Meet Africa’s food champions

Franck Kuwonu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 June 2021:

When the world meets in September 2021 to take a look at global food systems at the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, it will be after a long and extensive worldwide consultative process.

In the almost two years of preparation leading up to the Summit, people across the globe have had opportunities to express their views, exchange ideas and offer solutions to the collective efforts of changing the ways we grow, consume and manage our foods towards sustainability.

The UN launched the Food Systems Champions — a diverse group of people recognized in their communities and their fields of work — to rally global communities and promote dialogues aimed at finding innovative and practical solutions.

This is “to ensure the Food Systems Summit benefits from the input of the broadest and deepest set of food systems players,” according to Ms. Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Food Systems Summit, said at the inauguration of the network.

The initial group of leaders in their fields and communities will advocate for more resilient, healthy, inclusive and sustainable food systems. They will mobilize their networks to engage in dialogues and bring about actions that enable accessible and wide-ranging solutions to overcome challenges in national and regional food systems.

In advance of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit this September, the Food Systems Champions are rallying global communities and promoting dialogues for innovative, practical and sustainable solutions.

The Food Systems Champions include youth and indigenous peoples’ leaders, smallholder farmers and scientists from across the globe, as well as principals from nutrition, health, climate, nature, gender, policy, producer, academic, business, finance and technology communities.

The Champions will work closely with Ms. Kalibata, to kick-start activities in the build up to the Summit, including discussions on how to galvanize and build their networks to unleash ambitious new actions, innovative solutions, and plans to transform food systems in alignment with diverse local contexts.

“This exciting and diverse group of leaders will jump start the Food Systems Champions Network to ensure the Food Systems Summit benefits from the input of the broadest and deepest set of food systems players,” Ms. Kalibata said.

“This network will be the beating heart of the Summit over the coming months, and become the frontline of a new movement to transform global food systems for the better.”

(Photo: Divine Ntiokam, Lucy Muchoki Mike and Nkhombo Khunga).

Months into their work, Africa Renewal caught up with three of the Food Champions based in Africa – Mr. Divine Ntiokam of Cameroon, who is the Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN); Ms. Lucy Muchoki of Kenya, who is the CEO, Pan-African Agribusiness and Agroindustry Consortium (PanAAC) and Mr. Mike Nkhombo Khunga of the Civil Society Organization Nutrition Alliance (CSONA) in Malawi, to hear their personal experiences as members of the network and what it is like to be part of the global conversation. See their stories next.

UN Africa Renewal spoke to each of the Champions. This is what they said:

Food Systems Champion Divine Ntiokam of Cameroon, Founder & Managing Director of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN) set up a global Food Systems Summit Heroes Database and convened dialogues.

What does it feel like being a UN Food Champion?

I have met people who have really changed my mindset and encouraged me to keep making progress and to keep delivering as one of the leading food champions across the globe. So far, we have rolled out close to 41 UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogues across the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN) countries in Africa.

What are your expectations?

My personal expectation at the start was to meet and engage with young people across the African continent and globally. Equally, I wanted to be the best and most influential food champion by organizing as many dialogues as possible to discuss food systems.

What have you achieved on this front so far?

I was able to establish the Food Systems Summit Heroes (FSSH) database, which currently has 792 members across the world. We rolled out over 41 Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogues across the globe and are still going on; and we established a secretariat to update and coordinate efforts with the UN in regards to the Summit. We also organized two high-level Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogues, that attracted up to700 participants.

The biggest personal satisfaction is that CSAYN Global has gained traction across the world, becoming a reference network. Thus, many young people are excited about joining the network due to the tremendous growth from four countries in 2014 to 90 countries as of May 2021. (END).

Food Systems Champion Lucy Muchoki of Kenya is the CEO, Pan-African Agribusiness and Agroindustry Consortium (PanAAC) has hosted the continental Africa sub-regional SMEs dialogue:

What does it feel like being a UN Food Champion?

It is simply beautiful! It is so fulfilling to be recognized as a ‘champion’ because of my work. And not just any work, but something I love doing! It has made me realize that one should thrive and continue doing what they believe in and do it well, and with passion and zeal. Someone somewhere is taking note and recognizing your effort.

Since I was appointed as a Food Champion, I have met different people and listened to many innovative, mind-blowing ideas on how to strengthen and support our food systems. It has simply been a great experience. Through this appointment, I have met almost everyone I needed to know in the food sector across the globe.

A lot of these discussions go beyond the monthly calls coordinated by the UN. There’s a lot of presentations with concrete and innovative ideas that we hold on the side.

As an African woman, I feel honoured to be among these great food champions who share hope for the continent. I see a journey we have started together and I am more hopeful that we are on the road to achieving the Malabo Declaration [The declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods that reaffirms the central commitment by African countries to allocate 10% of public resources to agriculture].

When did you start food advocacy?

For the longest time, I have always advocated for the support and development of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food sector. Africa has the potential to grow and feed itself. Our agri-food SMEs are the hope of our economic transformation and development.

I have hosted the Africa sub-regional SMEs dialogue across the continent and have gotten a lot of support from all corners. This, to me, is the greatest achievement. Through these dialogues, we shall come up with concrete solutions that address the gaps that are there. Africa will speak with one voice on our SME agenda.

Tell us more about the Food Systems Summit Dialogues

When you kick off a conversation and you have many people listening in, contributing and supporting your proposed actions and believing in you, then you are already creating an impact.

I am very proud of my efforts and all those who believe in our course. People are committed to the discussions; they’re participating and sharing their own real experiences and looking forward to solutions that will support their businesses to the next level. They know we’re talking of concrete solutions and this matters a lot. (END).

Food Systems Champion Mike Khunga of Malawi is from the Civil Society Organization Nutrition Alliance (CSONA) and he is leading work on youth engagement:

What does it feel like being a UN Food Champion?

It is an amazing experience to be recognized as a champion because of your work. It exposes you to multiple dialogues and engagements, where you gain a lot of expertise in solution development, coordination and ideas of promoting food systems. The experience is diverse because of the opportunities that come along.

Initially, my expectation was that the UN would pay me for being a Food Champion, but then I realized that this is something to do with passion for the poor and impoverished people. Even without being paid, you achieve a lot by engaging in the development of solutions targeting poor people.

My mission has been so great, and it has exposed me to a number of meetings and platforms. I have had opportunities to connect with people from different areas of expertise, where I have learned a number of things.

The Action Tracks are:

  1. Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all
  2. Shift to sustainable consumption patterns
  3. Boost nature-positive production
  4. Advance equitable livelihoods
  5. Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress]

Any surprises, pleasant or otherwise?

I have been able to facilitate a number of global meetings and I have been a panelist with a lot of people whom I never thought I would ever share a platform with. I have had interactions with David Nabarro [Food Systems Summit Advisory Committee Member] and Agnes Kalibata [the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the Food Systems Summit] and I have been recognized as a youth doing a lot in Africa. I have had opportunities to contribute to UN communications through my blogs.

When did you start food advocacy?

I am leading a strong youth team on Action Track 5 [Building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress] as I am the vice chair. I am a pillar for many youth groups on UN Food System transformation. I am engaging a lot of youths to have independent dialogues and I have been able to link youths from fragile and conflict countries to Action Track 5.

[The Food Systems Summit’s Action Tracks offer stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds a space to share and learn, with a view to fostering new actions and partnerships and amplifying existing initiatives. The Action Tracks are aligned with the Summit’s five objectives. Each Action Track is designed to address possible trade-offs with other tracks, and to identify solutions that can deliver wide-reaching benefits.

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