The Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) project held a 5-day Policy Impact Training from 9 to 13 October for its research fellows and other invited participants, followed by its final project close-out event: a Stakeholder Engagement Dialogue (SED) from 16 to 18 October. The first day of the SED coincided with the internationally celebrated World Food Day. The 2023 World Food Day theme is “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind.” FSNet-Africa expanded on this theme for the SED, focusing on how various food systems stakeholders can work together to reach the Sustainable Development Goals – in particular, SDG 2 – Zero Hunger.
The SED was officially opened by the Deputy Director-General of the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, Mr Terrie Ndove. The opening was followed by welcome remarks by University of Pretoria (UP) Interim Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof. Themba Mosia. Prof. Mosia had the following to say about the FSNet-Africa project and its vision of collaborating to address food systems challenges:
FSNet-Africa is an excellent example of something that the University of Pretoria is extremely passionate about – the power of collaboration and partnership. Challenges can seem too sizeable to deal with individually, but, when tackled collectively, and through partnerships that pool expertise and resources and foster learning, tangible results become achievable. The issues surrounding African food systems are indeed complex and sizeable, and yet, by building on one another’s experience, and embracing transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research approaches, we have the best opportunity to achieve the vision of knowledge-driven, sustainable futures and new ways of doing things.
Representatives from the three FSNet-Africa lead partners – namely, UP; the University of Leeds; and the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) – all contributed to the SED opening, giving a high-level overview of the project and its unique approach to food systems transformation through building capacity for African-focused food systems research and developing long-term partnerships for research that span across sector and geography.
The remaining sessions of the three-day SED were a collaborative effort with various food systems partners and each focused on a specific theme. Each session consisted of presentations by key food systems stakeholders, panel discussions, question-and-answer opportunities, and presentations on the fellowship research projects by the FSNet-Africa fellows. Networking dinners were held on all three nights of the SED.
On the afternoon of Day 1, the focus shifted to the first of five overarching session themes. Theme 1 was “Governing African food systems (leave no one behind)” and was presented in partnership with the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security and the Horizons Institute. Topics of discussion during this session included the status quo in relation to African food governance as well as an exploration of the right to food. Four FSNet-Africa fellows presented on the research they conducted during the fellowship in collaboration with their mentors and senior researchers (UP Hosts) at UP – Dr Frank Tchuwa (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources), Dr Fidez Izdori (University of Dar es Salaam), Dr Amiena Bayat (University of the Western Cape), and Dr Bridget Bwalya (University of Zambia).
Day 2 of the SED opened with Theme 2, which focused on “Economic transformation of the African food systems” and was co-presented by the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS). The session looked at aspects of economic transformation such as the CAADP process and tracking progress as well as the relationship between soil health and agribusiness. The FSNet-Africa fellows who made presentations on their research projects were Dr Innocensia John (University of Dar es Salaam), Dr Phyllis Machio (University of Nairobi), Dr Sera Gondwe (Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resource), and Dr Kadeghe Fue (Sokoine University of Agriculture).
The second day of the SED concluded with Theme 3: “Indigenous and underutilised crop species in the African food system”. The partners for this session were the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) and the Food and Livelihood Resilience from Neglected Plant Species in Western and Southern Africa (FORENS) project. Highlights included a discussion of indigenous knowledge systems and a presentation on the lived experience of an indigenous farmer. Three FSNet-Africa fellows presented under Theme 3 – namely, Dr Abena Boakye (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), Dr Nokuthula Vilakazi (Durban University of Technology), and Dr Natasha Mwila (University of Zambia).
The final day of the SED kicked off with a morning session focused on Theme 4: “Climate-smart and sustainable African food systems”. This session was held in partnership with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and looked at issues around climate-smart agriculture and sustainable food systems by sharing insights from farmers and a researcher and activist. Contributions were also made by the youth in the FSNet-Africa network, who participated in an art and video competition focused on why climate change and sustainability should matter to young people and what they can do to join the fight to take care of our planet. The fellows who shared their research work during this session were Dr Selorm Dorvlo (University of Ghana), Dr Frederic Isingizwe (University of the Western Cape), Dr Antoinette Anim-Jnr (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), and Dr Juliana Cheboi (University of Nairobi). The session included the casting of final votes for the youth art and video competition, and the competition winners were announced. The winner of the video competition was 6-year-old Dahari-Christa Rweyemamu from Tanzania, and the winner of the artwork competition was 16-year-old Chimwemwe Mwila from Zambia (their entries can be viewed here).
The final SED session looked at Theme 5: “One health – soil, human, and animal health”. The session structure was slightly different to that of previous ones, with each FSNet-Africa fellow presenting in collaboration with a specific stakeholder linked to the key pathways supporting improvements in animal, human, and environmental health, as prioritised by the FoSTA-Health project (session partner for Theme 5). The fellows who presented overviews of their research projects along with their selected stakeholders were Dr Roselyne Alphonce (Sokoine University of Agriculture), Dr Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa (Malawi University of Science and Technology), Dr Sharon Lungu (UP), and Dr Nana Kwapong (University of Ghana). The session was concluded with a last word from the three FSNet-Africa lead partners.
The FSNet-Africa SED was the culmination of nearly three years of dedicated effort by the network partners, team members, fellows, mentors, and UP Hosts. This fellowship aimed to capacitate early-career, post-PhD researchers to conduct context-relevant, interdisciplinary, systems analysis research to identify food systems solutions for Africa. This research was designed and implemented in partnership with relevant food systems stakeholders – as clearly demonstrated by the content and approach of this SED as the project close-out event. The event showcased how the fellows, embedded in transdisciplinary research teams, were able to build lasting research networks and develop their skills to translate their research impactfully.
Prof. Frans Swanepoel, FSNet-Africa Director and Principal Investigator, had the following to say about the Policy Impact Training and the SED event:
The FSNet-Africa Policy Impact Training and Stakeholder Engagement Dialogue have been extremely successful. A vast array of policy makers and community participants, including farmers, have participated to question, consider, discuss, and revise the proposed approaches to policy challenges. This will no doubt improve trust and provide evidence-based advice on food systems transformation to governments on the continent. Such an interactive approach is imperative to advance uptake and implementation.