— AAAS Entrepreneur (@AAAS_Entr) September 18, 2016
AAAS member Musawwir Muhtar is CEO of Morbi+, an Indonesian startup that trains and employs rural women in the production of nutritious biscuits from grasshopper protein and the local moringa oleifera plant.
Musawwir was a finalist in this year’s GIST Tech-I Competition, an annual competition for science and technology entrepreneurs from 135 emerging economies around the world. GIST Tech-I is part of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative and has been implemented by AAAS since 2014.
We asked Musawwir more about how Morbi+ supports United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #2, Zero Hunger. Below is a summary of his responses.
What inspired you to create a nutritious biscuit?
Our social business idea is based on the social problems found in South Sulawesi, Indonesia which are malnutrition problem in children and poverty. We basically want to provide a sustainable solution to alleviate both issues. To achieve this we plan to create community-based business through rural woman empowerment with the hope that in the long run it will impact their income level and livelihood. The locals have nutritious indigenous resources of moringa oleifera (we call it daun Kelor in Bahasa), which is high in protein. Yet not many people are aware of the plant, so it is left under-utilized. We want to utilize moringa oleifera by processing it into a food product: a nutritious biscuit. We chose this approach because Indonesian children are familiar with biscuit or cookie-like snacks and we don't want to change the cultural eating habit. Thus, it will help to provide the children the access to more nutritious food. The unemployed rural women in Maros will be the one who work to produce the biscuit and they will earn the money for living from it.
When did you decide to take your idea to the next stage and form Morbi+?
I decided to take my idea to the next stage in 2015 when I was a volunteer in one of the villages in South Sulawesi’s health center. Through the experience, I gained a firsthand understanding of the common nutritional challenges faced in villages and how moringa can play a role in helping to address a few of those challenges.
What is the connection between addressing malnutrition and promoting female empowerment?
UNICEF has said that the major cause of nutritional deficiency and malnutrition lies mainly on the multi-dimensional issue of poverty. Poverty makes it difficult for a family to fulfill the nutritional needs of children under the age of five. Thus, malnutrition and poverty are highly linked and form a locked-in cycle. This is indeed highly relevant to malnutrition cases in Indonesia. In fact, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2015 stated that the numbers of poor people reached 28.59 million people nationally and in the city of Maros poverty affects 14.62% of the 319,000 residents. A participatory community-based business model will include local rural women as the key partner to be trained to domestically cultivate moringa oleifera and processes it into its dry form. Morbi+ enterprise buys the supply of dry powder and other ingredients from local suppliers. Local rural women are also employed to make the biscuit and the process can easily be taught.
What’s next for Morbi+?
Right now, I am working to improve the biscuit’s flavor and appearance since moringa gives a slightly bitter taste and dark colors to the final product, and I am also finalizing the product packaging. We will conduct sensory testing within the end of this month in our target market. Besides that, we are also working on the massive cultivation of moringa oleifera plant conducted in Maros, South Sulawesi. Regarding the cultivation issues, we are getting the help from a company in the Netherlands (Keygene) specializing in plant breeding, genetics, and seeding. We are also still looking for funding to help us take our project to the next step.
For more information on Morbi+, visit www.facebook.com/morbiplus.