African Food Fellowship hosts 2nd annual Kenya festival

Stella Odhiambo

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The African Food Fellowship held the second edition of the annual Kenya Transform Food Festival on 3 November 2023.

Director Joost Guijt gives the keynote address during the festival

The festival brought together food systems innovators, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and decision-makers working across government, private sector, civil society, and community groups.  It explored and raised the profile of existing and emerging issues in Kenya’s food systems, focusing on the impact areas of agrifinance, horticulture, and aquaculture.

Director Joost Guijt urged guests to keep hope alive in the face of big challenges such as climate change, malnutrition, and poverty facing the food and agriculture sector today.

Dean Brenda Mareri welcomes guests to the festival

Kenya Dean and Implementation Lead Brenda Mareri said the festival provides a great platform for different people to connect, and hopefully collaborate.

“What makes the Transform Food festival special is the diversity and caliber of food systems practitioners who spend the day with us, sharing their work and ideas. We hope that the festival can be a launching pad for exciting innovations and projects designed for impactful action on the ground,” she said.

Fellow Geoffrey Rono with the African Food Fellowship deputy director Alex Rees
Fellow Mary Maina facilitates a discussion about how to apply foresight methodologies in food systems

Guests participated in discussions about collaborative leadership, and explored tools such as the foresight methodology that could help to future-proof their work.

Gregory Kimani (centre) winner of the Kenya Food Systems Leadership Award 2023 with Director Joost Guijt and Dean Brenda Mareri

The highlight of the festival was the annual Kenya Food Systems Leadership Award which is given to a Fellow who has demonstrated exceptional leadership and impact in their work.

This year’s award winner, Fellow Gregory Kimani, is the founder of City Shamba, an urban farming initiative teaching people in cities how to grow their own food. He has set up a model farm at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi where more than 1800 people so far received knowledge and skills on how to grow vegetables using very little land and water and have set up their own kitchen gardens. Gregory also supplies the hospital with vegetables to supplement its patients’ nutrition needs.

First runners-up Mutuma Muriuki receives his certificate

Mutuma Muriuki was named the first runner-up. His project focuses on utilising biochar biofertilizer from organic waste to rehabilitate, recycle, and enhance soil quality. He has seen farmers’ yields increase by 50% after using biochar.

Second runner-up Dorah Momanyi, the founder of iPoP Africa, owns an agri-business that reclaims the sovereignty of indigenous grains such as pearl millet, sorghum, and brown rice by transforming them into modern snacks and breakfast cereals. 


Navigating the water-energy-food nexus

Water, energy, and food are interconnected systems - we need to manage them in this way

While doing my weekly grocery shopping, my thoughts began to drift once I got to the produce aisle. As I reached for a plump avocado (my favourite), I thought: do I truly understand the journey this fruit has taken to get to my local supermarket? Was it sustainably grown? How much water was required to nurture its growth? And what about the energy consumed during its transportation? And the people involved in the production?

In that moment, I was grappling with a much larger issue than simply selecting a piece of fruit. I was confronting a web of interconnected systems known as the water-energy-food nexus.

According to the UN and others, water, food, and energy form a relationship at the heart of sustainable development.

Together they are tied to environmental sustainability, economic growth, and human health and decisions made in one realm can have profound effects on the others. Yet they are often managed in disconnected ways. This leads to policies and practices that do not tackle the complexity of the issue, but advance one system at the cost of others.

Scarcity as an opportunity

In a world where resources are limited and population pressures increase, scarcity is the new normal. This speeds up the move toward a new way of doing things, where one sector can’t only benefit a small, specific group of people anymore. The food sector cannot just feed people; it needs to nourish them, support their health, and delivering eco-system services too. 

Similarly, the energy sector must also contribute to social and economic inclusion, and not just support the industrial growth of a country. The inescapable reality of having to do more with less can represent an opportunity to break silos and force conversations across sectors and systems.

It is complex, but change is attainable

To make things even more complex, here are more boxes to check; our food must come from regenerative and circular practices, energy should be renewable, and water managed sustainably. To withstand current and future pressures, governments must increasingly balance the needs of people, nature, and the economy.

Despite the obvious benefits of strengthening the nexus between water, food, and energy, the multidisciplinary and collaborative approaches required often feel overwhelming. Cross-sectoral collaboration is essential if we are to achieve a just transition in our food systems.

Organising for collaboration

When governments, businesses, academia, communities, and individuals come together and share knowledge, resources, and best practice, sustainable policies ensue.

An excellent example is the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) program in Kenya. WSUP collaborates with local governments, utilities, and civil society organisations to enhance water and sanitation services in low-income urban areas. Through these partnerships, WSUP tailors solutions to each community’s unique challenges. 

The Nairobi City County Food System Strategy on the other hand, plays a pivotal role as a convener. By bringing together civil society, private sector entities, and various government agencies, this initiative addresses the pressing challenges of sustainably feeding a rapidly growing urban population.

Incentives can shift behaviour

Ever wondered why organisations have teams that strongly resemble the funding lines of their donors? And why doesn’t cross-sectoral collaboration happen more often? Understanding how incentives shape behaviour is the first step. Daring to change them is where the magic happens (and where we need to accept the resistance that will come with that).

Placing smallholders at the heart of systems

Let’s look at the work of Sylvie Nirere, a fellow at the African Food Fellowship. As Country Director of Stichting IDH in Rwanda, she works directly with farmers who produce perishable products. By engaging with stakeholders, advocating for policy reforms, and fostering systemic change, Sylvie’s work contributes to sustainable practices, resource efficiency, resilience, and improved livelihoods. 

Her efforts embody the systemic importance of transforming the food system by considering the interdependencies of water, energy, and food by bringing it down to the needs of a single farmer who needs a healthy yield to remain competitive and take better care of her family. This feeds into a wider network in an environmentally responsible way.

Learning as we go

By understanding the nexus and its implications, we make informed choices and inspire a collective shift towards more sustainable lifestyles. 

The Water Wise Program in South Africa, for instance,  promotes water conservation practices among residents in response to Cape Town’s water scarcity challenges.

Balance and Just Transition

Just Transition refers to the set of principles aimed at ensuring a fair and equitable shift towards a more sustainable and low-carbon economy.

African countries, despite contributing less to global greenhouse gas emissions, are taking proactive steps to implement Just Transition projects and policies.

  • The Renewable Energy Performance Platform (REPP) in Kenya provides financial and technical assistance to small and medium-sized renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. It promotes sustainable energy development that is balanced across the food-energy-water nexus, by supporting projects that integrate renewable energy into local agricultural and water management systems, while also creating jobs and reducing poverty.
  • Another example is the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program in South Africa (REIPPPP) , a government initiative to accelerate the development of renewable energy projects in the country.

In conclusion, the water-energy-food nexus calls for initiatives that acknowledge their interconnectedness. Whether you are a donor, investor, NGO, or civil servant, it’s crucial to focus on designing projects that create multiple benefits at this crossroads. Each decision to implement sustainable practices will be a step towards the larger goal of creating a more resilient and balanced water, energy, and food system.

If you enjoyed this, here are a few longer reads and opinions for you:


The forgotten heroes of food: Transforming school meals

Globally our food systems need to be more sustainable, equitable, and nutritious. Chefs in Schools is a UK charity working to transform both the quality and culture of food.

I recently connected with Chef in Schools, Chief Executive Naomi Duncan, a Forward Institute fellow whose passion and dedication have been instrumental in transforming the school food landscape in the UK.

As Naomi shared the story of their inspiration, challenges, and aspirations, it became evident that the food challenges encountered in the UK, while distinct, reflect broader issues ingrained in societies worldwide.

Redefining school food culture

In the bustling heart of London, amidst the clinking of pans and the sizzle of fresh ingredients, a culinary revolution is quietly simmering. Chefs in Schools (founded in 2018 by Henry Dimbleby, Louise Nichols, and Nicole Pisani) have set out to transform the quality of school food and help children learn about what to eat, how to cook it and where food comes from. And they are doing this in some of the most food insecure communities in the country.

For CEO Naomi this ambition is not merely about serving nutritious meals or providing eduction; its is about instilling a passion for food and empowering children to explore a world of flavours, textures and cultures. 

Chefs in School recognise that such a transformation is not about quick wins and easy fixes. Its going to require system level change.  They focus their efforts on three areas: 

  1. Raise the bar: They drive best practices in school food by teaching kitchen teams to create exciting and tasty dishes from scratch with fresh produce.
  2. Create an enabling space for others to do better: They use their credibility to inform advocacy efforts, campaigns, and policy makers.
  3. Inspire others to follow their lead: They prove that working in a school kitchen can be recognised, valued, and celebrated as a great career and a crucial pillar to nourishing children and teaching them about food.
Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive, Chefs in Schools

Challenges within the wider UK food system

Chefs in Schools works in predominantly low income urban communities. The food-scapes of such communities often include ‘food deserts’ (areas where it is simply impossible to access fresh and affordable produce), a high prevalence of ultra processed foods and low incomes. Indeed for some children the meal they receive at school will be their main source of nutritious food.

Consequently, there is a growing disconnection between individuals and the raw, wholesome ingredients that make up a nutritious diet. Schools therefore became a crucial battleground for Naomi and team to reintroduce children to the joys and variety of fresh foods while simultaneously teaching them essential cooking skills.

Similarities with Kenya

At Wasafiri much of our thinking and work revolves around the complex food systems in East Africa and so I was able to see how Naomi’s reflections echo some of the struggles faced in Kenya. Food poverty and insecurity ring true.

Both the UK and Kenya face challenges with child malnutrition. In the UK, around one in five children is overweight or obese. In Kenya, one in three children is stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

Naomi pointed out the disparities in food accessibility. The UK boasts a vibrant international food scene, but within this abundance, significant sections of the population struggle to access basic nutrition. Meanwhile Kenya grapples with challenges in food production, distribution, and waste.

Although the magnitude may differ, food waste in Kenya, just like in the UK, is juxtaposed with others not being able to feed themselves or their families,” says Naomi.

The role of systems leadership in addressing food-related issues

Systems leadership plays a pivotal role in addressing the challenges ingrained in UK’s food system. As a fellow of the Forward Institute, Naomi believes that purpose-driven leadership is indispensable. While government initiatives are crucial, a ground-up revolution is equally vital.

We are all actors within this system and can in our own way get involved to tackle some of these challenges. But ultimately it is those in power – the heads of major industry, as well as politicians, banks and so on – who will drive the biggest change,” says Naomi.

The key is to create an enabling space for others to engage meaningfully. The school kitchen teams are often overlooked heroes in education, embody leadership daily by providing nourishing meals on tight budgets, demonstrating resilience and innovation in a resource constrained environment.

What’s next for Chefs in Schools?

One of Naomi’s most rewarding experiences is seeing a child, previously hesitant about meals, try a new ingredient and return for seconds. Additionally, the impact extends beyond school walls; children become ambassadors of healthy eating, encouraging their families to adopt better dietary habits. Parents, initially hesitant, are convinced by their children’s enthusiasm and willingness to explore new foods. The organisation’s ethos has even been linked to improved engagement, behaviour, and learning in schools.

Children learning to cook with dough

And what legacy do they want to leave? A fundamental shift in how societies perceive, provide, and celebrate food. Naomi believes that when chefs are trained and empowered to create menus and dishes, they are much better equipped to adapt and overcome obstacles. When producers and farmers see the impact their ingredients have in schools, they work to ensure quality remains high.

We will continue to grow and expand to create training and a network for school chefs and food educators that enables and inspires them to feed the future well. Our vision is that every child is accessing great school food and food education. We’ll retire when that is the case!” says Naomi.

Naomi Duncan is a fellow of The Forward Institute, a non-profit institute focused on organisation and systems change. 


Rethinking our leadership approach to tackle complex food systems issues

In 2017, millions of farmers in East Africa faced a devastating drought and a new threat; the fall armyworm. The pest devastated maize and wheat producing regions in South and Central Rift Valley regions of Kenya.

The pest spread rapidly, it was unresponsive to traditional pesticides and worst of all, had devastating effects on farmers’ crops. Extension service providers were deployed, intervention strategies by governments were formulated but still, the problem prevailed.

To begin addressing the challenges we face in our food systems we must first acknowledge that we are tackling a complex problem. Complex problems have no single owner, no single root cause, they are dynamic, constantly adapting, and the system is in fact working for some people, somewhere, some of the time.

Transformational change is required to tackle the challenges we face in addressing the complexities our food systems. This entails various shifts across multiple components, leading to changes in the system.

Transformational change requires systems thinking and systems leadership. Systems leadership and thinking will allow our food systems leaders to acknowledge the interconnectivity and the relationships between different actors and the need for collective action.

Take for example the paradox of Climate and Nutrition and the unintended consequences on women. Empowering women to employ climate smart practices at farm level would have a positive effect on the environment and contribute to climate change mitigation.

The unintended consequence would subsequently be the increase in women’s labour and workload needed to adopt climate smart practices which takes away from their child caring capacities affecting their children’s nutrition. To address such a paradox, a systems thinking approach is required.

There is a great need for leaders in the food systems space to think and act systemically. Food systems leaders can apply a systemic approach to solving problems by applying Systemcraft. This framework applies five dimensions for action which work on underlying system conditions.

Applying the five dimensions of Systemcraft

  1. The first is to Organise for Collaboration since no single person or institution can make change alone. A great example of this is the African Food Fellowship which is a community and a network of practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and influencers across the food system in Kenya and Rwanda working jointly across different capacities such as aquaculture, sustainable land use, and agri-finance to transform food systems.
  2. Second is to Set the Direction. Transforming food systems needs big ambitions to mobilise resources. An example of this is Rwanda’s ‘First 1,000 Days’ health campaign of 2017 which aimed to eradicate child malnutrition. The ambition was big enough to rally support towards developing strategies to attain the end goal.
  3. Third is to Make it Matter. Change can be hard and so the issue must matter to those that need to do the changing. Due to the great significance of livestock (both socially and economically) to several communities in Africa, we have seen governments actively invest in developing the Livestock Development Strategy for Africa to increase the sustainability and resilience of the sector.
  4. Number four is to Change the Incentives. As individuals, we all make decisions that make sense to us – whether it is what food to eat or what job we do. For example, in Malawi, the 2006 Farmer Input Subsidy Program aimed to incentivise resource-poor smallholder farmers to reinvest in maize production by accessing improved agricultural farm inputs against a background of bad weather causing poor yields. This attracted farmers back into maize production.
  5. Lastly is to Harness Collective Intelligence. A system best serves those with the most information. Asymmetries of power in how information flows create a broken system. The 2021, Lead Mothers program in Uganda is a great example of this. Due to the lack of nutrition information on maternal health, a group of women called lead mothers were trained on good agronomic practices, and nutritional benefits of consuming biofortified crops and they became community-based information hubs which in turn holistically increased the community’s understanding of the importance of nutrition.

These dimensions of action can be applied in any order by any food system leader. When it comes to systems, changing what is right, and what is possible, are not the same thing.

It is not enough to simply understand the problems we are facing in our food systems and have some great ideas to shift them. We also must understand the wider context in which we are trying to create change and prompt our leaders to think and act systematically.

This was first presented by Brenda Mareri at TedX AGRF 2023, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

More on systems-leadership and systems approaches


The African Food Fellowship celebrates another graduation

There were candid reflections of their ten-month journey, heart-felt speeches, and of course, lots and lots of dancing!

Second Kenya cohort joins the Kenya Food Fellowship

The African Food Fellowship is growing! It graduated its second cohort of Kenya Fellows on 22 Sept 2023.

27 Fellows’ efforts were celebrated amid lots of pomp and colour and they happily received their certificates for successfully completing the prestigious Food Systems Leadership Programme, which equips them with the skills, knowledge, and connections needed to initiate and deliver effective food systems actions.

Their leadership journey with the Fellowship does not end there. They continue their food systems transformation work through the Kenya Food Fellowship, a self-organising space for connecting with their fellow food system actors, learning with and from one another, taking action towards changing what’s not working within food systems, and where a feeling of belonging to a group of passionate, like-minded individuals is harnessed.

“We are proud to graduate this cohort of Fellows, who are among the most exciting food systems leaders in Kenya today. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the food system as innovators, entrepreneurs, food producers, researchers, financiers, and policymakers. We have the utmost confidence in their capacity as change-makers,” said Kenya Dean and Implementation Lead, Brenda Mareri.

"Let’s be bold and identify what the African agenda is"

The Fellows showcased their food systems actions which are designed to offer real-world solutions to the greatest challenges facing Kenya’s horticulture, aquaculture, and agri-finance sectors today. Some of these include research on unconventional sources of food (including insects and indigenous crops), financing opportunities for smallholder farmers, and initiatives to deliver safer food to consumers.

The keynote speaker was Rikki Agudah, the Board Chairman at the Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisors of Kenya. He lauded the Fellowship for bringing different food systems leaders together and providing a space where they can collaborate.

He called on Fellows to focus on a common goal and lend their strengths to solving common issues.

“Let’s be bold and identify what the African agenda is. What exactly works for us as a continent? We might shine as individuals but if we want to achieve impact, we must work together. This is the only way we can achieve change,” he said.

As members of the Kenya Food Fellowship, the graduates will continue to enjoy learning opportunities and platforms where they can contribute to Kenya’s food systems agenda.

The African Food Fellowship has recently onboarded the third cohort of Fellows in both Kenya and Rwanda who started their leadership journey in September 2023.


AGRF 2023: Time for Food System Leadership

A leadership gap is limiting the transformation of Africa’s food system

We (Team Wasafiri’s Claudia & Brenda) have just returned from the Africa Food Systems Forum (AGRF) 2023 in Dar es Salaam Tanzania, where we had an incredible week connecting with food system actors on the continent.

It was exciting to see that it is now mainstream to talk about food as a system; that we collectively have moved beyond agriculture production as the only issue that matters.

Taking a system view isn’t just a matter of being more in vogue or with the zeitgeist, but has a real-world practical impact on the way we understand the complexities of food. It is through a systems view that we can understand, for example, the impact of empowering women (who are the majority of the worlds’ farmers) to employ climate are the real word complexities of food systems and just focusing on one dimension – such as increased production, increased incomes, or climate adaptation may make action feel reassuringly achievable but is a mirage in terms of real transformation.

Brenda & Claudia at AGRF 2023
Wasafiri's Brenda Mareri and Claudia Piacenza at AGRF 2023

We were also pleasantly surprised to see that soil health is no longer a topic only for geeky soil scientists in a corner, but the subject of several conversations that focus on the “how” rather than the “why”.

Smallholder farmers were acknowledged, mentioned, and celebrated as the backbone of the industry but not yet seen and served as the main clients of that industry. How do we move from smallholders as ‘beneficiaries’ of well-meaning interventions designed to ameliorate the impacts of an industrial food system that is built to serve large scale producers – and into the place where smallerholders hold more of the power within food systems?

Chefs from all over the world united their creative minds and sapient hands to elevate “poor” ingredients like beans to demonstrate that healthy diets do not have to be affordable only for middle-class, urban consumers.

And yet despite this great breadth of knowledge, creativity, inspiration and expertise, we are still dealing with incredibly stubborn problems as the Africa Agriculture Status Report reminds us. Why is that?

A big part of the answer lies in the need for a different kind of leadership. Systemic leadership was lacking at the AGRF. We saw a large showcase of good intentions but very little sense-making and collaboration at a level that can truly advance systemic change. Food System transformation requires a deep appreciation of the interconnections not just between the people that produce, process, transport, sell and consume food but also the relationship to the natural world that is the genesis of it all. No one leader, institution, company, or government, however well-intentioned and well-resourced is going to be able to transform a food system alone. It just can’t be done. Collective action is the only form of action that is going to work – and this needs network-driven forms of leadership where collaboration is not an optional activity but the default mode.

Finally, we have a serious problem with the representational status of African rulers who are often over 60, while the average African is 20 years old. And we still do not have enough women leaders with access to the power they need and deserve to nurture collective change at scale. We need to talk about it and support a new generation of African leaders for Food Systems.

The African Food Fellowship is investing in African Food System leaders in Kenya and Rwanda. We are starting to see how leaders can transform food systems in their countries towards more equitable, sustainable, and healthy outcome. Reach out if you want to know more!

If you enjoyed this blog then try this one about speeding up Food System Transformation 


African Food Fellowship holds inaugural Rwanda Festival

“We hope that guests walk away understanding that Fellows are rounded thought leaders, experts in their fields, and able to look at food systems in a complex way.”

- Claudia Piacenza, Regional Manager African Food Fellowship

The much-awaited inaugural Rwanda Transform Food Festival took place in Kigali on 23 July 2023. It brought together food systems leaders working in a range of different sectors to share ideas and collaborate on strategies for delivering a healthier, more inclusive, and sustainable food system for the country.

The exclusive high-level event hosted by the African Food Fellowship, (a partnership between Wasafiri and Wageningen University and Research) brought together food systems innovators, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and decision-makers working across government, private sector, civil society, and community groups. They engaged in discussions on how to work together to address existing and emerging issues in Rwanda’s food systems.

Participants engaging in day-long discussions

Speaking at the event, Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) Dr Olivier Kamana, hailed the Rwanda Transform Food Festival for raising the profile of key issues that need the most attention from food system actors.

“These are actors who have expertise in different fields in the food system who can contribute to the ongoing process of designing the next phase of the Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA5). We see them as key stakeholders who will make important additions to our strategy,” he said

More participants engaging in the discussion

The Fellowship works to shift the power, policies, incentives, and investments in order to bring about food systems transformation in the country. The day-long discussions around sustainable land use, food technology and trade, and access to nutritious foods explored these shifts.

The event was also an opportunity to expand the conversation to include actors beyond the Fellowship to forge collaborations that will ignite a faster transformation of Rwanda’s food system.

“We wanted actors to come together and discuss emerging issues in Rwanda’s food system, and think about working together to solve them. At the same time, we want to celebrate Fellows for the incredible work that they are doing to transform Rwanda’s food system,” said Anysie Ishimwe, Rwanda Dean and Country Implementation Lead.

Sylvie Nirere Winner of the Rwanda Food Systems Leadership Award

The festival culminated in the Rwanda Food Systems Leadership Award, which honours an outstanding Fellow whose work demonstrates the impact, sustainability, and scale necessary to bring about true food systems transformation.

Sylvie Nirere’s work helping thousands of horticulture farmers in Rwanda to access international markets in Europe and the Middle East, and thereby building a critical mass of topline exporters, clinched her the title.

African Food Fellowship Regional Manager, Claudia Piacenza said the Rwanda Transform Food Festival is a key ingredient of the Fellowship as it creates yet another opportunity for Fellows to come together and foster a sense of belonging, which makes it possible to work on complex food system issues that require collective action.

“As we start seeing Fellows exchanging lessons and exploring opportunities to collaborate, we know we are on the right track. We hope that guests walk away understanding that Fellows are rounded thought leaders, experts in their fields, and are able to look at the food system in a complex way,” she said.

Leaders engage in discussions at the event

Wasafiri Consulting and Wageningen University & Research initiated this fellowship to help deliver progress promised in the 2014 Malabo Declaration, which aims to end hunger on the continent by 2025, and to promote intra-Africa food exchange through the continental free trade area. The initiative enjoys support from the IKEA Foundation.

Interested in learning more about the African Food Fellowship?


From Dialogue to Action: The importance of diverse stakeholder voices in promoting healthy and sustainable foods

As global food systems face increasing challenges, stakeholders across the food value chain are realising their role in promoting healthy and sustainable diets.

Scaling Micro-businesses for Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems in Kenya (KenyaSME4Nutrition) was a two-year project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and implemented by Wasafiri, Village Enterprise, and Shack Dwellers International (SDI).

The story of the Kenya SME4Nutrition project

While the food environment in Kenya is rapidly evolving with the expansion of formal retailing such as supermarkets, microbusinesses are the main channel through which most households in both urban and rural communities access their food.

The KenyaSME4Nutrition project aimed to show how microbusiness owners can be agents for catalysing agri-food systems towards healthy and sustainable foods, with a particular focus on extremely poor women in both rural and urban areas.

This project also sought to identify the conditions that can influence micro businesses to contribute to equitable food system transformation.

The research team examined incentives for businesses to change, the factors that influence demand, and how they are shaped by gender.

Scaling the impact of agri-food businesses is a complex problem, particularly in the context of promoting healthy and sustainable diets. Creating a platform for dialogue and collaboration between food businesses, local governments, policymakers, civil society, and other stakeholders is essential.

The project’s engagement pathway, depicted in Figure 1, broadly outlines the target stakeholders and policy opportunities. It was integrated into the project design to offer more detailed information about the target stakeholders and the methods used for communication and involvement.

Stakeholder engagement enables everybody’s feedback, perspectives, insights, and concerns to be taken into consideration and fed into the decision-making process. Through this process, relationships are built along with a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the research objectives.

Central research question
Figure 1

Three things informed our stakeholder engagement approach:

  1. The external context that is dynamic and showed us where the windows of opportunity were.
  2. The knowledge products to be generated and how they could be targeted to different stakeholders to effectively put the research into use.
  3. Limited resources and time constraints determined the strategic choices on where to target our efforts.

At the county level, we built on the entry points identified at the onset of the project linked to established stakeholder engagement processes. We also built on their networks and the rapport they had created with policy stakeholders at the county level (for example, Village Enterprise had existing rapport with the county government).

In addition, a clear window of opportunity for policy influence was obtained in all three focus counties (Bungoma, Nairobi, and West Pokot) following the Kenya elections of August 2022.

Ana Nikolic and George Kaburu
Ana Nikolic and George Kaburu

Three stakeholder engagements were held in Bungoma, Nairobi, and West Pokot counties, with attendees from county governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the business community. Through these engagements, stakeholders exchanged knowledge, shared experiences, and built networks crucial for helping scale the role of MSEs in promoting healthy and sustainable diets.

The Stakeholders’ Commitment

Despite the main objective of the project being to generate new knowledge on how businesses and market systems might influence the growing consumption of healthy and sustainable foods, the project activities have triggered a change of mindset and a focus toward action.

From the dissemination meetings carried out in the three counties, county governments, local business associations, and community-based organisations have committed to strengthen their collaboration post-project, amplify the findings of the research, and accelerate policy change. Notably, policy and programmes supportive of agri-food businesses are to increase the supply of diverse healthy food and interventions put in place to increase the consumption of healthy and sustainable diets.

In Bungoma, the County Government together with The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Bungoma Chapter will continue convening with other actors to facilitate market linkages, access to training and advisory services, policy advocacy, and information and practice sharing.

In West Pokot, a stakeholder from Equity Afia committed to driving socio-behaviour change communication (SBCC) to address low household dietary diversity and quality through interactive educational programmes in local radio stations.

Finally in Nairobi, the County Government opened its doors to the Food Liaison Advisory Group – a multi-stakeholder platform representing the voices of various food system actors.

The stakeholders’ ultimate commitment was to continue collaborating to prioritise actions and measures that support and encourage the growth of agri-food businesses that are committed to promoting healthy and sustainable diets as well as creating an enabling environment that allows consumers to make informed choices about their food consumption choices.

What we learnt

We concluded that food systems are increasingly transitioning with growing evidence of shifts in dietary patterns and increased consumption of relatively unhealthy energy-dense foods, and low intakes of healthier whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and pulses in both urban and rural areas. Markets and enterprises play a central role in influencing food choices and diet quality, both in the urban and rural-agricultural contexts.

Strengthening food systems outcomes (nutrition, equity, sustainability, health) requires collaboration across different types of actors within the food system and beyond. Building a knowledge-policy-governance interface is necessary for food systems transformation and needs to include the development of new alliances for impact at the local level, creating a compelling story for policy change and finding opportunities to influence practice and implementation.

The emerging concern for all the stakeholders is now to move beyond strategies and towards policies and program interventions.


Claudia Piacenza is Wasafiri’s Food lead, and a food system changemaker

As a child, she dreamed of becoming a journalist, firewoman, or painter. Realising that she wanted to make the world a more just place led her to Wasafiri. Get to know her with me.

Who is Claudia?

If I was to ask her best friends or closest family to describe her in three words, Claudia says they would say she’s fun, just a bit controlling, and grounded.

She is a passionate change-maker who believes in the power of human agency. With her energetic and dedicated approach, she is an idealistic leader shaping the Food Impact Area at Wasafiri.

Growing up in a small town in the South of Italy (Sicily), Claudia says her childhood experiences significantly shaped her perspective and the person she is today. They influenced her line of work and her passion for making a positive impact on food systems.

It was during her teenage years that Claudia realised the role that luck plays in one’s life. Because of this, she developed a strong interest in global justice. She embraced vegetarianism (even before it gained popularity), volunteered in a fair-trade organisation, and joined several campaigns to boycott big corporations exposed to serious human rights and environmental violations.

During her university years, she studied International Relations in Rome, focusing on social movements in Latin America. She found joy in the multi-disciplinary nature of her studies but quickly realised that she was drawn to development issues.

Rome, with its vibrant intellectual scene, diverse forms of political activism, and abundant beauty and art, made her feel like she could spread her wings.

Fuelling her curiosity and desire for learning, Claudia pursued a master’s degree in Rural Development when she was almost 30. This choice took her on a transformative journey across countries like Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Uganda.

Not only did she expand her analytical capacity, but she also made lifelong friends from all over the world.

Claudia’s passion for improving food systems has always been deeply rooted in her personal choices. She worked for the Right to Food Campaign, which connected her with various international organisations.

It was during this time that she discovered her interest in delving deeper into the intricacies of food systems. While she didn’t have an agronomic background, Claudia’s focus has always been on human interaction and socio-economic dimensions.

Claudia Piacenza

Interview with Claudia

What led you to Wasafiri?

I joined Wasafiri after 10 years between a large bilateral donor and a UN agency. It feels like closing a loop and going back to a dimension that I feel more comfortable with. At the same time, Wasafiri is small, but it has great minds and incredible ambition. That fuels my drive to keep improving myself.

What excites you the most about leading the Food impact area at Wasafiri? And about working in Africa particularly?

Working to bring together different actors, giving voice to those unheard, and developing human potential. I come from an ageing country where there is little space for the youth. Working in Africa feels like working on the future of humanity; we will have the highest number of young people globally in just a few decades.

At the same time, Africa presents the world’s most stubborn problems, so working here feels relevant and inspiring at the same time.

What would you say is the biggest hurdle in achieving food systems transformation in Africa?

One of the biggest conundrums we face is following the path of Western countries where agriculture rapidly increased its productivity after the second world war. People progressively moved to urban areas and better-paying jobs, with improved living conditions.

Agriculture became highly mechanised and food production highly industrial. Despite the negative consequences for society and the environment, this is still perceived as the way to go.

This approach is simply not possible due to the massive public investments in agriculture required to support the sector.

There is a general lack of alternative models that look at food systems holistically, and too much focus on addressing specific problems in isolation. This is where system thinking changes the questions we ask, and the possibilities we imagine.

What’s your vision when you think about the possibility Wasafiri can contribute to?

Wasafiri’s efforts to ignite food system transformation by working with leaders through the African Food Fellowship is a fantastic example of working through others to achieve big impact. We are a small organisation and can only leave a significant mark on this planet if we work with, and through others.

By blending our technical expertise on “the what” and our capacity as an institute on “the how”, we can reach medium and larger organisations that are serious about tackling complexity.

I am also a strong believer in the importance of the “the why”. To ignite the spark of change, humans must be emotionally connected and dream the change they want to build.

What exciting trends in Food do you see emerging that will shape the coming months/years in food systems?

Circular economy. There is a growing debate that doesn’t just focus on the problems related to food waste and loss or environmental externalities, but on the possibilities to turn waste into resources in the food system.

We are finally talking about food waste and referring to the Global South. This recognises the web of interactions with diets, urban-rural linkages, and changing societies where more people depend on markets for their food.

The climate crisis has brought into consideration how food systems interact with energy and water systems in a more mainstream way. This multidimensional approach is a true paradigm shift.

You are currently working on complex problems, what motivates you the most?

I am charged by our efforts to build coalitions that last and to nurture networks that are rooted in countries where those problems are felt the most.

What resources would you recommend in the world of food systems?

The Feed podcast from Table which unpacks the future of food, and the book Stuff and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel.

What would people be quite surprised to know about you?

I collect the safety cards from airplanes!

What do you want to do before you die?

Take my mum to the Masai Mara and visit the Namib desert.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

The Kenyan coast!

And your greatest achievement?

I walked the Portuguese Camino de Santiago – 280 kilometres in 13 days!

Finally, what’s your favourite pastime activity?

Putting on costumes with my kids.

Read more blogs related to our Food impact area