There are many sources of foods that are not being exploited, and this is something that preoccupies Access to Nutritious Foods Fellow Dr. Ildephonse Habinshuti. He believes that young people can leverage technology and research to make use of new food sources as a way of solving pressing food insecurity problems. To achieve this, he has been working with young people in Rwanda and across Africa as a lecturer and mentor. He shares more in this interview.
Who is Dr. Ildephonse, the food system leader?
Dr. Ildephonse Habinshuti is a food systems change-maker with a Ph.D. in Agro-products Processing and Utilization from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing-China.
I currently work as a lecturer at the University of Rwanda, College of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, in the Department of Food Science and Technology. I am interested in engaging youth in entrepreneurship in agriculture and changing food systems. Due to my interest in food systems transformation and resilience, I also volunteer for Thought for Food Foundation (TFF) as a regional coordinator for Central Africa.
What’s one thing that you are currently working on to contribute to the change you want to see in Rwanda’s food system?
As a university lecturer and researcher, I spend a lot of time with the youth talking about food and agriculture. This gives me the opportunity to help them think critically and open their eyes to the issues around food system transformation and resilience. I am putting my efforts into shaping an entrepreneurial mindset in the young generation in order to solve numerous problems in the food system. A nice bonus is that I learn a lot from them as well.
As a Fellow at the African Food Fellowship, I would like to explore unexploited food sources to increase access to nutritious foods. Many are sources of foods that are not being exploited due to stereotypes or just because we do not have enough information about them.
Tell us more about these unexploited food sources, and how youth can leverage innovation and research to make a difference.
To be specific, I would give an example of mulberry leaves and fruits. They are eaten in many Asian countries like China whereas in Rwanda we just grow them for sericulture. There is a big opportunity for young people to take a closer look at these lesser-known sources of food and champion their incorporation into the regular diets of Rwandans. This would be a big step towards fighting food insecurity.
We need to think critically and innovate in this regard. I spent 6 years in China and learned that there is no development without taking a problem and owning it. When you own a problem you struggle and make any possible efforts to find solutions for your problem.
What drives your passion for teaching? Why is this work important to you and your goals as a food system leader?
I see it as a good platform for me to share and exchange knowledge. Teaching is something that I love because I also see it as a means of taking someone’s hand and guiding them to be at the same level as you, and even beyond. Nothing would be greater than seeing someone you taught or coached doing better in the same career.
We cannot see changes without taking action. That is why I am investing what I have, which is my knowledge of agriculture and food, to help future generations make our food system better.
What would you do differently if you could go back to the beginning of your career?
If I were to go back to the beginning of my career, I would spend most of my time working on complex, systemic problems. I do regret that I came to the knowledge of the complexity of food systems very late.
What are the most important lessons you have learned since you joined the Fellowship, and how has it shaped your journey?
The African Food Fellowship has been so helpful to me. Even though I was working with an organization that is aiming to contribute to the food system transformation, it was not clear to me how complex the issues were. Now I understand the complexity of the system and the requirements for systemic changes.
At AFF, I am learning that together we can achieve greater things Collaboration is key. My journey ahead, as a food system change-maker has become clearer than before.
The Fellowship has also opened doors for me to get a scholarship from the Orange Knowledge Programme where I am going to take short courses about “Youth Entrepreneurship in Agriculture and Changing Food Systems” delivered by the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation.