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Research
25.10.2022

Rethinking African food systems leadership

The African Food Fellowship works on the assumption that new types of leadership are needed to accelerate necessary changes in food systems. To explore this assumption, the Fellowship joined forces with researchers from the Southern Africa Food Lab to produce a seminal report on food systems leadership and what it means in the African context.

The report confronts assumptions about the kind of leadership required to shift food systems in Africa to make them more effective, regenerative and sustainable, grappling with big questions such as what makes leadership “African” and how we can harness it for transformative change.

Rwanda Fellows interact during their graduation from the Food Systems Leadership Programme run by the African Food Fellowship. The programme equips them with the leadership skills and capacity to tackle new challenges facing food systems.

Rwanda Fellows interact during their graduation from the Food Systems Leadership Programme run by the African Food Fellowship. The programme equips them with the leadership skills and capacity to tackle new challenges facing food systems.

“These issues are still open for debate and experimentation. We are committed to contribute to this knowledge agenda, and we are keen to put African thinking on leadership in food systems central to this quest,” said African Food Fellowship research and knowledge lead Herman Brouwer.

The report was prepared by the Southern Africa Food Lab researchers Busiso Moyo and Ralph Hamann on behalf of the African Food Fellowship, and distilled into a synthesis paper by Scott Drimie of Stellenbosch University. The manuscript can be downloaded here.

The report highlights that for food systems leadership in Africa to be effective and transformative, practitioners in the space must decolonise their basic understanding of leadership. This means not only rejecting contextual, cultural and historicised factors that impose leadership particularities on the African continent, but also platforming intersectional critiques of the world-system, and ultimately opening up the African space for self-determination.

The researchers also emphasise that dialogue is key in effective leadership, and recommend that entities such as the African Food Fellowship must foster open-minded conversations that allow people to talk to each other, and champion the forms of knowledge that they value. This would help to addresses structural power asymmetries which exclude most Africans from meaningfully influencing, participating in, or benefiting from global food systems.

Another key take away includes an emphasis in gender mainstreaming by increasing women participation in designing and implementing future food systems. Women should be central to the agenda-setting for transformation and need to be recognised as leaders in the food system. The report also stresses the need to put special focus on indigenous knowledge systems as integral to understanding the challenges in African food systems and designing innovative responses to address them.

The African Food Fellowship has promptly capitalized on the results of the report, it adopted and integrated the recommendations its approach, borrowing heavily from these concepts to critically review and improve its flagship offering, the Food Systems Leadership Programme, now in its fourth iteration in Kenya and Rwanda. As a result, the Fellowship has seen its Fellows and Faculty grow more diverse to include non-traditional food actors and incorporate new forms of knowledge.

“We recognize that ongoing dialogue about our contribution to the decolonization of development and science is essential to make progress. It is with this intention that we share this summary paper and welcome your reactions,” said Herman Brouwer.

About the African Food Fellowship

The African Food Fellowship is bringing together a new generation of African leaders to build healthier, more inclusive and sustainable food systems across the continent. We equip leaders and practitioners to deliver new forms of action to transform food systems. The Fellowship is hosted by leading institutions Wageningen University and Research and Wasafiri Consulting with support from the IKEA Foundation.