Brenda Mareri joined the African Food Fellowship on August 15 2022 as our new Kenya Implementation Lead and Dean.
Brenda is an agricultural expert and consultant with a wealth of experience in international trade and sustainable development working in projects across Africa. She brings to the Fellowship a deep passion for food systems transformation, a rich network, and skills in helping countries build health and nutrition businesses thus contributing towards rural development, progressive agricultural policies and sustainability. In this interview, Brenda reflects on her rich career and predicts what food in Africa will look like in 100 years.
What drew you to the African Food Fellowship?
Leadership is the first step towards the revolution of a cause. The Fellowship resonates with my belief that transforming the agriculture sector is a cause that needs strong leadership in practice, policy, innovation and implementation. I was drawn to the Fellowship because it equips emerging leaders working in food systems with the right skills to apply a systemic approach for sustainable change in their sectors. There is no change without competent leadership.
What are you most looking forward to working on/ accomplishing as Dean?
I look forward to helping Fellows to advance their food systems initiatives. I will be their facilitator and sounding board and I am excited to see their projects come to life. This will largely involve linking them to relevant strategic partnerships and opportunities, organizing coaching and mentorship sessions, and leveraging on my networks within the industry to help them build relationships with other Food systems leaders. I cannot wait to brainstorm with them, to reflect on critical food systems issues and facilitate an ecosystem of engagement.
You are a young woman working in food systems in Kenya. In your experience, how has the country treated women in agriculture/ food systems and how can we improve their experience?
The inclusion of women within the agriculture sector has improved over the past 10 years in Kenya with more appreciation of the pivotal role women play in the agricultural value chain. But there are still issues to be addressed, such as the feminization of agricultural labour. The feminization of agricultural labour means that more and more women are getting more involved in larger aspects of labour such as production, harvesting and marketing without recognizing the unpaid double role they play as caregivers within the household as well.
We need to apply a gender lens to understand the dynamics at play and ease the burden on women, ensuring fair compensation and access to opportunities.
What is the most interesting thing that you have done, career wise?
This would be a project I worked on alongside my team to set up an internal Seed Quality Laboratory in Rural Western Kenya to ensure that farmers receive quality seed inputs are distributed to farmers. The Seed Laboratory was setup in mid 2017 and has served up to 200,000 farmers in Kenya to date.
If you could host three food systems leaders from Africa for dinner, who would it be and what would you serve them?
- Dr.Agnes Kalibata of AGRA– I would serve her some Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes for dinner
- Dr.Mary Abukutsa the Deputy Vice chair Research in JKUAT who champions for consumption of Traditional Indigenoues vegetables – I would serve her some Amaranth vegetables and Ugali
- His Excellency John Kufuor Former President of Ghana who is a co-founder of the Africa Leaders for Nutrition Initiative– I would serve him Vitamin A roasted Cassava
What’s the most important lesson you have learnt outside the school/ career context?
Always have a plan A, B and C and if possible plan D and E. Life and work bring with them a number of uncertainties and it is vital that you have under your sleeve as many risk mitigation strategies as possible for a soft landing.
At what job would you be terrible?
I would definitely be terrible as an accountant. I like numbers but I would not be so good at spending my days crunching them.
Predict the future of food in Africa in 100 years
I predict a food system in Africa that is sustainable, resilient, nutritious and regenerative. I envision transformed local food systems that are able to feed African nations and able to cope with the effects of climate change. I can envision people in the year 2122 cultivating resilient crop and re- adopting orphaned crops to enhance crop genetic diversity.
On a scale of one to ten, how excited are you about life right now?
I would rate my excitement at an 8. I’m excited to start my new role as the Dean for the African Food Fellowship in Kenya. It’s an opportunity to contribute significantly to the food systems in Kenya and grow a movement
Ask yourself any question you wish was on this list, and answer it
Question: What makes you sad right now about our food systems?
Answer: The fact that with almost 40% arable land in Africa we are unable to sustainably feed ourselves. More investment is needed to change this narrative