victory, bringing home $10,000 to complete their NAFDAC registration and automate the coating process for farmers.

The idea of harnessing biotech to preserve fruit and veg isn’t unique to Coating+, however. Apeel, using a plant-based material, and Cambridge Crops, basing their material on silk, are two U.S.-based startups looking to solve a similar problem. But as Kure pointed out on stage, neither company has current plans to take their product to Africa – and the Nigerian market is already yearning for a solution.

It’s worth pointing out that the $10,000 Coating+ won is enough to power the team through their final stages of development to market by the end of 2018 – an impressively low sum in the world of biotechnology in agriculture.

Thought For Food is a global food and agriculture competition with an annual summit formally held in Europe – this year, their startup academy and pitching competition took place in Rio de Janeiro and involved entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe.

Many of the finalists were in need of comparatively small sums of money to get to commercialization stage, highlighting the opportunity that lies in early-stage localized solutions to country-by-country problems.

For Coating+ it’s not just the money that will propel their business – the award puts them in front of the international food and agriculture community, opening up the opportunity for corporate partnerships and other such inbound interests entrepreneurs in startup-heavy localities are more used to.

Kure commented shortly after the win: “This has been so much work, and getting recognized for that work on such an International platform is so huge for us.”

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