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Rwanda Fellow

Petronille Dusingizimana


Kenya Fellow

Kelvin Muli

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Beyond COP26: New climate goals a big boost for inclusive food systems


African Food Fellows at COP28: we went, we saw, we contributed

Kelvin Muli and Petronille Dusingizimana during COP28 in Dubai in November 2023

In November 2023, we sent two Fellows to COP 28. Petronille Dusingizimana from Rwanda and Kelvin Muli from Kenya were our representatives at the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. COP is a gathering where world leaders agree on how to respond to the climate crisis, including interventions such as limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and helping vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change. Crucially, this conference seeks to help the world achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

COP28 was special as it was the first one to have a particular focus on food systems. It signals that world leaders are finally looking at food systems transformation as a tool for advancing climate action and mitigating the dire impacts of climate change, which include food insecurity, conflict, and poverty.

Food systems are both a driver of and a way to alleviate climate change. While they contribute to about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, food systems also hold a huge potential for positive climate action. Food systems leaders are therefore indispensable to any conversations about climate change.

In this blog, Petronille and Kelvin shed light on their experiences at COP28, and how their work is contributing towards building healthy, inclusive, and sustainable food systems in service to people and the planet.

  • What expectations did you have for COP28?

Petronille: I went to COP28 expecting to see global commitments and collaborative initiatives addressing climate change in the context of agriculture and food systems. I especially wanted to see tangible outcomes of previous COP commitments and new agreements that would significantly contribute to the advancement of sustainable practices, particularly for Africa, in recognition of the unique challenges faced by the continent.

Kelvin: As a first-time attendee, I was excited to be part of the global conversation on climate change. I had high expectations for the conference, and I was eager to learn more about the latest developments in climate science, policy, and food systems. I was particularly interested in seeing what mechanisms would be enacted to facilitate the transfer of environmentally sound food systems technologies and the enhancement of developing countries’ capacity to implement them effectively.

  • How can a platform like COP28 help to address some of the most pressing food systems challenges facing Africa today?

Petronille: By fostering collaborations between international organizations, governments, and grassroots initiatives, COP provides an opportunity to develop innovative solutions, share best practices, and secure commitments to support sustainable agriculture and food systems. The exchange of ideas and the formation of partnerships at such a global scale can catalyze transformative change and contribute to building resilient and sustainable food systems in Africa.

COPs can spark or speed up tangible solutions. For example, at COP28, 159 world leaders adopted the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. The proclamation intends to encourage workers in agriculture and food systems to retain inclusive and decent work, increase food security and nutrition through school feeding programs and social protection systems, and scale up adaptation and resilience for farmers, fishers, and food producers.

Kelvin Muli

  • Who were you most excited to hear/meet at this year’s COP? Why?

Petronille: I was particularly thrilled to hear and meet with Ismahane Elouaifi, the new Managing Director of CGIAR. Her leadership role and commitment to addressing global food challenges, coupled with her status as a woman in a prominent position, exemplify the positive impact of gender empowerment in the agricultural sector. This encounter was inspiring, and it highlighted the critical role women play in advancing food and agriculture.

Kelvin: COP28 made it possible for me to meet and listen to Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group. He discussed the necessity of addressing climate change and its effects on food systems. He also praised the $10 billion SAFE plan, which seeks to solve concerns related to food security and livelihoods by enlisting strategic investments from both public and private investors. Seeing influential people like Dr. Adesina addressing climate change and how it affects food systems was inspiring. To ensure that our world has a sustainable future, each of us has a part to play.

  • How did you get your voice heard at COP28?

Petronille: While I didn’t participate as a speaker, I actively engaged with high-profile individuals from diverse organizations and countries around the world, especially those working directly with agriculture and food systems. I enjoyed sharing insights about the African Food Fellowship and discussing the challenges and opportunities for sustainable land use in Africa. By participating in discussions and networking sessions, I indirectly contributed to the dialogue surrounding climate change adaptation and food systems, ensuring that the perspectives and needs of Africa were represented.

Kelvin: I was quite proactive for the entire COP28. I joined multiple panels to examine innovative ways to enhance food sustainability, contributed significantly during discussions, and actively engaged in food systems side activities. I also used social media to post and share my day-to-day experiences for the duration of COP28.

  • Looking at COP28, what subjects did not make it to the negotiations that you would like to see prioritized for the next COP?

In the next COP, I would like to see a heightened emphasis on incorporating indigenous knowledge and practices into climate change and food system discussions. Recognizing and integrating traditional agricultural wisdom can enhance the resilience of local communities and contribute to more holistic and sustainable solutions. Involve Indigenous people as knowledgeable resources and subject matter experts not as vulnerable communities in need of aid.

Petronille Dusingizimana

Kelvin: I would like to see more focus on loss and damage, and climate finance. Although the agreement left many outstanding problems, it gave optimism to many low-income countries that have been hardest hit by climate change, primarily who will be eligible for funding and who will contribute to the fund. Rich nations have long faced criticism for not reaching their yearly target of raising $100 billion for financing adaptation by 2020, which was established at COP 15. In 2023, funding for adaptation was only $83.3 billion.

  • How is climate change affecting your country’s ability to build healthy, inclusive, and sustainable food systems?

Petronille: In Rwanda, erratic weather patterns characterized by changing precipitation and temperature extremes, magnified by the country’s hilly topography, impact crop yields and threaten food security. Additionally, these climate-induced disruptions disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, exacerbating existing inequalities.

Kelvin: Kenya’s food systems, which already face difficulties such as ecological degradation, unsustainable production practices, a lack of technical and financial resources, and a lack of institutional coordination, are seriously threatened by climate change. Extreme weather events occasioned by climate change have led to reduced crop yields, higher food prices, and increasing food poverty. In addition, we are seeing a rise in pest and disease outbreaks.

  • What aspect of your work particularly addresses climate change and its attendant challenges?

Petronille: I focus on sustainable land use practices. This involves actively promoting climate-resilient agricultural methods, advocating for the adoption of climate-smart technologies, and fostering community-based initiatives to enhance adaptive capacity. Simultaneously, as a Ph.D. student in climate change and sustainable agriculture, my research delves into the intersection of conservation agriculture and climate change. I explore innovative approaches to mitigate the impact of climate change on food systems, particularly focusing on enhancing soil health, water conservation, and overall resilience in cropping systems.

Kelvin: At Conservation Alliance of Kenya where I am the Programs Officer, I look at climate change and biodiversity loss hand-in-hand. I am focused on protecting and restoring biodiversity-rich ecosystems worldwide, from peatlands and wetlands to protected areas. I also build the resilience of those most affected by climate change, enabling them to adapt to a changing climate. I work closely with our partners to safeguard the livelihoods of the people on the front lines of climate change.

  • Who is the most important collaborator in your work?

Petronille: My most important collaborator is the scientific community, especially those who share a passion for climate change adaptation, agriculture, and sustainable food systems. The vibrant and supportive community within the African Food Fellowship, which has provided me with a unique platform to collaborate and enrich my research endeavors, has also been invaluable. Additionally, the connections I established at COP28, including the interactions with high-profile individuals from FAO and CGIAR centers, have expanded my network of collaborators, enhancing the impact and reach of my work. Together, these collaborations contribute to a more comprehensive and effective approach to addressing the challenges posed by climate change in the context of sustainable agriculture and food systems in Africa.

Kelvin: African Food Fellowship has been my biggest collaborator. They have never stopped helping me on my quest to promote and advocate for sustainable food systems, including giving me a scholarship for the Food Systems Leadership Programme and covering the cost of my trip to Dubai for COP28. Through the Fellowship, I became familiar with the ideas of moral leadership related to developing healthier, regenerative, and egalitarian food systems. I had the chance to mold my commitment to climate action during COP28. I’m excited to contribute to international efforts to combat climate change and promote food sustainability now that I have newfound abilities and a stronger love for sustainability.