Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Pretoria
Department Name: Centre for Advancement of Scholarship

Abstract

The Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) will strengthen food systems research and its translation into implementable interventions in support of interrelated Sustainable Development Goals related to food systems in Africa (focusing on SDG2 - Zero Hunger).

The network partners - University of Pretoria (UP) (ARUA-CoE in Food Security host), University of Leeds (UoL) (GCRF-AFRICAP host) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) (GCRF-AFRICAP partner) have been selected based on their track record of working together, strengths in food systems research and existing partnerships with food systems stakeholders.

The major contribution of FSNet-Africa to addressing the challenge of SDG2 will be its focus on developing a new understanding of the African food systems through developing the FSNet-Africa Food Systems Framework and utilising systems-based methodologies to conduct research that enhances understanding of the components of the framework, the interactions between these components, and ultimately the leverage points for food system transformation. The latter will be implemented by an interdisciplinary cohort of early career research fellows (ECRF) who are supported in their research to identify (in dialogue with food systems stakeholders) and evaluate climate-smart, nutrition-sensitive, poverty-reducing interventions.

FSNet-Africa will collaboratively produce context-relevant, interdisciplinary research through creating 2-year long structured opportunities for up to 30 ECRF, majority female, who obtained their PhD's less than 10 years ago to (i) conduct impact-focused, gender sensitive, interdisciplinary research related to African food systems, (ii) build lasting research networks, and (iii) develop their skills to translate their research impactfully. ECRF will be selected from 10 academic partner institutions in six countries - Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.

The three formal components of the fellowships (science, mentorship and leadership development) will ensure that the ECRF are positioned in the necessary enabling environment and are provided with the opportunity to develop the necessary skills to produce excellent research, achieve the project objectives and significantly advance their academic careers. During the fellowship, each fellow will be assigned at least two mentors - one from an African university and the other from the UK. These research-triads will be carefully matched to ensure that the triad is an interdisciplinary team, enabling the ECRF to receive the support they need to develop and implement quality interdisciplinary research projects. The Science Component of the fellowship will be comprised of a fellowship orientation workshop, funding for research, participation in a split-site winter/summer school and a write-shop. After attending an Orientation Workshop with their mentors, ECRF will be expected to develop their research proposals that focus on climate-smart, nutrition-sensitive and poverty-reducing food systems solutions. Six months later, a 10-week split-site winter/summer school (at UP's Future Africa Campus and at the University of Leeds) will provide the ECRF with the opportunity to finalise their research proposals for implementation and to participate in various capacity development workshops. The Leadership Component will give ECRF the opportunity to develop skills the skills they need to be future food systems science leaders - such as managing research teams and leadership in science-policy communication.

As a mechanism to facilitate research uptake and impact, every project undertaken by the ECRF will be co-designed and implemented in partnership with relevant policymakers, private sector role players or grassroots level organisations who will engage directly with the research teams at the Orientation Workshop, during the Winter School and in-country to implement the research.

Planned Impact

FSNet-Africa is a collaboration between the University of Pretoria (South Africa), the University of Leeds (UK) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

FSNet-Africa will develop an interdisciplinary cohort of majority female Early Career Research Fellows (ECRF) capable of applying food systems thinking and methodologies to their research agendas. This will be achieved by creating 2-year long structured opportunities for the ECRF, pairing each with a mentor from Africa and the UK (forming research-triads), and capacitating them to work directly with food systems stakeholders in six countries (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia) to design, implement and apply their research.

FSNet-Africa will build the individual and institutional capacities of ECRF, mentors and 10 African partner universities; strengthen their linkages to researchers in the UK and build sustainable partnerships for the co-creation of knowledge with non-academic food systems stakeholders in the six focus countries. Importantly, FSNet-Africa contributes to increasing the number of highly competent, globally-connected female food systems researchers in Africa.

FSNet-Africa will deliver novel tools and approaches, as well as new insights into food system dynamics and trade-offs across scales - a subject of growing interest. The knowledge and solutions created will thus benefit a highly diverse audience across disciplines and fields of practice, including researchers and practitioners with an interest in food security and its intersection with development in Africa.

Collaboration and partnerships for impact with non-academic stakeholders will be led by FANRPAN, whose role in linking FSNet-Africa to stakeholders will be multi-layered. FANRPAN will tap into its country-based nodal structure to link research-triads directly to food systems stakeholders - including policymakers, actors in the supply chain and grassroots organisations working with farmers - to ensure that research is informed by demand. Through the ongoing engagement between research-triads and these targeted food systems stakeholders in each country, FSNet-Africa will be well positioned to have a practical impact on agricultural development, business practices, public engagement and behaviour, as well as policy. Through engaging gender advisors, gender will be mainstreamed into all research projects to provide solutions that avoid gender-blind approaches that reinforce gender inequality.
FANRPAN has unique relationships and convening power with governments, universities and NGOs through national nodes and peer professional membership across 17 countries which it will leverage to identify opportunities for research-triads to engage with; in addition to high-level strategic platforms at country and continental level. This will provide exposure for FSNet-Africa, and create potential linkages for taking research projects to scale. FANRPAN will lead on identifying national, regional and international opportunities for communicating synthesised research findings originating from FSNet-Africa. ECRF will receive training on policy influencing and communicating with non-academic audiences, recognising that these are integral skills for successful engagment within food systems.

Through these multi-layered, multisectoral linkages, FSNet-Africa's research has the potential to help catalyse (i) the development and implementation of evidence-led food systems policy(ii) the uptake of research-informed practices, products and services across sectors and throughout the value chain and (iii) a change in the demands and behaviour of producers and consumers, across sectors and throughout the value chain. These will ultimately contribute to improved food security and nutritional status in Africa by developing food systems that are inclusive and economically efficient; whilst protecting the ecosystems in which these systems depend on.

Publications

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