The Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) recently held a three-day research symposium at which 18 fellows presented their final research proposals and received expert feedback. The symposium, held at the University of Pretoria (UP)’s Future Africa Institute, saw the fellows present proposals focused on various food-systems-related topics, including food waste, climate-smart agriculture, food safety, indigenous crops, artificial intelligence, and gender equality.
FSNet-Africa is a collaborative project between the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems, the University of Leeds (UoL) in the United Kingdom, and the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).
The FSNet-Africa project aims to strengthen researchers’ capacity to conduct food systems research and translate evidence into implementable policy solutions and practical interventions to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for Africa.
Over the past eight months fellows have developed their proposals in collaboration with their mentors (one from the UoL and one from an African partner institution), a researcher based at UP, and food systems stakeholders. The fellows come from six African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.
“Food systems and agriculture are inextricably linked to all of the Sustainable Development Goals and also embedded in the African Union’s Agenda 2063,” said UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe, who is the chair of the FSNet-Africa Strategic Advisory Committee and opened the symposium.
Prof Kupe highlighted the features that make FSNet-Africa stand out as an early-career researcher development programme: transdisciplinarity, collaborative partnerships, commitment to ongoing stakeholder engagement, innovative early-career researcher development, and the application of systems thinking in relation to sustainability.
“The transformation of food systems is inherently complex, but at the same time a primary opportunity to contribute to social, economic, and environmental development and sustainability. Systems thinking is a powerful approach for understanding the nature of why situations are the way they are, and how to go about improving them. We need to improve our understanding of food systems in Africa, and we need to then utilise that understanding to develop interventions that address systems-level challenges.”
He encouraged the FSNet-Africa fellows to make full use of their time in the fellowship. “You have a two-year window of opportunity before you that can potentially transform your career path. Take advantage of the structured nature of the fellowship, the scaffolded capacity-building interventions embedded in the experiential research project, and the guidance of your mentors. You have a unique opportunity to be a fellow in a programme that helps you build not only your publication record, but your skills to engage with stakeholders and communicate your work impactfully.”
Prof Kupe encouraged the fellows to not only meet other researchers but build a network across the continent and beyond. “The way research is being done is changing. Being competent as an international collaborator who not only pays lip service to principles such as co-creation and engaged scholarship but who has the capacity to undertake such work will help you stand out among your peers in the future. Embrace this opportunity, not only for your own career, but because of the fundamental and compelling need for the work you are doing.”
FSNet-Africa is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) under auspices of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).