Partner Blog

Advancing equity through food systems transformations

The Seeding equity in African food systems SARA working group shares their insights from a collaborative dialogue between development organisations and funding partners.

Written by: Dr Julia van Velden, Dr Nyasha Magadzire, Prof Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, Assoc. Prof. Laura Pereira, Joyce Ojino, & Willem Malherbe
GRP Areas of work: Knowledge Theme: Agriculture, nutrition and food security

In the intricate landscape of African food systems, subtle yet profound transformations are sprouting through the “Seeds of Good Anthropocenes: Fostering Food-System Transformation in Africa” initiative. This innovative project, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), employs a place-based case study approach, building on existing collaborations across Africa, to investigate and support potential pathways for transforming food systems on the continent. The project aims to identify and support “seeds,” understood as emerging innovative or experimental initiatives ideas, ways of living or thinking, or transformational initiatives within African food systems that have the potential to bring about systemic change.

Through a partnership between the Seeds of Good Anthropocene project and the Southern African Resilience Academy, the “Seeding equity in African food systems” team was formed. The team identified 24 innovative seed initiatives across South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Benin, and Zambia. These initiatives, operating along the full value chain, were chosen as they exhibit potential positive impacts toward equity, apart from their positive impacts on the food system. The team aimed to understand the current activities impacts, barriers, and avenues for support and scalability, to explore how greater equity can be achieved. 

Drawing on these cases, in October 2023 an online session with researchers and various development funders took place to engage in a dialogue to explore how to better support initiatives that foster transformations towards more equitable food systems in Africa. Convened by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the session aimed to facilitate co-learning based on the Seeds project, share broader experiences, and begin to co-develop principles for evaluating initiatives that could lead to greater transformative impacts on equity in the African food landscape. 

Emerging insights from the Seed initiatives

The insights from the 24 Seed initiatives analyzed show that Seeds have significant positive impacts,both on the food system and through creating greater equity for their beneficiary communities, particularly by increasing the self-sufficiency of vulnerable groups. These initiatives however encounter barriers related to funding, community dynamics, and unreliable public infrastructure. Misalignment between funding needs and available resources poses challenges to the Seed. Overcoming these hurdles requires increased collaboration, securing funding, and integrating new technologies for efficiency.

Critical factors supporting the initiation of seeds include networking, partnerships, community buy-in, and funding. A majority of seeds are born from collaborations within existing organizations or between individuals, emphasizing the importance of networks and collaborative platforms in creating innovative initiatives. 

Funder engagement

A notable aspect of the roundtable was the active engagement of a diverse spectrum of funders, such as IDRC, USAID, Wellcome Trust, FCDO, and others. This collaborative dialogue provided a platform for funders to share experiences, successes, and strategies in supporting transformative initiatives. The discussion focused on aligning funder realities with the needs of transformative small-scale initiatives, creating meaningful connections, and fostering a positive enabling environment to support seed initiatives with transformative potential. 

One crucial aspect highlighted during the session was the significance of building social capital as a preliminary condition for enabling the adoption of Seeds. Establishing strong social connections within communities emerged as a critical factor in fostering engagement with policy initiatives and ensuring the successful integration of transformative seeds.

One of the funders, emphasized the need for enabling policy environments and the role of communities in navigating contrary political environments “I feel like in many places where we work at the moment, the goals of policymakers are often not compatible with the goals of local people.”

The value of the funder engagement event went beyond conventional discussions. IDRC highlighted that creative brainstorming and reflection within the session is vital when approaching complex challenges, such as funding transformative initiatives. The collaborative nature of the event brought together diverse perspectives from development partners and researchers, fostering an environment where innovative ideas could flourish and reflective discussions could unfold.

Funders acknowledged the positive impact of creating networking and learning platforms. As a representative from IDRC highlighted, “I’m wondering about the link between seeds and our work to understand scaling as well and thinking about the role IDRC can play to connect with those who can take the next step to support seeds after the research phase.” Learning from other types of collaborative and networking platforms in other fields such as climate change was also highlighted as a key step here. 

The funder engagement event marked the commencement of a collaborative effort to connect researchers, funders, and bottom-up innovative initiatives through the Seeds of Good Anthropocene’s project. The challenges identified, coupled with the insights shared, underscore the potential for scaling up transformative impact in African food systems. The ongoing dialogue will continue to explore opportunities for aligning funders and seeds, creating enabling policy environments, and leveraging networking platforms to drive meaningful change. The event exemplifies the power of collective action in shaping a more equitable and sustainable future for African food systems.