From 27 to 29 October 2020, AFSA held its third Biennial Food Systems Conference and Celebration. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, AFSA decided to hold this conference virtually. The three-day event explored issues relating to “Shaping the Future of Food Markets in Africa: What kind of markets do we need for the transition to agroecology?” Three main objectives informed each day of the conference:
1. Understanding African markets and trends,
2. Shaping the future of markets for the transition to agroecology, and
3. Changing policy towards markets for healthy food systems
Over the three days, the conference brought together over 200 delegates from 64 countries, 37 of which were African. Participants represented farmers, research and development institutions, governmental organisations, and nongovernmental organisations. AFSA created a conference website to promote the event and share presentations from the speakers.
AFSA Chairperson Dr Chris Macoloo and AFSA Coordinator Dr Million Belay gave a warm welcome to all the delegates. Both Chris and Million emphasised the importance of African markets in advancing the transition to agroecology. Dr Laila Lokosang, Advisor for Food and Nutrition Security at the African Union, gave the conference’s official welcoming address.
Each day of the conference began with a unique component – food celebrations: a series of films, photography, art projects, youth voices, and stories from across the continent. Several films spotlighted community seed and food stories from different countries, emphasising the importance of preserving indigenous seeds, food, cultural knowledge and food markets. Youth shared their views on the problems in informal African markets through short video clips. The videos provided inspiration and excitement ahead of the excellent speakers each day.
Several speakers shared traditional rites or mystics from their regions, some performed songs or poems, and others shared their stories from the field. These creative touches set the conference apart from many other virtual events in 2020 by cultivating a sense of unity and human connection amongst participants.
There were four keynote speakers – Charles Dhewa, Dr Mamadou Goïta, Dr Jen Astone, and Prof Olivier De Schutter. Charles is the Chief Executive Officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa, Mamadou is the Executive Director of the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development, Dr Jen Astone is the founder of Integrated Capital Investing, and Prof Olivier De Schutter is the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Several speakers presented on a range of topics in parallel side events on Day 1 and 2. The speakers were: Bibi Giyosi, Prof Cecilia Onyango, Pat Mooney, Dr Naude Malan, Charles Dhewa, Hervé Bouagnimbeck, Susan Nakacwa and Dr Scott Drimie.
At the end of the workshop, Dr. Million Belay, AFSA’s general coordinator, identified territorial markets as the primary focus. He summarized the conference deliberations on AFSA’s way forward, specifically on areas of research, advocacy, mobilisation, and educational efforts.