Working together for resilient food systems: towards a Europe-Africa platform for research and innovation | report

Within the event “Bold Actions For Food as a Force for Good” (in support of UN Food Systems Summit 2021) which was held on 23 and 24 November 2020, LEAP4FNSSA project together with RUFORUM and EFARD, organized a panel “Working together for resilient food systems: towards a Europe – Africa platform for research and innovation”.

The Covid-19 clearly shows the fragility of the food systems. It makes us aware of the interrelatedness of the different parts and scales of the systems. We expect that in the future, we will experience more shocks, such as natural disasters, conflicts, and diseases, with devastating consequences for vulnerable populations. The ambition of the UN Action Track 5 is to ensure that food systems are able to deliver food security, nutrition and equitable livelihoods for all despite these crises. To find these solutions, all actors in food systems need to work together. The session focused on how research and innovation work in cooperation with the different actors within the food system, bringing transformation towards more resilience. Moreover, the aim of the session was to explore the perspectives of different stakeholders within food systems on resilience pathways and how new ways of collaboration in the field of R&I should look like. As part of the session, the panel explored the perspectives of different stakeholders (from farmers to consumers, from policymakers to companies, researchers and social workers) within food systems on resilience pathways, the potential role of a sustainable bi-continental (Europe –Africa) R&I Platform in addressing food systems resilience, and responses to shocks and challenges.

Over 120 participants joined the discussion which was facilitated by Ms. Prof Dr. Lindiwe Sibanda. In his welcome remarks Prof Adipala Ekwamu highlighted that the agri-food system was among the few sectors that remained functional amidst COVID-19 because food is indispensable for humans to live. He further emphasized the role research and innovation plays in generating knowledge and technologies to increase resilience of agri-food systems by addressing challenges such as climate change and land degradation. He further confirmed that Africa-Europe Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Food, Nutrition Security is an excellent platform to mobilise all actors in Africa and Europe to effectively engage in their mandate and domains to address the food systems challenges and pledged to mobilise African researchers to contribute to the partnership.
The Food Systems Resilience topic has been introduced by Mr. Prof. Dr. Patrick Caron. Dr Caron stressed that the world food systems is threatened by climate change, ecosystems degradation, social injustice and political instability. Furthermore, if the SDGs are to be achieved, a transformation to food systems is inevitable. He also highlighted the role of the independent Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems summit which will bring the foremost scientific evidence, and help expand the base of shared knowledge about experiences, approaches, and tools for driving sustainable food systems. He voiced his conviction that the future of the world will be written in Africa and pointed to the global interconnectedness. The partnership this therefore very important. Dr. Caron ended his intervention that all Europe and Africa should work together to build back better. He stresses the importance of collaboration for global concerns. He said that not a research agenda for Africa is needed, but to work together for joint interests. Science and education are key for knowledge creation and to build foresights.

Following the introductions, the panel consisted of 6 members enriched the discussions with evidences and experiences shared from both continents Europe and Africa. Her Excellency Honorable Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Liberia, Mrs. Jeanine Milly Cooper, emphasized on how Liberia is developing policies to address the challenges of food system resilience in post war and post Ebola such as prioritizing the selection of food crops and the investment in local production in the purpose of increasing production without undermining the environmental priorities of the country. She also stressed on the importance of collaboration of all stakeholders with universities in Liberia to stimulate the use of applied research towards sustainable agricultural production and better commercialization.

Mr. Dr. Hans- Jörg Lutzeyer, introduced the EU-AU Research & Innovation (R&I) partnership on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture (FNSSA), the 10 year roadmap and the envisaged platform for long-term collaboration. This platform is bringing stakeholder groups together who will contribute to more resilient food systems through R&I. He also underlined that the EU funding will focus on further investment through Horizons Europe, for example on plant health, agroecology and malnutrition. In the field of food system change he mentioned the goal to strengthen innovations of African food systems in cities and linking them to European ones. Ms. Caroline Jacquet unpacked during the discussion the role of Civil Society Organizations in addressing food system resilience and the success stories from Zimbabwe. Ms. Jacquet highlighted that it is not enough to foster local diversity and dietary diversity, it is important for CSOs to increase the income of the farmers through selection of specific species and crops that have commercial potential. Therefore, having a commercial potential and facilitating access to market is essential to strengthen the resilience of food systems. Mr. Anthony Mun-Gavin drew the attention during the panel discussion on the importance of the public private collaborations for healthy and sustainable living and the necessity to link with current research projects and global partnerships where UNILEVER is a key member such as the food and land coalition, the world economic forum and other platforms. The participation of the private sector in these platforms set the consensus on issues for R&I from a commercial point of view. UNILEVER bases its business model on healthy grains and proteins to be locally grown for better health and planets. In this regard, they have partnered and invested in a food innovation center at Wageningen University Campus. The small-scale farmers were represented in the panel by Mr. Hakim Baliraine. He shared the challenges of farmers in face of climate change as well as his perspective on how collaboration with R&I and partnership with the private sector could grow the benefits for farmers and livelihoods. Mr. Baliraine highlighted the need to improve coordination between extension service providers including public, private, NGOs among others to bridge the gaps and strengthen food systems. He specifically highlighted the need to involve farmers from the planning stage of any research and development project to ensure that the research process and outcomes address the challenges of farmers who are often the target beneficiaries.

The panel discussion took us to the success stories of the SME-universities partnerships in Kenya presented by Mr. Samuel Rigu. Mr. Rigu talked about the role of SME in addressing food system resilience. Around 90% of all companies in Kenya are SMEs and represent 70% of employment in the whole value chain. They were hit hard by Covid-19 but it created an opportunity for more partnerships and networks to respond to the shocks. The SME’s partnerships with Kenyan, US and UK universities made the SMEs commercial agents for research and innovation. The universities can help in shaping efficiencies while the SME can help disseminate research results and implement them in the market. The partnership with the involvement of students and researchers can help to increase production and efficiency of the company.

Finally, Mr. Dr. Philippe Petithuguenin provided the closing remarks at the end of the session summarizing the keys issues discussed during the session. He underlined that the resilience of food systems is a challenge for both Europe, Africa and the world. Collaboration in knowledge, research and innovation is needed for food systems transformation at different levels especially unlocking the bottlenecks for value chains improvement of nutritious food and the local food production. He stressed on the importance of EU and AU working together and learn from each other’s which could lead to joint action on the ground. This is the goal of the platform that LEAP4FNSSA intends to establish. For this multi-stakeholder platform, aligning visions, channeling of information, mobilizing knowledge, engaging farmers, and all actors on board is significant for efficiency.

Here is the recorded video of the event | via LEAP4FNSSA YouTube channel.