L-R: NRI’s Kate Wellard, Louise Abayomi, Gideon Onumah and Richard Lamboll at the AGRF Summit

NRI joined over 3,000 delegates from more than 70 countries for the Africa Food Systems Summit (AGRF) 2023 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, from 4-8 September. The theme conference theme was ‘Recover, Regenerate, Act: Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems Transformation’.

As part of the Summit, NRI organised a side session on 4 September, entitled ‘The Malabo Declaration on Africa’s Agriculture: Fostering multi-stakeholder processes to transform agriculture and food systems in Africa’. The session highlighted the value of broad-based and dynamic multi stakeholder processes (MSPs) in driving forward Africa’s agenda for sustainable and inclusive agricultural and food systems. During the session NRI staff shared insights from cases where coordinated and informed MSPs have positively impacted agriculture and food systems in Africa. They further drew on the objectives of the Malabo Declaration, and NRI’s diverse agricultural development work across Africa to make a case for wider application of MSPs. The Malabo Declaration builds on the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and sets specific targets with the aim of achieving sustainable and inclusive growth, improved livelihoods and enhanced food and nutrition security and resilience.

The side event was opened with a speech delivered on behalf of NRI’s Director, Prof Sheryl Hendriks, by Dr Kate Wellard Dyer, emphasising how the objectives of the Malabo Declaration are consistent with the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, as stated in the Rome Declaration on Nutrition (2014). Prof Hendriks is a member of the Malabo Montpelier Panel—a group of international agriculture experts who guide policy choices to accelerate progress towards food and nutrition security in Africa. The Panel recently produced an important report on policy innovations to put women at the centre of food systems transformation in Africa.

The opening speech stressed the role of robust MSPs in helping transform African food systems through informing government policies as well as public and private sector investment decisions. NRI’s interest in fostering these processes stems from its longstanding track record in research and education, working with diverse partners to address challenges and take advantage of opportunities across food systems.

Richard Lamboll, a socio-economist at NRI, presented lessons and evidence from work on strengthening decision-making in agricultural policy processes through Multi-Stakeholder Social Learning in sub-Saharan Africa. The multi-stakeholder approach supports decision makers who have to deal with multiple demands on agriculture and food systems. It involves structured co-learning with diverse stakeholders with different perspectives and beliefs and recognises that there are a range of different concepts and approaches aimed at improving sustainability and equity in agriculture and food systems. The approach acknowledges that, rather than being linear and straight-forward, policy processes are often messy and characterized by different levels of complexity. MSPs have been shown to improve national level policy processes. Key features of MSPs include sustained interaction, deliberation and knowledge sharing in a trusting environment.

Richard shared evidence and lessons from the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa (SAIRLA) programme. SAIRLA aimed to co-produce new evidence and design tools to enable governments, investors and other key actors to inform more effective policies and investments in equitable and sustainable agricultural intensification. Evidence from National Learning Alliances in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia shows how MSPs can improve decision making in policy processes. Key lessons included: the value to decision-makers of engaging with informal networks; the importance of combining dialogue, deliberation and experiential learning; the need to create safe spaces in national level multistakeholder learning processes; the demanding combination of facilitation skills and commitment; and appropriately flexible funding support.

Dr Louise Abayomi, a postharvest specialist at NRI presented experience on using MSPs to enhance food safety compliance. She discussed the common sources of food safety issues including pesticide residues, aflatoxins and heavy metals, identified through our work in different African countries. Louise noted that these issues persist due to multiple factors including limited awareness of impacts, limited access to food safety management tools and limited capacity for enforcement by regulatory authorities. She, however added that advancements in testing technology have opened up opportunities for decentralised low-cost testing which can contribute to more robust enforcement in order to increase access to safe food by consumers in Africa. ‘African governments need to take advantage of advances in technology and new funding opportunities to improve food safety. This will, however, require public-private multi-stakeholder processes,’ Louise said.

Insights on the roles of MSPs in the implementation of the Farm Risk Management Project (FARMAF) were presented by Dr Gideon Onumah, an Agricultural Marketing and Finance Economist at NRI. The project aimed to reduce risks and challenges in agriculture and food systems through improving smallholder farmers’ access to a range of integrated tools from pre-planting to postharvest. Experience from Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Zambia demonstrated how multiple stakeholders, including farmers’ organisations, can collaboratively develop and implement as well as mutually benefit from such innovations. For instance, the benefits to farmers included improved access to inputs, credit and services, which enabled them to increase crop yields. In addition, food availability and diversity improved, implying increased consumption of nutritious food. Participating smallholders also obtained higher household incomes. Input traders enjoyed a boost in sales due to improved liquidity in farming households while insurance companies upscaled their supply of crop insurance products without government subsidies. Furthermore, increased demand for storage services stimulated private investment in storage facilities in rural communities, especially for grains. These services and the structured trading systems which emerged enabled major grain buyers, including WFP, to buy grains directly from smallholders who enjoyed premium prices previously obtained only by medium to large-scale producers and/or aggregators.

Panel members from the Africa Union Commission endorsed the experience of MSPs presented. They further suggested that MSPs can be particularly helpful in ensuring broad-based support and enhanced national commitment to the Malabo agenda post 2025. The critical role of multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) in advancing sustainable and equitable agriculture and food systems in Africa emerged as one of the takeaways from the Summit. Also notable was an important shift in language used by the organisers and partners: from green revolution-centric language to food systems-oriented discourse, which is important in the context of climate change. For instance, concepts and approaches such as regenerative agriculture and a focus on soil health were highlighted in some of the events. However, it remains to be seen if this language shift translates into equitable and sustainable development actions, given the divergence of interests in approaches to agricultural development.