Game-changers for sustainable food systems – A reflection piece in support of #AfricanCITYFOODMonth

Game-changers for sustainable food systems – A reflection piece in support of #AfricanCITYFOODMonth

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In the last years, different crises have harshly pointed out the importance of strength and resilience in sustainable food systems. Besides trying to keep up with fast-paced population growth, cities in Africa have been facing several other crises, such as pandemics, climate change and war.

Covid-19 disrupted food supply chains preventing food produced in rural areas from being transported to cities, consequently leading to significant post-harvest losses and an increase in food prices in urban spaces. Covid-19 accelerated already high youth unemployment, in addition, the Russia-Ukraine war is leading many African countries to think about food sovereignty.

Amidst these challenges are also opportunities on the road to recovery of local food systems. And at Rikolto, for this #AfricanCITYFOODMonth we want to focus on multi-stakeholder collaboration and innovations to strengthen the resilience of cities' food systems.

Every July, the annual #AfricanCITYFOODmonth campaign highlights diverse, innovative and evolving African urban food systems. This year's campaign is themed "Nourishing our cities towards equitable recovery", and is organised by the ICLEI-RUAF CITYFOOD network, a global network for local and regional governments to develop a strategic approach to their city-region food systems, where Rikolto is a member.

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Supporting youth-led innovative businesses

Growing middle-class consumers in African cities who still value traditional foods is contributing to the emergence of local, youth-led enterprises adding value to local crops. This is reorganising local food supply networks, leading to the integration of local production and consumption, and creating jobs for the youth.

In Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), young entrepreneurs participating in the Generation Food programme are living this reality by transforming local food produce from tomatoes, tamarind, baobab, bissap, grains, and seasonal fruits such as mangoes and oranges into ready-to-eat products that are minimally processed and packaged to preserve their nutritional value.

Young entrepreneurs are contributing to reduced post-harvest losses, stabilising food prices in the markets, providing access to the market for farmers, and earning a decent income paving a way for recovery from some of the global shocks.

Efforts to support youth-led businesses go far beyond Ouagadougou, as Rikolto has set up business incubators in Arusha (Tanzania), Mbale and Gulu (Uganda), and in five regions of Tanzania’s Southern Highlands.

Through our Generation Food programme implemented in Leuven (Belgium), Arusha (Tanzania), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Mbale (Uganda) and Quito (Ecuador), we want to support the dream of young people who want to start or enhance their own businesses and reduce the global "food footprint".

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There are however many challenges to overcome for African youth: From lack of policy coordination and coherence from local governments to issues of access to innovative, cheap, and adequate finance. For African cities to recover from the global shocks, these challenges will have to be addressed in a holistic manner through consultative stakeholder engagements.

Seeking systemic solutions through multi-stakeholder platforms

Designing solutions that cut across sectors and span across the food system requires strengthening different voices in the food system and including them in decisions about new initiatives and food policies.

In Arusha and Mbeya (Tanzania) and Mbale (Uganda), we have contributed to setting-up multi-stakeholder platforms that include a wide variety of food system actors. From local government officials, research institutions and private companies to representatives of NGOs (non-governmental organisations), farmer organisations and youth, multi-stakeholder platforms bring different voices around the same table to discuss challenges and opportunities for collaborations in the city’s food system.

These platforms have been crucial in driving new initiatives such as the participatory food safety guarantee system – a quality assurance mechanism to verify compliance with a localised set of food safety standards – and improving market infrastructure in a participatory way in Arusha and Mbeya.

They have also initiated nutrition and food safety campaigns to promote market hygiene and the importance of eating a balanced diet to boost immune systems in the fight against covid-19. We are looking to expand these multi-stakeholder platforms under Rikolto’s Good Food for Cities programme to Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Rubavu (Rwanda), and Kampala (Uganda), Goma, and Bukavu (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Facilitating multi-stakeholder processes: a toolkit

The toolkit offers the essential concepts, tools and attitudes needed to make multi-stakeholder collaboration work in food systems.

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Designing shorter chains to improve resilience

Besides empowering food actors, we also advocate for innovation and stepping away from business as usual to strengthen food systems.

In Kampala, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam, we have piloted digital food distribution models together with youth-led enterprises, such as Bringo Fresh, Mesula, GreenfootGo and East Africa Fruits. Digital food distribution models can help improve efficiency and make food chains shorter, enabling traceability, better control over food safety practices, and helping balance the need for affordability with that of a decent income for food producers and vendors. It also allowed consumers to avoid busy marketplaces during the height of covid-19.

To green our cities, we are piloting circular food economy models that minimise food waste as much as possible. Not only do they contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they also increase food availability and significantly improve efficiency within our food systems by diminishing the need for land conversion for food production and lowering methane emissions from food in landfills.

“Jointly, we wanted to create value to the organic food waste through circular models, while reducing dependency on imported fertilizer. We also wanted to contribute to job creation for youth, improved hygiene at Arusha’s food markets, and environmental sustainability.”

For instance, Rikolto partnered with Arusha City, the Arusha Sustainable Food Systems Platform, and two enterprises: Kusanya and Chanzi. Kusanya employs youth to collect food waste from markets, hotels, and restaurants as well as residential areas and Chanzi purchases and recycles food waste into animal feeds and fertiliser.

Co-written by our colleagues:

Bernadette Ouattara
Bernadette Ouattara
Food Smart Cities programme coordinator
+226 70 26 86 96
Josephine Ecklu
Josephine Ecklu
Inclusive Business coordinator
Kain Mvanda
Kain Mvanda
Food Smart City cluster Director in East Africa & Tanzania Country Representative

Editors: Ine Tollenaers (Rikolto) and Charlotte Flechet (Rikolto).

Rikolto supports cities in formulating food policies and putting them into practice. In 2021, we supported 19 city-regions in their transition towards sustainable, inclusive and healthy food systems.

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