Is Social Inclusion in Food Systems a Reality or a Mirage?

By 2050, the global population is expected to rise to 10 billion, and half of this population will be from the African continent, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The demand for food will therefore increase, forcing farmers to produce more to feed this growing population. To enhance the resilience of food systems and foster food and nutrition security, the existing challenges—among them social inclusion and climate change mitigation, which are interconnected—must be addressed. This cannot be accomplished, however, without the meaningful engagement of youth and women.

The Africa Food Systems Forum is an annual event that brings together more than 4,000 stakeholders in the agri-food sector to inform, influence, and catalyze the transition to sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food systems. This year’s AFS Forum took place Sept. 5-8, 2023, in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, under the theme, “Recover, Regenerate, Act: Africa’s Solutions to Food Systems Transformation.”

Tanager in partnership with the World Resources Institute, Practical Action, Micro Enterprise Support Program Trust (MESPT), and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) hosted a side event session during the forum, “Getting Real: The Inclusion Debate – Advancing social inclusion in Food Systems. Is it a reality or a mirage?” Tanager shared insights, experiences, and innovative solutions from the Impacting Gender and Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange (IGNITE) project on how it’s supporting African agricultural institutions to integrate gender and nutrition to advance social inclusion.

“[The] statistics are clear: We cannot move forward as business as usual,” observed Maureen Munjua, Kenya country representative for Tanager, during a panel that opened the side event. “The business case for involving women, the business case for involving young people as we’re thinking about food systems transformation, is really evident.”

Munjua pointed out that new businesses will make the effort of conducting market analyses when they’re launching—but not by the specific needs of their female customers vs. their male customers. Similarly, “When you’re doing baselines as NGOs, you will look at baseline data from a productivity perspective but not a gender lens… if you’re rolling out an extension program, ‘How is that going to look differently for women farmers or women development agents or extension agents vis-à-vis their counterparts in the same space?’” she said.

Others on the panel included Ndidi Okonkwo, co-founder and executive chair of Sahel Consulting; Dr. Apollos Nwafor, vice president, policy & state capability, AGRA; and Ruth Okowa, country director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).  Panelists proposed these key suggestions to advance social inclusion in food systems:

  1. An enabling environment to promote land ownership by youth and women, with the enacted policies being backed up with financial instruments for scaling up of agri-enterprises.
  2. Changing the school curriculum so that agriculture is taught both as a science and a business.
  3. Partnerships and cross-sector collaborations amongst different stakeholders, including youth and women involved in agriculture, to share their best practices, lessons, and opportunities.
  4. Youth and women engagement in Africa’s food systems dialogue as well as in decision-making.

The session’s second panel engaged in a lively debate on whether social inclusion is real or a mirage. During the session, panelists Winnie Osulah, gender expert at Tanager; Tim Mwangi, head of programs for Practical Action; Rebecca Amukokhoye, CEO of MEST; and Wangari Kuria, CEO of Farmer on Fire Limited,  made the following  arguments:

  1. There is a need for increased capacity building for youth and women on how to manage their agri enterprise as well as marketing their products. Governments need to facilitate these opportunities as well as create an enabling business environment for businesses to thrive.
  2. The food system debate is contextual; it may involve politics, society, the environment, or technology. These systems’ foundations are anchored on institutions. Tanager sees institutions as a pathway for advancing structures that promote people’s values, voices, and interests—but institutions must receive support if they are to advance social inclusion.
  3. Some governments have taken things a step further by setting up a framework and an enabling environment with budget allocations. There is a need for coordination to enable proper implementation and to identify inherent gaps in those policies.
  4. Derisking financial instruments, with financial institutions offering loans without fear of default, would foster greater social inclusion.
  5. Youth and women’s engagements across the value chain, especially in decisions affecting them, are currently lacking.
  6. Social inclusion in food systems should also include other systemically excluded populations, such as people living with disabilities.

Watch Tanager’s side-event session from the 2023 Africa Food Systems Forum below.