The African Food Fellowship held the second edition of the annual Kenya Transform Food Festival on Nov 3, 2023.
The festival brought together food systems innovators, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and decision-makers working across government, private sector, civil society, and community groups. It explored and raised the profile of existing and emerging issues in Kenya’s food systems, focusing on the impact areas of agrifinance, horticulture, and aquaculture.
Giving the keynote address at the event, African Food Fellowship Director Joost Guijt urged guests to keep hope alive in the face of big challenges such as climate change, malnutrition, and poverty facing the food and agriculture sector today.
“The African Food Fellowship is built on hope. Not idealistic, wishful thinking, but hope rooted in research and science. We want people to see agriculture as an attractive sector to invest and participate in, and not as a last resort when everything else has failed. That’s the radical space within which the Fellowship operates,” he said.
He called on Fellows and guests to be bold in their leadership and to experiment with new approaches in order to effect impactful change on the ground.
“Leaders are a means to an end. Your responsibility is to work on food systems actions that bring about much-needed change and deliver a food system that is healthier, inclusive, and sustainable,” said Joost.
Kenya Dean and Implementation Lead Brenda Mareri said the festival provides a great platform for different people to connect, and hopefully collaborate.
“What makes the Transform Food festival special is the diversity and caliber of food systems practitioners who spend the day with us, sharing their work and ideas. We hope that the festival can be a launching pad for exciting innovations and projects designed for impactful action on the ground,” she said.
Despite heavy rains, the guests enjoyed an action-filled afternoon, participating in discussions about collaborative leadership, and exploring tools such as the foresight methodology that could help to future-proof their work.
Some Kenya Food Fellows gave TED-talk-style presentations highlighting their leadership journey since joining the Fellowship and their achievements so far.
“I enjoy Kenyan coffee, and I am working to ensure that coffee farmers are getting good value from their produce by advocating for them to be paid in USD, as is stated in the law. This has made a big difference in farmers’ incomes, especially now as the Kenyan shilling depreciates against the dollar,” said Kevin Irungu, an Agrifinance Fellow and the tea and coffee sector head in food and agriculture banking at Equity Bank.
Mercy Munene, an Agrifinance Fellow and the founder of Shamba Connect, shared an emotional story about how growing her own vegetables helped her to overcome personal health challenges and made her an advocate for homegrown food in urban centers.
“The biggest lesson I have learnt from the African Food Fellowship is the power of collaboration and systemic thinking. In order to achieve real change in the food system, we have to treat the root causes of the challenges we see, not just the symptoms, and we have to work together since these challenges are complex and interconnected,” she said.
The highlight of the festival was the annual Kenya Food Systems Leadership Award which is given to a Fellow who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and impact in their work.
This year’s award winner, Horticulture Fellow Gregory Kimani, is the founder of City Shamba, an urban farming initiative teaching people in cities how to grow their own food. He has set up a model farm at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi where more than 1800 people so far received knowledge and skills on how to grow vegetables using very little land and water and have set up their own kitchen gardens. Gregory also supplies the hospital with vegetables to supplement its patients’ nutrition needs.
Agrifinance Fellow Mutuma Muriuki was named the first runner-up. He is a soil expert working to address soil degradation, which poses a significant threat to food security and sustainability. Soil health directly impacts the livelihoods of millions of farmers and the well-being of entire communities. His project focuses on utilizing biochar biofertilizer from organic waste to rehabilitate, recycle and enhance soil quality. He has seen farmers’ yields increase by 50% after using biochar.
The second runner up was Dorah Momanyi, the founder of iPoP Africa, an agri-business that reclaims the sovereignty of indigenous grains such as pearl millet, sorghum, and brown rice by transforming them into modern snacks and breakfast cereals. Being fortified, oil free, gluten free and whole grain the snacks contribute to improving the nutritional status of children and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and the urban population.