Rwanda Food System: Through a Youthful Lens

You’re a young person sitting in a room of food systems experts; they’re talking about food systems and all related subjects; technical jargon is flying thick and fast. How do you feel? Discussions were more theoretical than practical. Some of the GanzAfrica Fellows felt like they didn’t belong in that space, initially. “It felt like learning a new language. I was confused because I didn’t understand a thing, but little by little I started to get it.” Said Joselyto, our Digital Solutions Fellow. Over the course of the 2-day Rwanda Food System Partner Dialogue and Workshop, they learnt how as young people, their voices and go-getter attitude can contribute to transformation. Think of food systems as a grand orchestra, where every note plays a vital role. They encompass the entire journey of food from farm to fork. Food systems not only touch our health and well-being but also influence our economy, environment, and social fabric.

Sustainable Development Goal 2 on Zero Hunger, targets nations committing to; ending all forms of malnutrition, doubling agricultural productivity, increasing international cooperation, and ensuring sustainable food systems. Further, UNDP has reported that due to accelerated economic growth and higher agricultural output, globally the number of undernourished individuals has almost halved over the past two decades. Unfortunately, an estimated 821 million people remain chronically undernourished, as of 2017. Moreover, a fifth of Africa’s population (55.6m people) is still undernourished. At the same time, food systems are responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally. These numbers should concern us all. This calls for urgent and concerted efforts to accelerate actions that transform food systems towards improved productivity, resilience and sustainability.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources in partnership with AGRA, AGRF Africa Food Systems Forum, Hinga Wunguke, USAID, and Food Action Alliance initiated the two-day Rwanda Food System Partner Dialogue and Workshop under the theme “Advancing food systems for people, planet and prosperity”. Participants discussed Rwanda’s status quo in terms of progress, gaps, opportunities and next steps towards ensuring food systems meet the needs of its population, in ways that protect the environment and bring prosperity. 

The highlights of the workshop identified barriers to food systems transformation including lack of access to reliable data, bankable investment opportunities, financial support, youth involvement and agile and holistic stakeholders’ coordination mechanisms. Meanwhile, outstanding initiatives were applauded, including solar irrigation projects and use of black soldier fly to produce animal feed. To drive food system transformation forward, stakeholders committed to using data to inform decisions and policies, to develop bankable flagship programs that would attract private sector investments, adopt a holistic approach to food systems, youth and gender inclusion, digital and financial innovation and establishment of forward-looking coordination mechanisms that are inclusive, and actions oriented. Stakeholders committed to broaden collaboration and partnerships that spur investments in inclusive, sustainable and resilient food systems. The Government of Rwanda through MINAGRI dedicated itself to ensuring inclusive policy reforms, alignment policy and programmatic priorities to the food systems agenda and setting up coordination mechanisms, demonstrating strong political will to see positive change and accelerated transformation through data-driven decisions, and enhanced implementation.

Having read about the outcomes of the experts’ discussion on Rwanda’s food systems, how would you enable a youth-inclusive transformation? Suggestions from stakeholders included rebranding agriculture as a potential opportunity for the youth, enhancing education programs by leveraging the use of digital tools, engaging youth in discussions and in co-creating solutions on food systems, and creating income generating sustainable opportunities tailored to their needs. This also brought up a conversation around youth segmentation according to age groups, gender, education level and whether they are urban or rural based. This gives scope for customizing opportunities, information and interventions to the needs of each segment, because, despite them being all youth, their needs will differ for each segment. GanzAfrica is taking proactive steps by empowering young practitioners to support the government and other stakeholders in the use of data, evidence and analytics to accelerate food systems transformation. If food systems are like a grand orchestra, where every note plays a vital role, what role can you play?