AFRICAN FOOD SYSTEMS & THE SDGs CONFERENCE
The Conference will focus on five Thematic Areas
Urban food systems
Food systems and climate change
Policy change on food systems in Africa
The future of food systems in an increasingly complex world
Protecting African cultural food systems
About the Conference
Food systems are a global and immediate priority in the context of climate change, health and resilience. This 3-day conference focuses on the future of food systems in Africa. The conference will explore the complexity, diversity and nutritional value of African food systems and launch an action plan and declaration for change for better food systems geared towards the general public and policymaking bodies including the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities. The first two days will focus on five thematic areas. On the third day, the participants will join with the participants of an organic agriculture conference which follows the food systems event. The combined participants on the third day will number between 400 – 500.
Meet our Key Note speakers
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Explore the Conference themes
The urbanization of Africa is moving fast forward, especially south of the Sahara. It was estimated that in 1900 about 89% of inhabitants lived from the primary occupations of farming, hunting & gathering, cattle nomadism, and fishing, meaning that 11% or less were urban. At the start of the independence era in 1957, 14.7% of Africa’s inhabitants were urban; by 2000 it had risen to 37.2% and it was expected to rise to 49.3% by 2015, in effect over 3% per year (UN, 2002). In 1960 only one city, Johannesburg, had a population of one million, while in 2009 there were fifty-two cities with such large populations.
Urbanization in Africa has largely translated into rising slums, increasing poverty and inequality. As most of the migrants from rural areas are poorly educated and low-skilled, they end up in the informal sector which accounts for 93% of all new jobs and 61% of urban employment in Africa. Since incomes in the informal sector are by their very nature low and intermittent, many migrants become tenants of slum house-owners. Low income also means opting for cheap food which is often nutritionally deficient.
Another challenge from Africa’s rapid urbanization is the increasing pressure on natural resources and the environment. The expansion of cities is generally at the expense of the destruction of forests and other natural environments or ecosystems, and increasing pollution (especially air and water pollution) along with the related diseases.
Urban environments in Africa are very complex and the impact of the industrial food system in African urban areas needs much more discussion.
The conference will address questions such as:
- What is the impact of the industrial food system in urban areas on health, nutrition, food culture and environment?
- What is the impact of urbanization, both positive and negative, on rural food production?
- How can we address food shortages and food rights in urban areas? Can urban areas be self-sufficient?
- What is the potential of urbanization in addressing the challenges of food systems in Africa?
How can urban populations access healthy and nutritious food?
Climate change has made the discussion around soil a central agenda in world politics. There is a general consensus that food systems have the potential to either contribute positively to soil carbon sequestration or result in increasing the carbon load in the atmosphere. Food systems are the source of around 38% of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The industrial food system contributes hugely to this burden of GHGs throughout the food chain, from production, storage, processing, transportation and marketing.
Fixing the food system will have a huge implication on combating climate change. Fixing the food system can provide two of the most critical interventions that the climate change challenge demands. It can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and it can reduce carbon emissions, and both can be done at the same time through agroecological techniques. To effectively manage soil carbon, there must be an understanding of the food system and the variables that define it (food waste, GHGs, farmer health and livelihood, soils, management practices, energy use, policies and incentives, R&D, extension services, forest and land use, community health, and nutrition).
Everyone needs to have an entry point while seeing who else is part of the system. What are the feedback loops? Where can we make interventions with multiple co-benefits – for food security, land restoration, mitigation, adaptation, and farmer security? We will achieve more if we help everyone see the larger context and recognize the inter-related dynamics in our global food system.
The conference will discuss the questions:
- What are the connections between food systems, soil and the climate agenda?
- What are the critical elements in the soil carbon discussion?
- How can the debate around soil, food systems and climate change link with the SDGs?
- Who are the actors that address these issues and how can we reach out for a wider level of action?
African civil society should work to change policies related to food systems in the continent. As the first Food System conference in Africa in 2016 identified, most of the policies on food systems in Africa are influenced by narratives mainly generated by the corporate world. We need to ask the reason why CSOs in Africa are not bringing the change that they want to see. What is the problem? They may be constrained from effective policy work by adverse political contexts. But much more than that, there is limited understanding of specific policy processes, institutions and actors; weak strategy for policy engagement; inadequate use of evidence; weak communication approaches in policy influence work; working in an isolated manner; and limited capacity for policy influence. The conference will discuss these and come up with ways to bring change in food system policy in Africa.
The conference will discuss questions including:
- What strategic decisions from the last meeting were implemented? What were the results?
- What worked and what did not work in implementing the strategic decisions of the last meeting?
- How can we work better to bring the desired change?
- Who should we collaborate with?
Food production, processing and consumption are interconnected all over the world, forming a highly complex food system. This system should provide sufficient food to a growing global population, no matter how much the climate changes, or how scarce resources become. It should also avoid causing environmental and social damage. There are multiple, often contradicting, policies and institutions that govern how food is produced, transformed, distributed, consumed and regulated. Acknowledging this complexity reinforces that the food system is not a simple, linear process that can be understood by a conventional supply chain, but rather a network, consisting of feedbacks and nonlinear relationships defined by concentrations of power and resources across different scales and levels.
Changes in the food system are urgently required to improve its outcomes for food security, and environmental and social welfare. Decision-makers need to be able to know where and how they can make the necessary changes, without making things worse. They also need to know if such changes will allow the system to carry on functioning even if there are disturbances (such as natural disasters, market-related shocks, political crises, etc.).
Questions for discussions will include:
- What are the critical elements of a policy which addresses complex food systems?
- What kind of research is needed to understand Africa’s complex food system and recommend policy?
- Who should do this research?
- With whom can we collaborate to do this research?
Traditional food systems are the result of years of exploration and trial by local and indigenous communities. In most cultures, there is a clear understanding of what a healthy diet is, and what it is not. There is also an understanding of what food is appropriate at different stages of the life span of an individual. There are also taboos associated with food which may serve to protect the population from certain harm. Food is also celebrated, and is an integral part of cultural rituals in many communities.
Africa is generally considered by the global North as being in food deficit and it is understood wrongly that the nutritional value of its traditional food is of lesser significance. Nothing can be further from the truth. Each part of the continent exhibits a vast diversity of foods and systems of production, storage and use. African civil society needs to understand both the diversity and the value (cultural, nutritional, health, environmental) of these food systems and work for appropriate policy and practical mechanisms to be set in place for its protection.
The conference will discuss questions including:
- What are the cultural values in Africa related to food? What is happening to these values?
- How can we amplify African food cultures as viable alternatives to the current dominant narratives that undermine them?
- Why are traditional food systems so important in today’s world?
- How can we develop food systems adapted to the African urban situation?
- How can we interest African youth in their food heritage, from production to consumption, and how do we get them be part of the movement for agroecology?
- Explore how to address the crisis in urban food systems and its impact on rural food systems, and recommend changes.
- Explore how fixing the food system can reduce greenhouse gases through carbon sequestration.
- Explore what has happened to the outcome of the last meeting and re-strategize to implement the recommendations.
- Identify research agendas to explore what African food systems should look like in the continent, where the complexity will be exacerbated by climate change and social upheavals.
- Investigate the variety and complexity of African food systems and show the implication of their erosion by the industrial food system, and develop strategies to counter it.
- Identify a campaign agenda before the conference and use the conference to launch the campaign, with the African food sovereignty movement fully behind it.
- Conference recommendations on how to fix the food system in urban areas and integrate urban rural linkage.
- Conference recommendation on what instruments can be used to support agroecology with the ultimate goal of reducing the GHGs which are exacerbating climate change.
- Raised awareness of the negative effects of the industrial food system and the alternatives proposed by the participants.
- Recognition of the science of resilience as a key strategy for transforming the industrial food system.
- Cases of healthy food systems in Africa documented as part of the preparation for the conference, and the profile of African food systems is raised.
- Launch of a campaign on changing food systems in Africa.
The conference will bring together research and development networks, key experts in the workshop’s thematic areas, food producers, consumer associations, youth, women, research institutions, media, governments, and non-governmental organizations working at global, regional and national level on the linkages between food production, nutrition and health.
A diverse participation is envisaged to bring diverse views and opinions and it is anticipatedthat the conference will attract 200 participants from across Africa and further afield. Simultaneous translation (English/French) will be organized. A conference report will be available in both English and French.
The conference will be characterized by the following:
- Alignment to address three key areas: Why change, What to change, and How to bring about the change. It aims to be action-oriented to move beyond usual conference declarations.
- Selection of inspirational speakers to give keynotes on the five key thematic areas.
- Using methodologies based on art to facilitate the process. These would include drawing, painting, preparing&cooking food, drama, poems, storytelling, etc.
Facilitation through Art
The conference will be facilitated through art. There will be very minimal or no presentation of papers. This is because decision makers, as facilitators of change, need to be shown the multiple possibilities that can steer social behaviour in a positive way and nudge people in the direction of a better, healthier and more sustainable tomorrow. Art is a factor of social cohesion and human development. Art provides a canvas to work creatively on these issues, to think about them in different ways, and to imagine and paint a world in which no limitations and restrictions exist. Art can be a catalyst for innovation, simplifying the issues and generating achievable, realistic solutions. Art in its essence can give shape, texture and structure to imagination. It can inspire process and progress, and provide a simpler and clearer viewpoint on problematic topics. Moreover, it provides space for experiment and curiosity, unfolding unlimited possibilities. Social change is about reworking the ideas and realities of the current society and creating something that can change how people see the world, how they interact, and how they feel.