Changing lives in Africa with probiotics

Gregor Reid, PhD

Small sachets of freeze-dried bacteria could soon help change the lives of people living in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

Gregor Reid, PhD, has received $1.45 million in funding from the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund — a joint program of Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre — to develop a program called Fermented Food for Life.

The program will work with Yoba-for-life, Heifer International and Joma Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to distribute one-gram sachets that contain probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 bacteria and a unique Streptococcus thermophilus strain for approximately $0.50 each.

Named FiTi, which is the word for “health” in Swahili, each sachet can produce up to 100 litres of yogurt when added to milk. The sachets will provide those living in Africa with the opportunity to begin businesses and earn a steady income, as the yogurt is very easy to produce.

“This system empowers people to support themselves and their communities,” Reid said. “This is especially important for women to provide meaningful employment, support for their families and gain respect from their peers.”

Having this yogurt readily available for communities in these countries will also ensure that people are consuming the probiotics they need to maintain a healthy life.

Through his research as a professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology and Surgery at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Reid has determined that the microorganisms can contribute many health benefits, but unfortunately have not been as readily available to people living in developing countries. This yogurt will be beneficial for the prevention and treatment of diarrhea, which is the main cause of death and illness in children in Africa, and a potentially fatal issue for those living with HIV-AIDS.

“I’ve wanted to find a way to bring probiotics to developing countries, and this yogurt is a more nutritious option and has the potential to help many malnourished people,” Reid explained. “The alternative for those living in these countries is to drink milk, but milk doesn’t offer the same amount of nutrients as this probiotic yogurt does.”

According to Reid, a yogurt kitchen will also be created in London, Ontario as a model for Fermented Food for Life. The kitchen will serve as a training ground for students, some who will serve as interns with the Western Heads East program, and a source of affordable nutrition for Londoners with lower incomes.