When the African Food Systems Leadership Programme opens its doors to its inaugural class on May 17th 2021, it will make history as the first of its kind on the continent. This ambitious programme, designed to collaboratively shape the ambition, agendas and market dynamics of Africa’s food systems, will be defined by the calibre of the first cohort of fellows it admits.
They are a group of 30 young, ambitious and successful individuals with big dreams for themselves and for the continent. Their areas of expertise spans the width and breadth of African food systems, and they are proud to stand up to be counted.
“I was confident there were many strong, emerging leaders in Kenya committed to new kinds of food systems. My concern was: would we be able to find them, and would we be able to entice them with our offer? The answer is YES to both. The first cohort is full of creative, committed and kind people who each are hard at work acting on their commitment to fairer, healthier food systems,” says Joost Guijt, Director, African Food Fellowship.
In this first instalment, we meet three of the 30 fellows
Winnie Yegon has built an impressive career as an agricultural economist, specializing in food losses and food systems. She currently works at the Nairobi office of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the united Nations (FAO) where, as a food analyst, she is responsible for assessing urban food systems and building capacity among youth in agribusiness.
“I have a diverse background working with various organizations in the agro-food sector especially on issues around sustainable food systems. My experience ranges from project formulation, management and implementation to research and development, policy and strategy development and stakeholder interactions,” she says.
Winnie will be joining AFF under the horticulture impact area, where she will be instrumental in transforming food systems to support informal food markets and new enterprises. This will create a better ecosystem where the fruits and vegetables produced are safer, farmers have better access to markets and consumers enjoy better quality produce at prices they can afford. In the end, the vision is to not only secure sustainable livelihoods for the majority of Kenyans who operate under informal production and market systems, but also to reduce Kenya’s double burden of undernutrition and obesity.
For Charles Kanyuguto, the magic is in aquaculture. Charles is the Chairperson and Co-Founder Nyeri County Fish Farmers Cooperative Society, a position he has held since 2013. Under his leadership, the society enjoys the patronage of over 3,000 farmers in Nyeri county who are actively engaged in improving fish food systems in the region.
Along with the other nine fellows focusing on aquaculture in this inaugural cohort, Charles will be seeking to make Kenya’s fish industry sustainable and inclusive. Although it is recognised by the government as a critical growth sector, aquaculture in Kenya is choking under the stranglehold of fish imports from China which have effectively colonized 90 per cent of the market. Imports from China are cheaper by half effectively edging out local catches.
“I am dedicated to make societal change for small scale business and communities in Kenya. I am an elected local leader engaged in fish food systems to lead community members in thinking and innovating beyond existing food systems, in order to achieve food security, livelihood, environmental sustainability, climate change and poverty alleviation,” he says.
Sieka Gatabaki, a deputy program director at MercyCorps Agrifin, joins the third impact area, agri-finance and digital. A passionate changemaker, his role entails providing technical advice on digital platform development, financial & information services to establish successful partnerships that provide small holder farmers with increased access to digital services while accelerating usage and retention.
“I am a strategic and innovative individual with strong leadership qualities who is able to motivate others towards achieving a common goal. I am organized, highly motivated, and a problem solver,” he says.
Access to capital remains a big challenge to Kenyan food producers who have been left behind even as the country became a world leader in providing digital finance services. The solution is to create pathways for investment and innovations for those working in agriculture. This will effectively lower the risk of lending to farmers and agricultural practitioners, thus opening the way for new products, more value chains and better profits for stakeholders.
With the focus, talent and insight that Winnie, Charles, Sieka and the rest of the peers bring into the class, the Fellowship foresees an Africa where there is healthy food for all, coming from biodiverse and productive landscapes, providing equitable opportunities for everyone. This inaugural cohort of food systems leaders makes a strong case for Africa’s prosperous food future.
“Systems leadership is a gift that keeps on giving throughout your career and in all walks of
your life – it is a mindset that can set you apart in how effectively you create positive change
in the world,” said Alex Rees of Wasafiri Consulting.