Youth taking on the food system in Africa

December 19, 2019


Not only are youth our future leaders, they often unleash an enthusiasm that gives new life to movements and they have a vision that creates significant change. This was exactly the kind of energy that we experienced in Nakuru, Kenya earlier this month, where the Sustainable Diets for All (SD4All) program, together with Indigenous Terra Madre and the Slow Food Youth Network, led Africa’s first advocacy workshop event focused on the future of food in Africa. Youth from seven different African countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa) joined to discuss topics relevant to the issues that they are currently facing in their own countries. Over the course of five days, they gained the connections and skills needed to address these challenges.

Tools for shaping the future

From resource mobilization and how to pitch a project to institutions, to action planning strategies, youth participants acquired tools to create a concrete road map for the future. The SD4All program facilitated an advocacy training based on the exercises in our Advocacy toolkit. One of the favorite activities was the “one-minute message”, a tool for summarizing and conveying key messages – ideal when bumping into a key decision-maker. The youth created specific national action plans based on what they learned during the week and pitched these to the public and other interested organizations on the final day of the event.

The advocacy trainings were also complemented by intercultural field visits that gave youth a taste of existing local food projects and their impact. A visit to the Seed Savers Network seed bank in Gilgil helped youth to understand the work being done to protect seeds from private control. The Karirikania Community Garden, run by SD4All partner Slow Food, showed how local families can benefit from the availability of communal produce. Youth also learned about the connection between honey and land rights in a visit to the bee hives of the Ogiek community in the Mau Forest.

United in a common goal

The event was so much more than just an advocacy and capacity-building workshop though. Networking and knowledge exchange were at the heart of it all, as was a celebration of indigenous African food, culture, heritage and biodiversity. The question became: how can we continue to stimulate and empower youth to protect and promote their food heritage moving forward? Hivos and partner Slow Food committed to nurturing the bonds created at this gathering, helping to create further opportunities for youth and their communities.

Youth ambassadors ready for action

Youth were inspired by the event and motivated to take what they learned back to their countries and communities, and start creating change. Margeret Tunda Lepore, from the Maasai community in Kenya, said, “The workshop stimulated me to go beyond my own bubble and see the interlinkages between all the different topics of food. We are part of a bigger whole.” Margaret is a member of the indigenous Terra Madre board, as well as the indigenous steering committee of IFAD, representing the youth of Africa. Umar Bashir Ochen, a young agronomist from Uganda, acknowledged the new tools that he’ll bring back home to strengthen his community. “I know now about the issues at stake in the food system and the steps I can follow to ensure the preservation of the local indigenous food varieties of my community. Once I am back home I’ll reach out to the agricultural department of the district and inform them about the needed change in my community. Subsequently I’ll gather with community members to start a Slow Food community.”

Our global food system needs youth ambassadors who can provide sustainable solutions to the challenges we are facing in providing access to food that is sustainable, diverse and nutritious. Putting youth center stage is key to building a new food system that enables citizens to use and develop their knowledge to further improve the diversity in our food system.

Youth ambassadors: Umar Bashir Ochen (left) and Margeret Tunda Lepore (right)

Maria Gomez is Junior Program Officer for the SD4All program
Nout van der Vaart is Advocacy Officer for the SD4All program