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Transforming African Food Systems

By Felix Kwabena Donkor, Laura Pereira, Enokenwa Ojong, Abubakar Hadisu, Christopher Mabeza, Phillip Mbewe, Arianne Leclerc, Sibusisiwe Mavuso

A sustainable food system is critical to the survival of households and communities in Africa and comes with ripple affects on realizing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Africa registered mixed results with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for renewed effort to enhance its food systems.

This is one of the key elements that informed a special session on Transforming African Food Systems at the Seedbeds of Transformation Conference, held from 9-11 May, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

The session gathered around 100 people from diverse nationalities and disciplines to cross pollinate ideas on this urgent theme and was co-chaired by Laura Pereira from the Centre for Food Policy, City University of London, and Felix Kwabena Donkor, School of Animal Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand and also affiliated with the University of South Africa (UNISA)-College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The session adopted the Three Horizons (3H) framework and merged it with a panel discussion to convene a mini transformative space reflecting on how a focus on transforming African food systems can help meet an integrated set of SDGs.

The Three Horizons framework is a graphical approach used to forecast the scenarios of change in importance of issues across time scales and over time, and link the future to the present (Curry 2015). As a supplement to scenarios processes, this method facilitates the probing of requisite transition space and pathways that engender the systemic changes projected in future scenarios (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Three Horizons framework (Source: Garry Peterson)

Using sticky notes, participants were asked to fill in a Three Horizons framework.

Starting with Horizon 3 – Participants envisioned how positive future food systems look and their underlying ethics, relationships and principles.

Some of the common points raised were:

  • Indigenisation of the food system
  • Limited waste in the value chain
  • Emerging farmers gain fair/equitable market access
  • Use of more sustainable forms of agricultural production

Horizon 1 – Here participants gave their opinions on what the current system looks like and what is dominant:

  • Ownership of land by a privileged elite group to the detriment of the majority of people
  • Supermarkets and commercial entities dominate and control the food market
  • Peasant farming is predominant but largely seasonal, with low productivity
  • Low education about agriculture, and low interest as a career, especially amongst the youth

Horizon 2 – (Transition zone). Here participants surmised some of the practical steps that needed to be taken to avoid the associated negative consequences:

  • A paradigm shift in the practice of agriculture across the value chain
  • Localisation of the food system
  • Change the market systems that do not help the poor farmer
  • More funding for agricultural research and development

Following the interactive exercise, a reflection of the outcomes was led a by a panel of experts in food security.

Enokenwa Ojong of Rhodes University introduced her work on stratified gender household types and Pygmie communities from Cameroon, and said that communities face multiple gender dynamics within households and systems, which produces inequalities that are often overlooked that resul in food insecurity. This needs to be addressed in line with the Three Horizon framework, ensuring that at each stage, the intersectionality’s within the system are carefully considered so as to have a greater food-secure environment.

Christopher Mabeza from the Open University of Zimbabwe also proposed the need for indigenous knowledge systems to be harnessed, alleviating the challenges of widespread food insecurity and enhancing household wellbeing, making references to his work in rural Zimbabwe.

Finally, Abubaker Hadisu from University of the Witwaterstrand, speaking from the stand point of food wastage, argued for combining behavioural change and technology in solving the problem of food wastage with reference to Nigeria.

The Seedbeds of Transformation conference, which is modelled around the innovation market place concept, created a collaborative, transdisciplinary ecosystem for people with diverse backgrounds to explore transformations and the SDGs in Africa. The event harnessed a wide range of knowledge and regional contexts to identify appropriate pathways for achieving these goals in Africa.