Fellows Share Big Dreams for Food Systems Transformation in Africa

Inclusivity, technological innovations, strategic and sustainable partnerships are the keys to food systems transformation, according to the Kenyan cohort of the African Food Fellowship’s inaugural Food Systems Leadership Programme.

The first stage of the programme, which is an interactive online session about concepts and analyses aptly named “systems insights”, is now coming to a close with deep dive sessions. Fellows have been creating scenarios about what transformed food systems look like and what changes might be needed. The next stage is themed ‘Systems Action’, and will see the Fellows work with technical mentors and coaches to actualise their visions of transformed food systems. In the deep dive sessions, the Fellows have been giving careful thought to the opportunities available in their areas of specialisation; the changes they would like to make to food systems and what collaborations they need to bring their ideas to life.

For Horticulture Fellow Rashid Boru, this has taken the form of focusing on emerging technological advances in horticulture. “I am inspired by the unique opportunities to interact with talented Fellows to gain in-depth contributions and well-articulated conversations about the need to transform our food systems,” he said.

With current food systems reeling under the weight of growing populations, declining ecosystems, climate change and inaccessible markets among other challenges, a radical shift in systems thinking is necessary. “We need to look beyond the idea that more food in the world and greater productivity will solve our problems. Local and national food systems need to be strengthened to adapt to the climate crisis and become better equipped to provide diverse diets for consumers in food-insecure communities. Diversity in diets can help farmers diversify their risk, provide markets for food crops, break their dependency on commodity crops, and increase biodiversity and resilience,” said Boru.

Aquaculture Fellow Ruth Mwarabu said that opportunities for systemic change lie in more private sector engagement and investment in agriculture. She sees herself as a change champion, advocating for a better-resourced and more inclusive fisheries sector. “Engaging private sector players under public- private producer partnerships presents a great opportunity for us to strengthen fisheries value chain. In addition, targeted engagement of women and youth in the sector will be highly beneficial to the value chain,” she said.

Monica Githige, an Agri-Finance Fellow, believes building the capacity of actors across the value chain to access credit and markets will transform food systems in Africa. She is also pushing for gender-centric financial products to bridge the wide gaps women face when seeking credit. “My ideal role to bring this to life would be convening relevant stakeholders to design inclusive and accessible financial products for all users. We could start with conducting research to help with decision making, then disseminate information to everyone in the value chain to ensure that they are aware of facilities available to them,” she said.

These thought exercises are curated and built on an eclectic set of methodologies such as Food Systems Frameworks (WUR), Foresights & Scenarios (Foresight4food), and Systemcraft (Wasafiri). Fellows are encouraged to build scenarios and develop a vision in order to tackle complex problems in food systems transformation. The Systemcraft approach, for instance, helps to answer the question ‘So what do we do next?’. It also supports Fellows in their journey of contributing to healthier, more sustainable and inclusive food systems. “I am convinced that the Fellows are working towards meaningful change and that they already do an amazing job by challenging the status quo in food systems continuously in their capacity as experts in conferences, in their publications, workshops and judging panels for new innovations. The African Food Fellowship amplifies their initiatives and supports the aspirations of the Fellows for joint efforts and impact in food systems,” said Riti Hermán Mostert, the Curriculum Lead at the Fellowship.