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Kenya Fellow

Ledama Masidza

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Spotlight
09.02.2024

Ledama Masidza: a food system is a community. Without care, it cannot function

At only 24, Ledama Masidza knows one thing to be true; impact can only be realised if the indigenous communities who own the resources also own the work and the benefits. This way of thinking has shaped how the marine conservationist and indigenous food systems advocate approaches food systems transformation in coastal Kenya and in the highlands of Samburu County. In this blog, he tells us more about how he is working with communities to craft indigenous solutions to food insecurity and biodiversity loss and gives us useful tips on how to make our food more sustainable.

Ledama Masidza, Aquaculture Fellow
  1. Who is Ledama Masidza, the food systems leader?

My journey is deeply rooted in a profound connection to the land and sea. Driven by the hope of creating a kinder world, my commitment to sustainability is evident in my intimate relationship with ecologies, recognizing them as the foundation of our food systems.

My adventurous and explorative spirit has led me to spend time with diverse communities globally, fostering a deep pride in the history of lands, oceans, and people. I emphasize the importance of care in every aspect of our food system. Care involves nurturing ecologies, and appreciating people situated at each point of our system, fostering Ubuntu—the African philosophy of “I am because we are.” For me, a food system is a community, and without care, it cannot function optimally or equitably.

Using the power of storytelling, I strive to share narratives that nurture care and connection among the various stakeholders in our food systems. My journey has evolved to coordinating philanthropic work across diverse communities and environments in Kenya and being a Global Changemaker Alumni and PANORAMA Ambassador. I am committed to sharing knowledge that empowers communities to thrive sustainably, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of global food systems leadership.

  1. What does a typical day in your professional life look like?

In my line of work, no day is the same—it’s a mix of unique experiences that flow from the stunning Kenyan sea coast to the rugged landscape of Samburu up north, and all the diverse commitments in between.

Along the coast, mornings kick off with a refreshing snorkel, gliding alongside Amani, the resident Hawksbill turtle in the Kuruwitu Marine Sanctuary. Then, it’s all about supporting fisher communities—preserving traditional fisheries knowledge, advocating for marine conservation, and empowering households through climate-smart gardening and regenerative approaches.

As an Ambassador for Oceans Alive, my main responsibility is carrying the voice of the communities we work with, and making sure their stories are heard at national and global forums where decisions are made. Staying connected with the community rhythm is at the core of what I do.

Ledama monitors coral nurseries in the Kuruwitu Marine Sanctuary.

In Samburu, my work is focused on Mt Nyiro—a magical place with a deep history. Here, days are spent supporting the local community in water and food security programs, school development, and establishing a conservancy. Whether trekking down the mountain, visiting stakeholder groups, or hiking through the forest, I thoroughly enjoy being hands-on and grounded.

Being a filmmaker and storyteller, both the ocean and the mountain forests are playgrounds for exploration and attentive listening. Each day is a canvas for capturing moments that tell profound stories about the communities and landscapes I’m fortunate to be part of.

  1. What food systems action are you currently working on and what problem is it solving?

One food systems action that is particularly close to my heart is the Local and Indigenous Food Systems Transformation (LIFT) Network initiative. Our mission transcends borders, uniting organizations including Meli Bees Network (Brazil), Prairie Food Systems Vision Network  (Canada), FRIEND (Fiji), Village Farmer Initiative (Nigeria), and Oceans Alive (Kenya). Our approach involves creating Solution Labs—collaborative spaces where innovative ideas and community-based solutions for food systems are shared, developed, and funded.

I actively contribute to the development of the Kenya Solution Labs, specifically addressing food insecurity and environmental degradation in Kilifi County, Coastal Kenya. These are huge challenges for coastal communities due to harsh climates and diminishing fisheries. Our solution revolves around revitalizing traditional systems, both in the water with a focus on community fisheries, and on land with an emphasis on climate-smart and regenerative solutions.

Ledama Masidza

In our fisheries initiatives, we collaborate closely with communities to establish Tengefu systems—a community marine protected area initially established under Village Elder Law. This initiative aims to restore communities’ power in managing marine resources. On land, our efforts center around empowering women to initiate climate-smart backyard gardens, enhancing household nutrition, and providing alternative income sources through surplus sales.

Within this lab, we offer comprehensive training and support, providing access to essential resources such as equipment, seeds, organic fertilizers, biocides, and water-saving technologies. Beyond collaborating with women’s groups, we extend our partnerships to local schools, advocating for the significance of climate-smart agriculture among younger generations.

  1. Who are the most interesting collaborators you’re working with?

The most captivating aspect of my work lies in the extraordinary communities I collaborate with, a term as broad as the ocean yet insufficient to capture the essence of the incredible characters they hold. The success of the projects I drive relies heavily on their active involvement, knowledge, and dedication.

Their intimate connection with the environment, traditional wisdom, and commitment to sustainable practices are invaluable in shaping effective and sustainable strategies. Take Hamisi– from Kuruwitu community — whose connection to the sea transcends mere familiarity and holds profound understanding. I vividly recall a moment when we were caught out as the tide was coming out, posing a serious challenge to our ability to return to shore. Hamisi, with the knowledge of countless tides, guided us through the chaos. His intimate knowledge of the sea is a testament to a bond forged over a lifetime and never fails to leave me in awe. Then there is Leshurwa from Uaso Rongai Village— whose level of fitness defies the ordinary. When monitoring the mountain forest and the daunting task of steep hikes, Leshurwa effortlessly skips along pointing out ecological shifts while I struggle to catch my breath.

These collaborators are not just colleagues; they are living embodiments of the environments we navigate, the challenges we overcome, and the stories we carry. They are the guardians of wisdom, the custodians of strength, and vessels of narratives that illuminate the way in our shared journey to find sustainable solutions.

Ledama poses with community members during a youth empowerment workshop in Samburu
  1. What is a professional accomplishment that you’re particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud of helping establish community ownership of key ecological spaces both in the water with the Kuruwitu Co-Management Area and on land with the Nyiro South Conservancy. It is a childhood dream come true but the journey to get here was anything but a straight road – it challenged me to step out of my comfort zone.

This work was born out of a deep frustration of seeing environments that I deeply cared for decline and the loss of livelihoods for people close to my heart. I passionately believe in the power of community-led management and traditional approaches to care for natural resources and now I see the community light up with pride when they officially take charge of their fishing grounds and lands.

I see this accomplishment as the starting point of a journey full of possibilities. My focus is not only on what I can do, but what we can do together. My belief in the power of collaboration gives me confidence that there is still a lot in store for us to accomplish together. So the joy isn’t just in the achievement; it’s in being part of a story where hard work and consistency pay off over time. Walking the journey together with a community is the best motivator.

  1. Sustainability is an integral part of transforming food systems. What are three food decisions that everyday people can make today to contribute to a healthier environment?

When it comes to food, our everyday decisions can be the start of a ripple effect. Here are three simple yet impactful food decisions I believe we can make daily to contribute to a healthier environment:

Learn more about your food: Understanding what’s on your plate. Take a moment to find out about the food you consume—where it’s grown, how it’s produced, what’s inside it and reflect, ask yourself what it means for the environment. Being informed allows us to make better, more sustainable choices.

Eat local: Consider adopting a diet that’s not just good for you but also for the environment that surrounds you. Opt for foods that are native to your region, as they are often well-suited to local soils and ecosystems. These choices not only promote environmental health, preservation, and local markets of native crops but also contribute to your well-being.

Ledama Masidza

Mind your waste: Evaluate how you manage and dispose of food waste. Aim to minimize waste by planning meals efficiently, storing food properly, and repurposing leftovers. Additionally, consider composting organic waste to reduce the environmental impact of your kitchen scraps.

  1. What is your one big prediction for food systems for 2024?

The year 2024 will witness a crucial turning point where the interconnected nature of food systems becomes even more apparent. The web of discussion will extend beyond food alone, encompassing critical topics like energy, technology, and ecological preservation. This shift will illuminate the true essence of a “system” in food systems, emphasizing the need for holistic approaches that consider the interplay of various factors.

Building on the encouraging financial pledges announced at COP28 in Dubai, the key challenge lies in translating these commitments into tangible actions on the ground. A critical gap currently exists between the level of risk financial institutions are willing to undertake and the scalability or profitability of on-the-ground solutions. Bridging this gap requires a willingness to take chances, learn from experiences, and allow for the evolution of models that prove effective.

Ledama at a capacity-building workshop with the members of the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Community Based Organisation
  1. Looking back at your journey as a food systems leader, what would you do differently?

Having now experienced the global stage, I recognize the missed opportunities to speak out more and share the different perspectives and thoughts I held in earlier key moments. As a 24-year-old, being young at the table often carries an unspoken expectation to listen and absorb, feeling that one hasn’t yet earned the right to voice opinions. I now understand the importance of challenging this narrative. I believe spaces can benefit from the unique insights of the youth.

I would also have taken more chances and risks with my ideas. There’s a tendency to wait for perfection, for that one funder, before launching an idea. Yet, I realize now that our greatest resource is often within ourselves and our drive. Sometimes, taking the first step within our existing networks, leveraging the human resources around us, is enough to initiate change. Our networks are not for show; they are valuable resources that extend beyond financial capital.

  1. How is the AFF setting you up for success as a food systems leader?

The African Food Fellowship has played a pivotal role in my growth as a food systems leader. First and foremost, the Fellowship has been an educational powerhouse, equipping me with key tools for systems craft that have become integral to my approach. This has not only broadened my knowledge but has also given me a language base to engage in in-depth discussions about food systems at a professional level.

Ledama poses with Kenya Dean Brenda Mareri during his graduation from the Food Systems Leadership Programme offered by the African Food Fellowship

Beyond knowledge, AFF has gifted me an invaluable network of incredible food systems leaders, not just from my country but across Africa. This network serves as a vital resource for me, offering channels for collaboration and access to diverse perspectives. One Fellow has become a collaborator on one of my projects, emphasizing the tangible impact of this interconnected community.

A standout feature of the Fellowship is the space it provides for personal and professional exploration. The openness and support to develop ideas and foster discussion makes it a playground for honing leadership capabilities. It’s not just about learning theories; it’s about applying them in real-world scenarios with the support of intelligent and experienced mentors.