50 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) around the world have been announced as the ‘Best Small Businesses’ of the ‘Good Food for All ‘ competition, held in conjunction with the UN Food Systems Summit.

Selected from nearly 2,000 applications from 135 countries, the 50 winners all showcase “inspiring, diverse, and impactful solutions” in improving access to healthy, sustainable food. 

They will also share $100,000 in cash prizes.

Dr. Agnes Kalibata, special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the 2021 Food Systems Summit said: “Small businesses are the hidden heroes of our food systems, managing at least half of our food economies and keeping food on our plates throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We must understand the challenges they face, and work together to ensure they remain at the heart of efforts to improve the future of food.”

Winners at UN food summit

Each winner was selected for how their business contributes to healthier, more sustainable and equitable food for the communities they serve; the strength of their vision for the future; and how well they communicate the current and future impact of their business.

Winners come from a total of 42 countries, including from Europe and Central Asia (10); Africa and Middle East (13); East Asia and Pacific (10); South Asia (8); and North and Latin America (9).

Cherrie Atilano, food systems champion and founder of Philippine agri-business AGREA said: “These food entrepreneurs are quiet revolutionaries. 

“They operate in the toughest markets, having a real impact on rural poverty and hunger.

“Despite this, they are too rarely given a voice on the international stage. With a conducive business environment, positive incentives, and greater influence, they can deliver even more in the future,” she added.

Many enterprises are innovating and scaling solutions for nutrition and sustainability, from an Israeli company producing chickpea protein powder, to an Italian start-up replacing plastic packaging with edible, bio-based natural polymers and a Chinese enterprise promoting healthier diets by offering monk fruit alternatives to sugar.

Image: Food Nation NZ

Small and medium-sized businesses

In Nigeria, an inclusive and efficient commodities market is facilitating trade across the region.

“We plan to facilitate trade with Africa worth over $500 million in the next five years,” revealed Nathaniel Etim, head of strategy and Finance for AFEX Commodities Exchange.

Ensuring resilience to shocks like Covid-19 and climate change will be key for future food systems, according to organisers of the pre-summit.

In Canada, Woolley’s Lambs has introduced silvo-pastoralism to enable sheep to graze on cover crops below their orchard trees to improve carbon sequestration.

Regenerative agriculture and valuing the ancestral knowledge of indigenous people in an area severely affected by deforestation, is key to the ethos of Peruvian enterprise, Naturally Divine.

Economic opportunities for women, youth and other marginalised groups are central to the work of a number of winning SMEs, including a Colombian company that helps women growers market their own coffee brands, and the first Bulgarian zero waste restaurant employing underprivileged youth.

“Our restaurant food is 95% locally grown; we compost all waste, including from our neighbourhood. Our vision is to spread the message so more and more people in Bulgaria act on zero waste,” according to Blaghichka founder Blazhka Dimitrova.

Better future for food

The competition organisers said that all winning businesses demonstrate a fervent passion for educating their communities about a better future for food.

A Bolivian restaurant trains young chefs to value Bolivia’s food heritage and promote healthy diets.

In Nepal, urban consumers are connected to more than 10,000 farmers through an e-commerce digital platform. 

“It is high-time to redefine the food systems of Nepal and beyond,” explained DV Excellus co-founder of Tulsi Giri.

The competition winners were announced alongside a new report, based on a global survey of these businesses’ ambition and needs.

The report outlines three critical pathways for supporting small businesses in realising their full promise: creating more conducive business environments; offering more positive incentives; and empowering small business leaders to have greater influence in sector planning.