Africa’s nutrition security needs leaders who will change food production systems

Friday January 28 2022
Joost Guijt.

Joost Guijt, is the director, Africa Food Fellowship and knowledge manager at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen University, Netherlands. PHOTO | FILE

By Allan Olingo

Joost Guijt, is the director, Africa Food Fellowship and knowledge manager at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen University, Netherlands, spoke to Allan Olingo on what it will take to transform agriculture and ensure social stability on the continent.


Why is there a rush to transform Africa’s agriculture?

First up are the facts. Africa has the fastest growing population, hence lots more mouths to feed as well. Agriculture is still massively important for most people for work, food security and social stability.

Second is recognition of too slow a progress on Africa’s ambitions. In 2014 African leaders signed the Malabo Declaration, committing to invest 10 percent of national budgets in the agriculture/food sector and guaranteeing food and nutrition security within a decade. In 2019 only four countries were meeting targets.

Third is global urgency brought to the fore through the UN Food Systems Summit, that every country needs to rethink their food systems so agriculture ensures healthy food for all, while also safeguarding its natural resource base and being a net greenhouse gas absorber instead of emitter. Not one country in the world is on target.


You launched a fellowship in Kenya and Rwanda. What are you proposing to do differently?

The urgent need to redirect food systems needs leaders who can think differently, are willing to set different agendas and who are able to deliver on promises. With plenty of good intentions and big promises, the rubber really needs to hit the road.

The African Food Fellowship works to support that kind of leadership — leaders who can see how to create systems of incentives, policies and investments that will push their food systems in the desired direction, and leaders who know how to work together for this purpose. Our vision is of a continent-wide fellowship of leaders who actively contribute to food systems transformation up to and beyond the UN’s sustainable development goals.

The fellows we have picked are passionate about changing food systems. They also see the food sector as a major force for good for their communities. I see them growing to be the leaders who will set future strategies, making sure these serve long term public needs.

What do you mean by food systems leadership?

Food systems are the complex processes of how we produce, process and consume food; drivers such as policies, climate change and social change that deeply influence; and the dynamic interaction between these elements.

Food systems leadership understands such systems and focuses on dealing with deeper causes of where current systems are stuck.

How are you working with governments, private sector and communities?

First, by making sure the fellows in the African Food Fellowship come from all these backgrounds. This helps them find the right connections so collectively they can undertake action and bring about the change that no one can achieve individually.

So instead of dealing with low yields by focusing only on raising productivity, food systems leadership works to create new market structures that make it worth for farmers to invest in improving productivity combined with government support of reliable digital finance structures so that people are able to invest. And that makes sure women producer organisations are part of deciding what changes are needed so that community needs are truly met.

What are some of the innovative ways the fellows have come up with to transform food systems in Africa?

There are fellows working on integrating new insect-based fish feed businesses with community-led aquaculture and new research programmes pushing for legislation for sustainable fisheries. Others are working on making sure digital finance platforms and protocols are trustworthy and available for everyone. We are looking to expand to neighbouring countries. We also have interest from countries in West Africa.

How can local farmers become part of the farm-to-fork initiative that is increasingly defining global food trade?

It’s critical to be organised and have a strong voice together. Otherwise farmers will face other players with more resources who will divide and conquer them. The question we are all struggling to answer is how to get the thousands of individual farmers to speak in one voice?

How do we make farming appealing to young people?

Young people need assets they control – land, knowledge, funds – so they can work on their dreams. These are too often not available to them. They also need support for innovation.

Agriculture has enormous opportunities, but new markets, new business models and new roles need to be found and supported to make it fun. Understandably no one wants to choose long hours of monotonous work for minimal return. But that doesn’t have to be the future of agriculture. We are seeing technology transforming farming across the globe, and many young people are choosing it as a career.