Cultivating community-led food and nutrition security initiatives
It is taking too long for African governments to realize that allowing communities to take food and nutrition security matters into their own hands cultivates better self-reliance and sustainable development. Many rural African communities are tired of being treated like children who have no influence on what they eat and when they should eat. Every community has its food system but these are often ignored by top-down approaches from central government which assume that food is always the same everywhere irrespective of different climatic conditions.
Understanding local communities
Empowering communities to take matters into their own hands should start with thoughtful conversations on how local people define and characterize their community or district. Is the definition and characterization by administrative government boundary, colonial boundary, natural resources, political boundary or chieftainship? A progressive and solution-focused dialogue can see communities freely questioning and debating boundaries that were set up for specific purposes, for instance during colonial times but are still used today in ways that undermine community identity, culture and food systems.
While African policy makers constantly direct resources towards re-defining constituencies for election purposes, no resources have been directed towards re-defining districts or communities for developmental purposes using new emerging socio-economic and nutrition criteria with input from local people. There is no reason why districts or communities should be cast in stone as revealed by how mass food markets also contribute to re-defining districts and local communities based on types and quantities of food coming from these districts and communities.
Guidance from preliminary information
Food and nutrition consultative processes at community or district level should be guided by context and preliminary information about the community or district. Such details include:
Mapping types of resources and food systems in the community or district – In most African countries, mass food markets like Mbare in Harare, Zimbabwe continue re-defining communities and districts through food systems such as the dominance of fruits, horticulture crops, field crops and livestock in particular communities and districts. Building the capacity of communities to use a food system in profiling and mapping of their districts is fundamental.
Population – Who is who in terms of gender, age, literacy levels, knowledge and skills? Answering such questions, which all have a bearing on food and nutrition security, can broaden consultation avenues. For instance, are issues under discussion about food systems, infrastructure, gender, natural resources, knowledge and information at district level?
Land-use patterns – Over the years most communities and districts have seen changes in land use due to urbanization and the growth of the SME-driven economy. Who is involved in this paradigm shift that is taking place in response to the natural growth pathways of African home-grown economies?
What is the development pathway for the community or district? In some communities and districts, development is driven by mining while in cities and growth points development is driven by manufacturing of consumable products. If communities and districts are major sources of raw materials for economic development, are there long-term plans for sustaining the communities and districts? Clear development pathways will see most smallholder farmers pensioning themselves into a middle-class existence. If the majority of the population in a community or district are smallholder farmers and 15-20% of the population comprises SMEs, how can these businesses be transformed to be part of the middle-class economy by 2030?
Toward a community investment guide
What is often lacking is a plan of action to which local people can contribute in building an investment guide for their community or district. Such a guide will assist farmers and SMEs chart a way forward in terms of where they want to be in five years. Many people have been in food systems-based vending for decades because there are no growth pathways in the food systems. When such people are engaged in fruitful and hopeful dialogue, they can express their knowledge on what they think needs to be done to uplift their enterprises, livelihoods and food systems.
What can someone in the diaspora invest into in his/her home community or district if s/he wants to contribute to the local GDP or food systems? In most cases, investment remains an individual decision but an enabling policy or guidelines can translate individual investment into community or district and, ultimately, national development. Policy makers should have an idea of areas of interest for people with excess money or resources. In the agriculture space, policy makers should have an idea of what each farmer is planning to grow every season. When institutions at local level like extension services are able to collect such information, they become investment advisors. For instance, they can assist local people who receive USD200 remittances every month to invest appropriately in local food systems and supply chains.
Most African communities and districts have water, forests, minerals, roads, energy, skills and knowledge but these have not been properly valued. How do we package these resources so that development becomes systematic? An investor from outside has to see value in existing human and natural resources. Community or district consultations can reveal what exists which can be packaged and sold as a package to both local and external investors. Combining indigenous and formal systems can enable communities to run their enterprise and manage their resources viably.
Integrating Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) with formal education
How can communities be assisted to marry their indigenous knowledge systems with knowledge from formal education systems? African communities and districts have devoted most of their resources and time to formal education systems at the expense of indigenous knowledge existing in communities. How can they use new knowledge to develop or package their history, artisanal mining, art, local cuisines and others? Departments and faculties at universities are not cascading to the grassroots and this is weakening indigenous knowledge systems. Academic and modern professional systems are creating new social classes that treat people who are not academically gifted as out-casts. Structurally, the western education system is being used to make indigenous knowledge, skills and talent redundant when they should be used for economic development in ways that respond to the needs of particular communities.
Who is responsible for evaluating community interventions from outsiders?
Almost all African communities and districts have government initiatives, NGO initiatives and private sector initiatives like contract farming but there are no systems for evaluating the impact of all these in communities. Who is responsible for evaluating them? There should be a framework for evaluating these interventions. Some NGOs have been in communities for more than 30 years and no one knows what have been their achievements.
An investment assessment framework would assist in rejecting smokescreen interventions that waste people’s time when they should be doing other meaningful activities. In farming communities, there is no one responsible for ensuring fair trade. Who is assisting farmers to assess and understand contracts? Why should buyers and companies get into a community and start buying goats, sugar beans, groundnuts and other commodities in which farmers have invested their sweat and other resources whose collective value is more than prices offered by external buyers?
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