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Students’ savory food creation boosts nutrition, health for developing world

Group making porridge, pouring plastic packet into bowl.
For their 2019 Institute of Food Technologists competition, UI-WSU School of Food Science students Anna Cutler, Dhaulagiri Feriansyah, Elvis Baidoo, and Tatum Hardy developed WelBodi, a healthful porridge designed to improve nutrition in developing nations.

Five students started with an idea: A simple food that could save lives, made with little cost and local resources in the heart of a developing nation.

That was the inspiration for WelBodi, a savory porridge product created by a team of students in the School of Food Science at Washington State University and the University of Idaho.

Tatum Hardy, Dhaulagiri Feriansyah, Elvis Baidoo, Anna Cutler, and Kay Gill created WelBodi for the Institute of Food Technologists‘ 2019 Developing Solutions for Developing Countries Competition.

Building on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the competition challenges teams to create new food products that improve quality of life for people in developing nations.

The School of Food Science team focused on addressing nutrition needs in the west African nation of Sierra Leone, where children face high infant mortality, stunted growth, and weakened immune systems.

“Many children in Sierra Leone suffer from health complications from things like malarial epidemics and immune-related disease,” said WSU student Hardy.

To combat malnutrition and boost immunity, the team developed WelBodi, a dehydrated, easy-to-make, nutritious porridge, based on a Sierra Leonean dish called yabeh—a savory, yam-based porridge served with meat over rice.

Bowl of porridge, with floral decorations and spoon.
Made with sweet potatoes and other savory ingredients, WelBodi is based on a Sierra Leonean dish called yabeh.

Instead of traditional yams, Welbodi is made with sweet potatoes, along with onion, tomato, and dried shrimp, giving it high levels of immune-boosting vitamin A, as well as iron, zinc, and protein.

With help from Baidoo, who is from West Africa, the team crafted a version of the dish that appeals to local palates, then developed an inexpensive, non-perishable, easy-to-prepare, product that could boost nutrition for families and young children.

“Yabeh is a very common meal,” Hardy said. “We changed it to gain added nutrients, but wanted to make sure it was something that families in Sierra Leone would be familiar with and enjoy.”

The competition was about more than just a recipe, Hardy added. Students presented a business plan and identified a prospective factory site, start-up costs, and break-even point—all economics of bringing the product to market. Feriansyah created and tested packaging for WelBodi, coming up with a plastic-coated paper envelope to ship and sell with minimal cost and mess.

Paper porridge packet with name and logo
Students developed packaging and a logo for WelBodi, as part of a larger business plan.

“We wanted to use only locally sourced ingredients already grown in Sierra Leone to support local farming,” Hardy said.

So, the team identified the northern city of Makeni as an ideal site for easy access to employment, farms, fresh produce, clean water, and transportation.

The experience was meaningful for Hardy, a senior who plans to seek a master’s degree in international agricultural development.

“I want to help develop agriculture in developing countries, and help them get the most from limited resources,” she said. “I was really interested in how we could make this work with as few resources as possible.”

The Welbodi concept earned the team support from the Institute of Food Technologists and a place in the top six at the national contest in New Orleans. The team has now completed their work on the project, but the idea may inspire future products and product development teams.

Competing to put the skills they’ve learned in CAHNRS and the UI-WSU School of Food Science to the test, students said the experience also gave them an opportunity to increase awareness about the challenges facing people in developing countries.

“For me, it was eye-opening to learn how many things you have to consider when developing a new product,” said Hardy. “So much more goes into it than just an idea.”