Reaching the summit

Back in August, I received a text from our Director at GanzAfrica. “Hi Nadege. Can you send me your passport bio page?” I was excited. Where was I going? And who was I going with? A week later, I learned that myself and three other fellows had been sponsored by AGRF to attend the 13th Annual Summit of the Africa Food Systems Summit, AGRF 2023, in Dar es Salaam. Our delegation was made up of myself, an Impact Communication Fellow, a Sustainable Land Use Fellow, a Climate Finance Fellow, and a Smart Water Management Fellow. In the days and weeks leading up to the event, our anticipation began to build. I couldn’t wait to get on that plane! And I sighed happily when, on 4 September, I landed at Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dar es Salaam, ready to embark on an educational adventure with my colleagues!

What is AGRF?

The AGRF is an annual summit that convenes multiple stakeholders to drive collaboration and coordination across the agriculture and food systems landscape. Thanks to AFS Forum’s generous sponsorship, we were able to attend the summit and mingle with experts and key players. Despite the small number of youth in attendance, we are thankful that the AGRF Secretariat believed that young people should be considered and even sponsored to attend the event.

AGRF 2023 was a hybrid event running from 5-8 September, hosted by the Government of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Convention Center (JINCC). This year’s theme was ‘Recover, Regenerate, Act: Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems Transformation’. The meeting was attended by 350+ speakers, 5,400+ delegates, five heads of state, and 30 ministers from 90 countries. The program consisted of different sessions such CEO chats on finance, leadership, and social impact, conversations on regenerative agriculture, climate finance, policies, and the inclusion of youth and women. There were also youth pitches and multiple stands showcasing agribusinesses and innovations, and the dealroom where agripreneurs access finance, mentorship and market entry solutions for growth and sustainability.

Inspiration, engagement and awe: the AGRF experience

For all of us, it was our first time visiting Dar es Salaam. Initially, we experienced a mixture of shock and fascination, as everything seemed magnified: large crowds along the sidewalks, tall buildings, a variety of food options, especially seafood and local delicacies, and very humid weather.

As the summit commenced, we quickly realized its potential as a rich learning environment and networking hub. Dr. John Ulimwengu, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), kick-started the sessions with his report ‘Empowering Africa’s Food Systems for the Future.’ This comprehensive report, with Dr. Ulimwengu as the lead author, emphasized the role of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as a catalyst for transformation. With Africa’s workforce projected to grow by 200 million people by 2030, it’s poised to become the world’s largest and youngest population by mid-century. To harness this demographic advantage, strategic investments in labor productivity and human capital are imperative.

GanzAfrica is at the forefront of this investment drive, equipping young practitioners with technical training, professional development, mentorship, and real-world opportunities. Armed with these newfound skills, GanzAfrica Fellows adopt a system-thinking approach to address the continent’s challenges across land, agrifood systems, and the environment.

Other sessions at AGRF highlighted the unique opportunities offered by the digital era to enhance productivity in various sectors, including food systems. Yet, Africa’s food systems encounter multifaceted challenges, demanding collective efforts to surmount them and capitalize on opportunities for sustainable and nutritious diets for all Africans.

Another key highlight was the pitches made by young agripreneurs and innovators. Two of the biggest prizes (US$50,000 each) were awarded by Generation Africa to Ms. Hasina Andriatsitohaina, founder and CEO of Madagascan manufacturer Mad’Arom, and Mr. Ikenna Nzewi, co-founder and CEO of Releaf Africa in Nigeria. Mad’Arom produces essential oils, fragrances, and spices using indigenous plants. It also encourages biodiversity and agroforestry investment among 2,000 small-scale growers. Releaf Africa, meanwhile, is an agricultural supply chain tech company using proprietary hardware and software to source from smallholder farmers at scale; control quality; and deliver processed outputs to food manufacturers.

We were awestruck by the innovative spirit of young entrepreneurs at the pitches. Access to diverse funding is crucial to support these game-changing ideas. Thanks to the AGRF secretariat, we had the opportunity to participate, learn, and contribute.

Key learnings and takeaways

GanzAfrica envisions an Africa free from poverty, hunger and inequality by nurturing a generation of young land, agriculture, and environment specialists. For myself and my  GanzAfrica peers, AGRF was a significant opportunity to listen and participate. Our key takeaways from the event were as follows:

  • Youth should actively contribute, enhance business fundamentals, practise financial discipline, and be selective in partnerships.
  • Prioritize agriculture while ensuring sustainability, resilience, and adaptation in food systems.
  • Solutions should focus on intergenerational leadership, policy support, increased access to funding and technology, and centralized data platforms.
  • Bridging the gap between agriculture finance and climate finance, policy reforms in agri-processing, collaboration, and innovation are vital for food security.
  • SMEs should formalize structures to reduce risk and attract investments.
  • Policy reforms are needed to boost agri-processing, adding value to commodities like cotton, nuts, and beans.
  • The AGRF event facilitates networking rather than educational experience.
  • Many sessions discussed commitments, but few explored successful implementation of past commitments.

Let’s talk about action

The bottom line is: Africa already has technologies and capabilities; it’s a continental, multigenerational, and gender-responsive collective effort that is needed. To quote Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the president of AGRA, “Let’s talk about action and getting things done! We must move beyond talking about potential.” Africa’s food system transformation is not only a task for governments and the private sector, but also for consumers and farmers!

Join us Now!
Are you a recent Land Surveying or Geomatics graduate seeking to use your knowledge to deliver transformation that enhances livelihoods and opportunities for land-dependent communities in Rwanda and across Africa? Apply for our Land Survey Fellowship today.