Partnerships are crucial for delivering food for Africa in a transforming agri-food system in the ‘new normal’, say experts at regional universities forum webinar

Posted on July 22, 2020

The recently awarded Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa), a collaborative initiative between the University of Pretoria (UP), the University of Leeds and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) is a good example of partnerships for building capacity that are key for food systems transformation, said Professor Frans Swanepoel, of UP’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at a recent webinar.

Prof Swanepoel was an invited panellist in the fourth Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) high-level webinar held on 15 July 2020. The webinar theme was ‘Delivering food for Africa in a transforming agri-food system in the “new normal”’.

RUFORUM’s ten-part webinar series is focused on fostering learning and dialogue to explore the current and post-COVID-19 landscape. The series aims to reassess the role of higher education and research in capacity building in the pandemic context, and encourage Africa-wide and international collaboration around interventions.

Professor Adipala Ekwamu, RUFORUM Executive Secretary, noted that “it is crucial for a network of higher education and research institutions, such as RUFORUM, to come together to dialogue on critical issues affecting the development landscape in Africa and globally”. 

The six-member panel shared examples of the response strategies taken by their respective organisations to ensure that the current health crisis does not become a food crisis. The high-level panel included: Dr Agnes Kalibata from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr Simeon Ehui of the World Bank, Professor Abebe Haile-Gabriel Sharon from the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Dr Owusu-Afriye Akoto, Minister for Food and Agriculture in Ghana and Dr Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director of the Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture (DREA) at the African Union Commission (AUC). Prof Swanepoel, as the panel discussant, provided a summation and critical commentary on the issues raised by the panelists.

COVID-19 impact on food systems in Africa and the urgent need for food systems transformation

The agri-food system in Africa plays an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The challenges brought about by the pandemic are compounding many problems that were already inherent in the African food system. Post-pandemic approaches need to keep this in mind and adopt strategies that promote food systems transformation for development. A transformed African food system would have four key outcomes:

  1. It would provide access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe food leading to improved food security and reduced malnutrition (SDG2). This will make important contributions to public health (SDG3) by reducing the burden of diseases associated with malnutrition.
  2. It would be economically efficient, contributing to poverty reduction (SDG1), wealth creation and reduced inequality (SDG10, SDG5). These economic benefits would be shared between role players across the value chain in the food industry, including women. 
  3. It would be environmentally sustainable with climate-smart agriculture widely adopted (SDG13). Food systems activities in a transformed system will protect biodiversity and the ecosystems services as necessary elements of a functioning system (SDG14 and SDG15).
  4. It would be characterised by sustainable consumption and production (SDG12) with radical reductions in food losses across the entire food supply chain.

Partnerships for building capacity are key for food systems transformation

Innovation and technology will be key in achieving transformation, but critical skills development is needed in order to capitalise on opportunities to transform African food systems. In line with SDG 17, partnerships and collaboration – at all levels and across sectors – are critical to strengthen African agricultural research and innovation capacity.

Prof Swanepoel noted the recently awarded Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa), hosted at UP, as an example of a partnership initiative focused on capacities for food systems transformation. FSNet-Africa is one of four large projects funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) under the auspices of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) partnership programme.

Prof Swanepoel, the principal investigator of FSNet-Africa said: “The project will deliver research that enhances our understanding of African food systems to address SDG challenges. Together with partners in the food system we aim to identify climate-smart, nutrition-sensitive, poverty-reducing interventions that can be implemented to bring about positive change.”

FSNet-Africa will offer structured two-year fellowships for African early career researchers to work together with mentors from across Africa and the UK. Most of the fellows will be female researchers from 10 African universities across 6 countries to build capacity among Africa’s next generation of scientists.

More than 360 participants attended the webinar which was streamed live on YouTube. The next webinar in the series, entitled, ‘Building a regional collective response to invasive pests and transboundary crop-livestock diseases’, will be held on 19 July 2020. Interested parties can find more information here, including details for registering for upcoming events.

UP is an active member of RUFORUM, working closely with the network to facilitate contributions and inputs from African universities.

- Author Jonathan Tager
Published by Hlengiwe Mnguni

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