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The Next Generation of Business: How Sanku is using IoT to fight malnutrition, helping the children of tomorrow have a brighter future

17 Jan 2020
Iris Meijer

Iris Meijer

Chief Marketing Officer,
Vodafone Business

Felix Brooks-Church

Felix Brooks-Church

Co-Founding President & CEO, Sanku

We often talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) in relation to unlocking new revenue streams, improving efficiency and increasing customer engagement and loyalty, but what about its role beyond the world of business? How could IoT help solve societal problems such as malnutrition, for example.

As part of our Next Generation of Business campaign, which was kick-started at the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker European premiere last month, we wanted to tell the story of three customers that we feel really embody the characteristics of some of our favourite Star Wars characters from the latest film.

Brave, inventive and driven, Sanku is a not-for-profit organisation using IoT to fight malnutrition in East Africa, one flour mill at a time.

Without access to healthy foods, and with every meal primarily starchy flour, many Africans are lacking key vitamins and minerals in their diets which results in children needlessly dying every day.

Focussing on the root of the problem, Sanku created a first-of-its-kind technology, the Sanku dosifier machine.

The dosifier enables small African flour mills to fortify flour with precise amounts of key nutrients during the milling process, guaranteeing that every meal contains life-saving nutrients, bringing an end to malnutrition.

Reaching over 2 million people living in remote and rural communities across East Africa, I caught up with co-founding President and CEO Felix Brooks-Church to discuss how connected solutions have helped improve the fortification process.

Mama Asha smirking and kids eating ugali preview

Image: Mama Asha smirking and kids eating ugali preview

Iris: What first inspired you to address the malnutrition problem in Africa?

Felix: I worked in Cambodia for four years, directing an education centre for at-risk street children, and realised that they were often sick or had learning disabilities and unfortunately several passed away due to preventable illnesses.

I felt that what I was doing was essentially a band aid, and that I wasn’t addressing the root of the problem. This is when I switched my focus to nutrition as a preventative measure, knowing that by preventing health problems before they occur, I would have more of an impact on young lives.

Iris: Tell us more about the impact Sanku has on the communities it serves?

Felix: Beyond hunger, for the individual, adding these critical nutrients to the flour people eat every day will result in a reduction in child deformities, iron deficiency anaemia and stunting in children under 5.

Children are also stronger and able to fight off illness due to an improved immune system.

For the community, the work we do is improving their lives long-term as consumers of the milled nutritious flour are a healthier, smarter and ultimately happier. It also has a direct, positive impact on the economy, improving the businesses of the millers that feed a nation.

On a macro level, micronutrient deficiency related cognitive development issues have been estimated to result in a loss of up to 5% annual GDP in low and middle-income countries, and in $20-$30 billion worth of direct healthcare costs annually. We help reduce this cost indirectly.

Iris: What challenges drove you to get in touch with Vodafone Business?

Felix:  I realised early on that the barriers to small scale fortification included the lack of appropriate technology, the lack of a functional fortification monitoring mechanism and the inability for small scale millers to afford nutrient premix for their flour.

The first challenge was to build an affordable, lightweight, compact machine that was robust enough to handle harsh conditions and continue the process of milling. Furthermore, it had to be a one-size-fits-all technology.

In 2013, the first-of-its-kind machine for small scale fortification was invented and in 2017 we had a problem. We had over one hundred mills spread across Tanzania and we had no idea if these mills were using our dosifier machines correctly unless we drove hours to visit each mill.

We needed a remote monitoring system so I reached out to Vodafone Business knowing that, as a leader in IoT, it had the knowledge and expertise we needed.

Iris: What difference has working with Vodafone Business made to Sanku?

Felix: Thanks to Vodafone’s IoT solution, we were able to install cellular modules into all our dosifiers and now the mill’s production data is stored and then sent via a cellular link to our dashboards every 5 minutes.

This real-time data is also linked to our inventory management system, enabling us to automate flour bag and nutrient premix deliveries, monitor miller compliance, fortification accuracy, reach, and alert us to any dosifier maintenance issues.

Furthermore, this remote monitoring feature allows for a streamlined staffing model, meaning less personnel and vehicles, which is key to our sustainability mission. We are much smarter now, and much more cost-effective as well.

As a purpose-led business, we’re immensely proud to associate ourselves with Sanku and support the amazing work it does, helping the next generation of society to thrive.

With the aim of reaching 3 million people by the end of 2020 and 100 million people by 2025, we’re excited to see what the future of this partnership holds and, with our ability to deliver on a global scale, the future is exciting!

Discover more about how remote monitoring could help propel your business into the next phase, successfully preparing for the future.

Sanku video

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