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Fellows: The winds of change blowing across food systems in 2023

Radical change is in the air. Amid general rise in costs of food commodities, coupled with climate change toll on crop and livestock production, food system actors in Rwanda and Kenya say that 2023 will be a definitive year for food systems on the continent. It will necessitate new collaborations, new investments, and a rethinking of policies to weather these challenges and adapt to current and future crises.

“I’m curious to engage with other fellows to explore how we can collaborate as we apply the skills and knowledge we have acquired, and leverage events like the Rwanda Transform Food Festival planned this year to create partnerships with other organisations in areas we are in,” said Yves Jean Ntimugura, an Access to Nutritious Food Fellow from Rwanda.

He anticipates that 2023 will see government, partners and other players in the food system take climate change more seriously and align their interventions to mitigate its effects on food production. He predicts policy to focus more on supporting access to farm input, climate resilient farm practices, as well as support for rural vulnerable families to meet dietary needs on daily basis.

“There might be other organizations like us working with the community, which are promoting access to seeds of highly nutritious food items like mushrooms, high iron beans, orange and sweet potatoes and other. So we look forward to creating the kind of partnership around food systems,” he added.

Climate change is also top of mind for Horticulture Fellow Catherine Karanja from Kenya, who will focus her efforts this year on championing reforestation in the agricultural sector.

“I look forward to contributing to deforestation-free agricultural production. At an individual level, I will continue to practice agroforestry in our small farm, while at my job, I am excited about supporting more farmers appreciate the role of trees in improving soil health and improving agricultural yields and their incomes,” says the senior business development associate at One Acre Fund.

Lilian Bisase, also an Agri-Finance Fellow from Kenya, warns that new government policy may lead to less agricultural output for the country. She is worried that maize and rice production might fall as the government opens doors for duty free grain importation to mitigate the current food shortage crisis.

“I predict that maize and rice production in top producing counties in Kenya, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu may go down given the Ministry of Agriculture announcement that traders will be allowed to import up to 900,000 tonnes of duty-free white maize and 600,000 of duty-free milled rice from February to August this year,” she says.

Farmers have protested the importation of cheaper cereals into the country, saying that they hold hundreds of thousands of stocks which they will be forced to sell at a loss once imports land in the country. Statistics however show that Kenya is not food sufficient, forcing it to import maize, rice, and other food stuff to cover gaps in local production.

Food Entrepreneurship Fellow Kelvin Odoobo also hopes to see more homegrown solutions to ease food insecurity in Rwanda and lower costs of commodities.

“I look forward to seeing government and policy makers depending less on the easing of the global crises and more on promoting or starting own local initiatives to adapt to current and future crises to improve our food security,” he said, adding that this calls for emphasis on climate-smart practices, digital monitoring of crops, livestock and food chain to improve yields.

He is equally of the view that reducing food waste and taping into existing raw materials to manufacturer fertilizer will be priority in quest to build local solutions to food insecurity and mitigating against climate-change effects.