During one of the two recent inception meetings of the African Food Systems Transformation Collective (AFSTC), a participant noted that this year marked the midpoint of the journey toward reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adding that there was “no way we are going to meet the SDGs if we continue to do agriculture using the ‘business-as-usual’ approach”.
Malik Dasoo, Programme Officer for Sustainable Land Use and Agriculture at the African Climate Foundation (ACF), added that “as a result of climate change, African food systems are going to be decimated”.
ACF, together with the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) and the UNESCO Chair in Science and Education for African Food Systems, are the lead partners of the AFSTC. The CoE-FS is hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and co-hosted by the University of Pretoria (UP). The UNESCO Chair is jointly hosted by the two universities, and held by Professor Julian May, the CoE-FS director.
On 1 and 8 August 2023, ACF and the CoE-FS convened inception meetings of the AFSTC, which brought together around 70 participants from all regions in Africa. The participants were mainly food systems researchers and activists.
At the second inception meeting, ACF’s Dasoo noted that millions of people will face acute famine within the next decade if serious action is not taken.
“There is also a chronic issue of slow violence as a result of how African food systems are configured,” said Florian Kroll, CoE-FS researcher and the centre’s project lead for AFSTC.
“When people feel food insecure, they prioritise cheap foods and those are the kinds of things that, in the long run, will lead to lots of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.”
Additionally, he pointed out, “The long-term developmental potential and well-being of children are going to be harmed”.
The AFSTC aims to address the pressing challenges posed by African food systems. These systems, which both contribute and are vulnerable to climate change, have been grappling with numerous other crises.
Climate change has emerged as a prominent issue, intertwined with other ecological and social challenges, posing a serious threat to the future of food security on the continent.
As Kroll said, “We cannot ignore the fact that African food systems play a role in climate change. They are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and yet, they are disproportionately impacted by the consequences of global warming.”
Kroll, who is based at UWC and leads the CoE-FS’s Food Imbizo, highlighted the multiple crises that face African food systems. Foremost among these is climate change.
“But it is important to emphasise that climate change, although perhaps the most massive change to be anticipated, intersects with a bunch of other crises, including biodiversity loss, soil degradation, resource depletion, urbanisation, and population growth,” he said.
In response to these challenges, the AFSTC aims to foster sustainable, resilient, and just food systems that can both mitigate and adapt to climate change, and align with the 13 principles of agroecology: recycling, input reduction, soil health, animal health, biodiversity, synergy, economic diversification, co-creation of knowledge, social values and diets, fairness, connectivity, land and natural resource governance, and participation. However, this ambitious goal faces significant obstacles, most notably, inadequate and poorly coordinated funding.
Dasoo highlighted the critical importance of financial support in achieving transformative change. “We need coherent and evidence-based funding strategies to drive the transition to sustainable food systems,” he said.
“But the existing funding landscape is often fragmented, and fails to address the holistic needs of this complex challenge.”
Dasoo added: “We decided to set up the AFSTC to use [the Collective’s] experience, knowledge and expertise to inform financing strategies that can be taken up by donors, and the philanthropic community more broadly, to make sure that we are using our funding in the optimal way.”
The inception meetings marked the commencement of an inclusive dialogue that brought together diverse stakeholders with a shared commitment to addressing the multi-dimensional crises facing African food systems. These discussions aimed to facilitate collaborative efforts in shaping effective funding strategies to support the much-needed transformation.
Participants acknowledged that traditional approaches to funding were insufficient in addressing the interconnectedness of food system challenges. They advocated for a transformative approach that would embrace innovation, empower local communities, and promote sustainable practices.
A key aspect highlighted during the inception meetings was the significance of research in informing evidence-based funding strategies. By leveraging their expertise and networks, researchers can provide valuable data and analysis to help identify effective interventions. This, in turn, will enhance the coherence and impact of funding efforts aimed at transforming African food systems.
Kroll concluded the inception meetings by pointing to next steps. These included establishing research clusters and identifying research partners to work on specific research outputs.
The inception meetings will be followed by in-person workshops. The locations and host institutions for those workshops are still to be identified. As the inception meetings concluded, the shared determination to create a better future for African food systems shone through.
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