Written by Gianna Bonis Profumo and Sonia Massari

A dream is becoming reality, thanks to the tenacity of one young woman and the support of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation.

The Barilla Center is an innovative food think tank and research center, who, for four years, has been investing in young researchers and their abilities to find new, healthier, more sustainable solutions for our planet.

Gianna Bonis-Profumo is passionate about food and nutrition security issues, specifically those affecting women and indigenous populations. For over five years, she has been involved in food security projects, working in Aboriginal communities with the Australian Red Cross, and in multiple permaculture and sustainable food production initiatives. As part of her Master of Development Studies program, she wrote a research paper on nutrition-sensitive agricultural development in Southeast Asia.

Permaculture is a design science, an applied design practice where systems thinking meets sustainability considerations.

She also had experience living at Milkwood Permaculture Farm. It looks at a situation, problem or object as a whole, as a system that is intrinsically interrelated through a variety of relationships. “Such an approach is the one I applied to develop my Food and Nutrition Hub project idea,” says Gianna. She submitted this idea as a proposal to BCFN’s Young Earth Solutions! competition. Each year, ten finalists are selected from hundreds of student submissions from around the world. Gianna was the winner of 2014 BCFN YES! Competition

“This project allowed me to unite my passion for food and nutrition security with women´s empowerment and sustainable agriculture techniques.”--Gianna Bonis-Profumo

It proposes a simple yet effective solution to address malnutrition among the rural poor populations of Southeast Asia.

By enhancing the sustainable production of nutritious food at the household level and by teaching adequate feeding practices, the Food and Nutrition Hub improves the dietary intake of women and children. The Hub is a community resource center where integrated vegetable and poultry production techniques are taught and demonstrated, in combination with nutrition education activities.

Image Credit: EcoFilms
Image Credit: EcoFilms

A chicken tractor? "Relax. Chickens can't drive tractors. But, their bottomless houses, called chicken tractors, can be moved around the garden so their poop can deposited in different places.

In order to ensure the nutrition density of produce, chicken enclosures are rotated across garden beds and the soil is fertilized with their nitrogen-rich manure. Protein-rich insects are bred as a poultry supplementary feed by using food waste. Utilizing “chicken tractors” is a well-known permaculture technique. It takes advantage of the characteristic tendencies of chickens – scratching the ground looking for grubs, taking dust baths, or seeking protection from predators - to support pest control, manuring and the preparation of soil between harvests.

The garden bed provides food and a place for dust bathing, while the chickens give nitrogen-rich manure fertilizer, as they work the ground in search of grubs and dirt. The interconnectedness of both elements, the chicken and the vegetable plot, allows mutual support of each one’s needs while also attaining sustainability objectives - using natural fertilizers and minimal tillage.

Photo Credit: Robyn Alders
Photo Credit: Robyn Alders

Moreover, this system supports egg production and chicken husbandry by providing housing and protection. Through further training, participants learn better animal health care practices. Increasing the availability of eggs at the household level is a key focus of the project because, in comparison to killing a bird, eggs usually come in a hygienic package that requires minimal processing. They are also a high quality source of protein packed with micronutrients. These characteristics make eggs an adequate animal-source food for children and for preventing malnutrition using a food-based approach. Particularly important is that eggs are a culturally acceptable food in Asia.

Women are the main participants because they not only care for vegetable gardens and small livestock, they are also the key mediators of health within the family unit.

Through this approach, women are the agents of change who can create a more resilient and diverse household food production system. It enables their involvement in a holistic framework to address malnutrition, by combining the right knowledge with the means to achieve it.

Map of South East Aisa
Map of South East Aisa

Gianna is now in the process of implementing the project, developing partnerships with international and local NGOs to pilot it in Timor-Leste (a small country between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, close to the northern part of Australia).

“The seed funding awarded by the BCFN Foundation is enabling me to initiate the project, where my objective is to run a pilot program and measure its impact and generate evidence of its effectiveness to support scalability in the future. This project is also a model that could be adapted for different countries. It is a high impact low cost intervention that could be operated as a social enterprise”.--Gianna Bonis-Profumo

Most rural populations in Southeast Asia base their livelihoods on subsistence agriculture, and ensuring the nutrition value of the food they grow is crucial for their self-reliance and local food security. The natural resource base they depend upon is supported in this project by using ecologically sustainable approaches like permaculture that increase productivity while not compromising the environment. Additionally, by increasing the production of vegetables and poultry products, small income opportunities are generated which improve the decision making power of women and their status in their community.

Photo Credit: Robyn Alders
Photo Credit: Robyn Alders

Gianna is also one of the researchers who participated in this year’s Youth Manifesto gathering in Parma, Italy, an event strongly supported by the BCFN Foundation.

Past BCFN YES! finalists met together and were assigned into groups acting as the key figures in the agri-food system: producers, business owners, policy makers, teachers, activists, researchers and journalists. Each group then worked to debate concrete ideas that could support a more sustainable food system. What the producers proposed involved action by the policy-makers, or the activists’ solution required working with business owners, demonstrating the inextricable interrelation between all elements of a given system.

The final result of this exciting and important event was the Youth Manifesto, a document articulating the voices of young university students who are passionate about making the food system more sustainable. It is the hope that the Youth Manifesto becomes, as it was for Gianna, a stimulus that ensures more projects like hers have a real impact in making our world more sustainable.

Sonia Massari
Executive and Academic director at Gustolab International Institute for Food Studies.
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in Rome Academic Director. Senior Researcher and Consultant at BCFN Foundation. Food&Design She is faculty member at ISIA Design School and SPD

Gianna Bonis Profumo
BA Pol Sc, GradDip NGO Mng, MA Dev Stud
Food and Nutrition Hub – Founder and Project Manager
Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition - Young Earth Solutions Ambassador - BCFN YES! 2014
Follow Gianna on twitter @Gianna.Bonis