When the COVID-19 pandemic led to a spike in the costs of animal feeds, a community in Busia County knew they had to work together to devise a solution and save their livelihoods. They created a network of stakeholders to produce Black Soldier Fly Larvae as a cheap source of protein for their livestock. This new feed has been especially beneficial for fish farmers for whom fish feeds make up as much as 70 percent of total production costs.
Their work is the basis of a new report released by the African Food Fellowship which examines the food systems leadership exemplified by this community that has enabled them to work together to find a solution to a common problem. The research, published as a case study in July 2023, interrogates the nature of systems leadership, which is defined by its collective and collaborative nature.
Rather than elevating an individual actor and propagating the myth of a single hero, systems leadership is built on the concerted efforts and influence of multiple individuals and organisations at various levels and locations within the food system. The case study isolates three key practices as being essential to systems leadership. These include accessing and engaging a broad network of stakeholders, daring to try out something new, and influencing decisions in the network and system.
African Food Fellow Fredrick Juma is an active member of this community. He founded and runs Hydro Victoria Fish Hatchery which piloted the Black Soldier Fly Larvae production model in 2020, and currently serves as a fish feeds producer and aggregator, working primarily with the BSF Larvae produced by the network of out-growers.
“Since 2021, Hydro Victoria has recruited and signed contracts with 158 insect farmers, mainly targeting women and youth in Bunyala and Samia Sub Counties in Busia Kenya. The uptake of BSF larvae technology has created an additional income stream for the farmers involved, with average earnings of USD 200 per month from sales of BSF products and by-products,” states the case study.
Multiple stakeholders including community members, government officials, financial institutions, and development partners, have since come on board. They are slowly improving the accessibility of animal feeds in the region, securing additional incomes for farmers, and cleaning up the environment.
Although still in its nascent stage, the BSFL initiative is already achieving change and gaining traction in Port Victoria in Busia County where it operates. BSFL has been found to reduce reliance on expensive and imported feeds, create alternative livelihoods for community members, and a household-based protein supply for livestock rearing including aquaculture, poultry, and pig production. In addition, as the larvae feeds on organic waste such as vegetable peels, fruit waste and food remnants, the initiative is helping the community to keep their environment clean and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The researchers interviewed Juma and 17 of his collaborators including fish farmers, a media manager, government officials, restaurant owners, a bank official, fish traders, and aquaculture entrepreneurs. They are all playing different roles to ensure the success of the initiative.
“One of the government’s big four agendas is food security, and as a bank, we try to run with the agenda of the government. Food and nutrition security is key. For Port Victoria, we want to help the farmers and communities to diversify, and that is why we are supporting this initiative,” said one respondent.
Another respondent talked about the efforts that have gone into recruiting more BSFL producers to benefit more participants.
“Now that the schools have opened, teachers go and pilot the idea. The schools have feeding programmes, and hence they have waste from food remnants. So the teacher is looking at the food remnants as a source of food for the black soldier fly,” they said.
They appreciated their engagement with Hydro Victoria and Juma as key supporters who encourage active participation in the initiative, often providing training and incentives to get more stakeholders on board.
“What sets Hydro Victoria apart is its engagement with the community. Fred gives farmers one piglet, which goes for Ksh 4,500, a one-month-old chicken costing Kshs.200, and 1 kg of BSF Pupae costing Kshs.500 to start. Additionally, he offers free training and transportation of inputs and produce. Fred is spending close to Ksh 10,000 per farm, which other investors would see as a loss,” said one of the interviewees.
The researchers found that the collaborative nature of Juma’s leadership which decentralizes power throughout the entire value chain and encourages a culture of experimentation and collaboration has contributed immensely to the success of this initiative.
“The findings of the study align with existing research, which isolates the following systems leadership practices as being central to systems change. They include considering the system as a whole; having a shared vision; having multi-stakeholder ownership and championship; having clearly designed coordinators and facilitators; having the ability to learn, adapt, and change; and having proven or potential influence on system behaviour,”states the case study
Systems leadership considers the whole ecosystem within which ideas are conceived, implemented, and measured. This is an especially important approach for food systems leaders as they grapple with the complex and interconnected challenges facing the food system today. Single-actor interventions have frequently led to unintended consequences and have so far failed to provide satisfactory results. Instead, effectively tackling the complex and interconnected challenges and vulnerabilities that affect African food systems requires the active involvement and collaboration of multiple stakeholders across different levels.
The case study is part of the African Food Fellowship’s efforts to build a body of knowledge on what food systems leadership looks like in practice, examining its real-life application and providing a framework through which its core concepts can be measured.