FSNet-Africa Summer School: Building the capacity of future research leaders in the African food system

FSNet-Africa Summer School: Building the capacity of future research leaders in the African food system

Food systems in Africa face many complex and interconnected challenges, which demand collective effort to make the tough choices needed for real change. Such change will require working with government, farmers, civil society, private sector, researchers, and other stakeholders. There is also a great need to nurture future leaders in research so that they can champion the transformation of food systems in Africa.

The FSNet-Africa fellows have come a long way in the last six months. The image below is a summary of the research ideas that the fellows have conceptualised in collaboration with their UK and African mentors and UP Hosts. The progress made in refining these research ideas over the past six months is an indication of the commitment that everyone has shown to the process and the fellowship.

The FSNet-Africa UP Summer School started on 17 January 2022 and ended on the 28th of January 2022. The Summer School is a follow up to the successful 14-week online Orientation held from July to October 2021. The Summer School was officially launched by the FSNet-Africa Academic Leadership Team, who offered words of welcome, guidance, and encouragement to the fellows.

Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa, a senior postdoctoral research fellow with FSNet-Africa, facilitated an icebreaker activity during the opening session. For twenty minutes, our fellows became food systems superheroes. Koki Panther led the team of heroes, and they worked together to develop a story titled The day the FSNet-Africa fellows saved the African food system. The purpose of the activity was to encourage fellows to dream big and think creatively about solutions to African food systems challenges. The story will be developed into a short animation video.

Koki Panther and her gang save the day

Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire, the Network and Research Manager, gave an overview of the Summer School content and introduced the experts who would be offering training to the fellows over the two weeks.

The two weeks of Summer School was filled with exciting expert inputs through workshops, lectures, and facilitated activities. Prof. Julian May hosted a workshop for the fellows on operationalising and using the FSNet-Africa Food Systems Framework. Dr Effie Papargyropoulou, one of the FSNet-Africa mentors, led a session on understanding the food system by looking at the concepts, approaches, and opportunities that shape the system. Prof. Mary Scholes led four sessions on systems analysis and methodologies. Prof Rasigan Maharajh focused on research ethics and responsible innovation, while Dr Simon Thanyani spoke to the fellows on intellectual property in collaborative research. Dr Monica Kapiriri facilitated two engaging sessions on gender integration for improved outcomes, where fellows came to understand how to integrate gender into their projects and how to develop a gender equality statement. Ms Lucy ‘O Keeffe led a session on safeguarding, with a focus on developing a risk and vulnerability assessment. Dr Katharine Vincent facilitated two sessions on monitoring and evaluation. The FANRPAN Team consisting of Dr Tshilidzi Madzivandila, Dr Francis Hale and Dr Njongenhle Nyoni led a session on stakeholder engagement plans, to help fellows understand stakeholder mapping and develop comprehensive engagement plans.

Apart from the formal training sessions, the week featured a budget clinic for fellows to get guidance on developing their project budgets, and there were networking activities for fellows in the form of speed networking, a treasure hunt and an inspirational informal coaching session by Prof. Teboho Moja. Through her life experiences, Prof. Moja showed the importance of making use of every opportunity that comes your way, going the extra mile, and having the courage to negotiate one’s career path.

The FSNet-Africa UP Summer School emphasised the importance of structured training for early-career researchers and how such training can contribute to improving research capacity and other skills.