The African Food Fellowship is growing a movement of food systems leaders working to transform food on the continent. Just 16 months after the Fellowship launched, its formidable Fellows are making big splashes in the food world with incredible results - healthier, more accessible and more sustainable food in East Africa.
Aquaculture specialists Dr Erick Ogello and Mr Frederick Juma have been building a business for the past one year. They are using biodegradable waste to make fish feeds more accessible and affordable to fish farmers in Kenya. Using fish guts, and fruit and vegetable waste collected from eateries and markets, Erick and Fred are farming Black Soldier Fly, an insect used as a source of protein in animal feeds.
“Fish feed is the most expensive component of the production cycle, accounting for 70% of the total production cost,” they said, “our project is about finding solutions for sustainable fish production using locally available technologies, innovations and management practices. Using biodegradable waste to farm Black Soldier fly creates a win-win scenario where we protect the environment and increase fish production.”
Erick is a lecturer at Maseno University in the lakeside city of Kisumu in Kenya and Frederick is a social entrepreneur whose company Hydro Victoria Fish Hatchery Farm, based in nearby Busia, is working with over 2000 smallholder fish farmers to improve their access to fish feeds. They are both aquaculture Fellows at the African Food Fellowship, meeting for the first time after they were admitted to the Fellowship’s flagship Food Systems Leadership Programme in 2021.
“We enjoy a seamless working relationship due to similar ways of thinking, strong bonding and collaborative mindsets, all honed during our time at the African Food Fellowship. The Fellowship has injected in us a system thinking approach, which has been invaluable as we execute our tasks. We have successfully engaged stakeholders through forums and visits and we are happy about the interest our project is generating,” they say.
In a little over a year, Erick and Fred have managed to complete a successful piloting stage that saw them recruit 40 farmers, most of them women, into Black Soldier Fly production. They have incorporated resources from their respective institutions, Hydro Victoria and Maseno University, and drawn on support from stakeholders in the government through Busia County and Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute to build capacity in production and training.
“We are currently producing about 150kg of Black Soldier Fly per month and we are training youth groups and students on fish and feeds production, as well as encouraging their participation in research to advance the industry,” they say.
A Food Waste Platform in Rwanda
While Fred and Erick take on the fish sector in Kenya, Ms Kate Ojungo and Ms Florence Mwashimba are tackling food waste in Rwanda. They have built an online platform called Gaia Waste Rescue which brings together a network of entrepreneurs and innovators to mitigate food waste through re-cycling, re-using and value addition.
“Our platform works by convening buyers and sellers of food waste. One person’s waste is another person’s treasure. On Gaia, the trash and by-products of one organization are used as the raw material by another company. These recovery efforts not only prevent the garbage from going to landfills, but also save a lot of money and energy, and produce new employment opportunities,” they say.
Food waste is one of the biggest food systems challenges today, with the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) reporting that over 30 per cent of food produced globally is wasted every year. This has led to widening gaps in food security, especially as countries grapple with rising commodity costs and food shortages.
“Food loss and wastes constitutes the biggest portion of municipal organic waste in Rwanda. This made me to want to go an extra mile to know where it’s found, the available quantities, the uses and the amounts that go to the landfills,” says Florence, who runs Kigali Farmers and Artisan Market (Kigalifaam) an SME aggregator platform in the circular economy space in Rwanda
On her part, Kate worries that even as entities like her employer Kenya Seed Company Rwanda Ltd constantly innovate to scale up varieties of seed production to enhance food security and nutrition, these efforts will always fall short because too much produce tends to go to waste.
“This is my quest to getting a solution, a platform that can harness collective intelligence through bringing the various actors on board so that we can use data to make informed decisions,” she says.
Both women are part of the inaugural Rwanda cohort of the African Food Fellowship - Florence is an Access to Nutritious Food Fellow while Kate is a Food Entrepreneurship Fellow. They both credit the Fellowship with bringing them together and sparking the collaborative spirit needed to jointly work on a project.
“Our continued interactions through the African Food Fellowship have helped us realize that there is an opportunity in every challenge and this includes in food waste,” they say. “Ultimately, our goal is to deliver on food and nutrition security, socio-economic welfare and environmental sustainability. The shared knowledge, the tools being used, critical thinking and level of engagement by the faculty, the coaches and the wider Fellowship have transformed our thoughts in wanting to create collective change!”
Riding on the wings of success into Phase 2
The African Food Fellowship is just 16 months old, opening its doors in Kenya in May 2021 with a cohort of 27 food systems professionals drawn from aquaculture, horticulture and agri-finance. It expanded to Rwanda in October of the same year admitting another group of 27 Fellows this time drawn from actors working in food entrepreneurship, access to nutritious food and sustainable land use. The Fellowship completed its pilot phase in June this year, counting among its successes the graduation of Kenyan and Rwandan Fellows from the Food Systems Leadership Programme in April and September respectfully.
“Phase 1 exceeded our expectations in many ways. Firstly, we confirmed that there are a great number of wonderful leaders working on food systems transformation in their communities and countries, who really want to up their leadership role and effectiveness. Secondly, we developed from scratch and implemented a top-quality food systems leadership programme,” says Fellowship Director Joost Guijt.
There is a big need for a dedicated programme like this to complement the efforts of others. The Fellowship is run by world class experts from Wageningen University and Research, and Wasafiri Consulting, and has just secured additional funding from IKEA Foundation to help support its operations for the next five years, labelled Phase 2.
“In Phase 2 we will be working on building the core components of the African Food Fellowship including country Fellowships, the leadership programme, and research. Until 2024 we will expand and create solid foundations in Rwanda and Kenya, and then grow to other countries. Our hope is to be in at least seven countries across Africa by 2027,” added Joost.
Upon graduation, Fellows form country Fellowships to which they have lifetime memberships. While they still enjoy support from the Fellowship secretariat especially in their nascent phase, country Fellowships are envisioned as semi-autonomous platforms that allow Fellows to congregate and remain engaged in each other’s work. The Kenya Food Fellowship will for instance host a Transform Food Festival event in November this year bringing together top food systems leaders from across the country for a day of showcasing initiatives and learning from each other.
Fellows have also found success with solo projects
The collaborative efforts of Erick and Fred in Kenya, and Florence and Kate in Rwanda are proof of the ways in which the Fellowship is helping to catalyse innovative solutions to some of the most pressing food systems challenges today. However, Fellows don’t always work with their cohort mates, and some have chosen to pursue individual projects in their areas of specialization.
Sustainable Land Use Fellow Abdu Usanase, for instance, is an an award-winning agri-tech innovator in Rwanda. He runs a company called AgriResearch Unguka which is working to establish integrated climate smart agriculture model farms to help farmers produce livestock and crops sustainably in Rwanda. He teaches farmers using a model called “learning by doing’ where he sets up model farms within communities across Musanze District where he is running a pilot. Abdu’s model farms incorporate all three climate smart agriculture pillars - mitigation, adaptation and productivity at farm level.
“This project will sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience and reduce greenhouse gases thus improving farmers’ health and wealth. The African Food Fellowship has equipped me with great leadership vision in driving systemic change especially as I deal with the complexity of food systems. This has allowed me to revise my project and add a nutritional aspect, and has helped me to better map and engage with stakeholders,” he says.
Also working individually is socio-economist Janet Ngombalu, an Agri-Finance Fellow. She has embarked on a project to bring order and sustainability to local Kenyan food markets which are often characterized by chaos, filth and congestion.
“I am working with stakeholders such as the government and development partners to build solar-powered smart markets in order to give farmers and consumers decent spaces to buy and sell agricultural produce. Smart markets utilize solar energy collected from panels installed on the roofs of stalls to power the market, allowing for lighting and the provision of services such as drying, mini-processing, value-addition and cold storage to reduce food losses and create employment,” says Janet, who is the Regional Programmes Coordinator at the Eastern Africa Grain Council. In 2021 she launched a pilot in Nakuru county aimed at getting fish mongers off the highway and into a more structured market in the town.
“The African Food Fellowship has broadened and deepened my understanding of open food markets in Kenya. Rather than just taking the view that markets are chaotic, I now have a better grasp of the complex issues within their eco-systems, including the economic, social, environmental, policy and regulatory landscape. Sustainable change is only possible through engaging all these aspects,” she says.
The Fellowship embarks on phase 2 with a sense of pride in the role it has played in supporting its Fellows to bring their initiatives to life. Having invested in a full staffing complement with the hiring of two deans to oversee operations in Kenya and Rwanda, the Fellowship has cemented its position as a long-term player working towards systemic change. It has embraced an evidence-based approach, continuously innovating and evolving to respond to complex food systems challenges as they arise.
“Our Fellows want to deliver on the many promises made for better food systems for all, not just talk about it. They are leaders who are passionate about making their community and country food systems healthy, fair and sustainable, and they are committed to driving action on the ground. We are working with them to make it happen,” says director Joost.