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A 3-year process of research, reflection and citizen engagement

Concept Note, February 2019

Over 2019-2021, AFSA is undertaking a collaborative process of research and reflection to identify what tools would be required to deliver sustainable food systems in Africa. Through a series of multi-stakeholder ‘policy labs’ in Addis Ababa, where the AU and other key African institutions sit, the process will bridge the different policy areas (agriculture, trade, environment, health, etc.) and different policy levels (AU, national, local) through which food systems are governed, identifying priorities for reform and bringing them together under a single roof. The sustainable food scoreboard that emerges will align various policies and incentives with the goal of delivering sustainable food systems, while building around the grassroots initiatives already reshaping food systems at the local level


In November 2018, AFSA organized a three-day meeting entitled ‘African Food System and the SDGs’ and one of the follow ups of this conference was to work for Common Food Policy for Africa. African citizens may choose the food they put into their shopping baskets, but they have not chosen the food systems that serve up that food. There is currently no Africa ‘food policy’. Instead, the food we eat and the food systems we enjoy are shaped by a variety of distinct policy frameworks: agriculture, food safety and public health, trade, environmental protection, climate and energy, economic and social cohesion, rural development and international development, employment and education.

These policies are developed largely in isolation from each other. They are formed by policymakers working within their specific policy areas, in dialogue with industry groups, and scientific bodies whose own interests are often bounded by the same political and disciplinary siloes. Policies at various governance levels are also disconnected from each other. Few attempts have been made to systematically link local-level initiatives affecting food systems (e.g. arising from city-level authorities or local civil society groups) to policies adopted at the national or AU levels. Food systems are therefore subject to imperatives that potentially conflict and counter-act each other, while major opportunities are missed to build on local initiatives in order to accelerate collective learning.

The need for new policy responses is made all the more pressing by the multiple crises now afflicting food systems in the Africa and around the world, from burgeoning obesity to environmental degradation and pressures on farmers’ livelihoods. Our current decision- making processes and policy frameworks are limited to address these crises. Rather than responding to a set of publicly-agreed priorities, our food systems are the by-product of political compromises struck between competing interests in various fora. The lack of a coherent food policy, cutting across sectors and joining up different levels of governance, means that accountability is hugely dispersed. When poor outcomes arise, no-one can be held to account. With neither a pilot nor a flight plan, it is possible to ignore how badly food systems have veered off-course.


The ‘Common Food Policy’ roadmap that emerges will align various policies and incentives with the goal of delivering sustainable food systems, ensuring that healthy diets, resilient ecosystems and decent livelihoods for farmers and food workers are key objectives – not footnotes – of the policies affecting food systems. Rather than implementing policies and hoping they will spark sustainable food systems around Africa, this process will build policies around the grassroots initiatives already reshaping food systems at the local level. The vision that emerges will offer Africa a road map for the post-2020 period.

The research and reflection process is structured around a series of multi-stakeholder meetings co-organized by AFSA and a range of partners in Addis Ababa (Policy Labs) and around Africa (Local Labs). In parallel, AFSA will develop a series of written outputs (Policy Briefs) to capture the findings of the discussions and to explore reform opportunities. The process will culminate in a major public event in 2021 serving as a deliberative forum to co-construct the final phases of the Common Food Policy vision and as a rallying point for Africa’s sustainable food movements. The briefs and the 2019 forum will feed into a final report to be delivered to AU Pan African Parliament in 2021.

By widening the lens from agriculture to food systems, and by building from local initiatives upward, the project will aim to tap into and strengthen the citizen engagement around reforming food and farming systems. Supporting the emergence of a unified sustainable food movement in Africa is a meansto building a Common Food Policy vision. The process of co-construction and the forming of alliances are as important as the final content – the “sustainable food scoreboard” we shall aim to arrive at. Each Lab will act as a stepping stone in developing mutual ownership, shared visions and coalitions of interest – ranging from environmental NGOs to public health professional associations, from grassroots cooperative initiatives to AU level farming and food industry groups. And crucially, extending to the policymakers whose involvement and buy-in will be essential to ensure that a viable policy vision emerges.

These different components of the project, and the latest timetable of meetings, are described in the annexes below.


The Policy Labs at the heart of this process will see AFSA convene 25-30 people, including scientists, policymakers, civil society and food and farming sector actors, to engage in 3-hour round-table discussions. The Labs will be hosted in the possibly at or near the AU and the in Addis Ababa, but participation will not be limited to Addis Ababa-based organizations and institutions. Each Lab will be focused on a key nexusin food systems, i.e. the focal points where various policy imperatives, regulations, incentives and trends converge to shape our food systems (see Provisional Roadmap below). As such, the Labs are designed to bridge policy areas and constituencies that are typically kept apart (e.g. agriculture and nutrition, trade and environment). The discussions will take place under Chatham House rules, allowing for open dialogue and for common ground to be sought between different positions.


While the Policy Labs held in Addis Ababa focus on the disconnects between policy areas, a complementary series of ‘Local Labs’ will zoom in on specific city-regions to see how efforts to build sustainable food systems locally are affected by policies and imperatives at different levels. Local labs will be co-convened by AFSA members. While all ‘local labs’ will involve reflections on multi-level governance of a ‘Common Food Policy’, they will feed into, support and take place within existing processes/fora for developing local food policies. They will typically involve around 50 participants, including local level policymakers, representatives of food policy councils, members of research institutions, members of local sustainable food, circular economy and transition initiatives (e.g. producers, consumers and retailers), those responsible for institutional procurement (e.g. schools, hospitals), and urban and regional planners. The labs will also seek to engage regional and national-level actors (e.g. regional confederations of CSAs, national food producer’s associations, civil society coalitions, agriculture ministries) in order to connect the opportunities and challenges at different levels. More specifically, the Local Labs will be structured around the following objectives:

  • Supporting efforts to build sustainable food systems at the local and regional level, by bringing together different strands of local food policy activity (e.g. city administration-led processes and civil society or research-led fora) where there is scope for greater cohesion and mutual information-sharing; bringing the voices of cities into the debate on the future of food and farming systems across Africa, and raising the profile of ‘city-regions’ as a locus of food system transition;
  • Understanding how imperatives at the AU and national level (including implementation of AU policies) help or hinder efforts to build sustainable local/territorial food systems; stimulating local actors to think about and engage with the opportunities and blockages that result from AU-level policies;
  • Providing a space for dialogue and alliance-building between those advocating for food systems reform from variousentrypoints(health, environment, etc.), and at variouslevels: local, regional, national and African.


A series of Policy Briefs will be developed and published by AFSA throughout the three-year process, building on independent research and on the discussions at the Policy Labs and Local Labs. The Policy Briefs will act as component parts or initial instalments of the Common Food Policy vision, and will start to trace out the sustainable food scoreboard we will ultimately build. Each Policy Brief will address a specific nexus of issues and describe the various interactions between policy areas and between different levels of government, as well as identifying the types of action, alliances and policy measures that might have the greatest multiplier effects in terms of improving multiple outcomes across food systems.

The Policy Briefs and the 2021 forum (see Annex 4) will feed into the final report AFSA will deliver to policymakers in 2021. The experiences and exchanges aired at the Local Labs will also be built into the Policy Briefs and the final report, acting as mini-case studies to bring insights from different food systems within the African food system, and ensuring that the final Common Food Policy vision remains focused on putting AU- level policies at the service of supporting diverse locally-defined sustainable food systems. Additional written outputs may be developed by AFSA and co-convening partners following the Local Labs.


In 2021, AFSA plans to organize a major multi-stakeholder event as the culmination of the process thus far. The event would bring together many of those involved along the way in the Policy Labs and Local Labs, as well as actors yet to be engaged in the process. Those assembled would include policy-makers, NGOs, social movements, scientific researchers and farming and food industry actors. Crucially, the event would unite the actors and processes building sustainable food systems at various levels, including the key actors of various national-level processes towards “people’s food policies”.

Over the course of a two-and-a-half-day event in Addis Ababa, these actors will work collaboratively to refine the Common Food Policy vision and map out the way forward through a process of collective intelligence, combining plenary discussions and discussions in workshop-format. The discussions and findings to date of the Common Food Policy process, documented in the Policy Briefs (see Annex 3), will provide a starting point for discussions. Actors at the event will build on these findings, while reflecting on the way forward and engaging in collective priority-setting, in order to arrive at a “sustainable food scoreboard”: a set of objectives, associated with indicators to measure progress, and with a precise timeline and allocation of responsibilities across different levels of governance. As a tool to stimulate discussion, the ‘scoreboard’ will identify within the various sectors that should be integrated in a Common Food Policy not only the priorities but also when and by whom (e.g. AU institutions, AU Member States) the actions should be taken.

While the event will act as a crucial step in defining a specific ‘Common Food Policy’ vision, it also represents a broadening out of the process to a wider and more open-ended form of engagement and deliberative democracy. Key partners with whom AFSA has been collaborating closely throughout the process will be approached to co- organize and co-convene the event. As indicated above, a ‘Common Food Policy’ refers to an integrated set of policies aligned around delivering ‘sustainable food systems’. It is hoped that a wide range of actors can embrace, advocate for and help to build a ‘Common Food Policy’ approach, even if their own priorities and interpretations are not fully reflected in AFSA’s written outputs. Furthermore, the event will aim to strengthen and bring visibility to the emergence of a broad, AU-wide alliance (a ‘sustainable food movement’) across different constituencies and different scales and loci of action, and act as a rallying point for placing integrated policies for sustainable food systems at the top of the political agenda. The event will be designed in order to serve and accommodate the different ends of different partners: advocacy NGOs shall raise the profile of their campaigns; grassroots actors shall network with their counterparts in different regions; policymakers shall interact with and be exposed to the breadth of food systems stakeholders and alternatives; new alliances will emerge; and all will learn. The event will build on AFSA’s policy labs and local labs, but also on a range of reflections on food and farming system reform convened by civil society groups and other actors over the coming months. The 2021 event will pick up where these reflections have left off, both in terms of the content of discussions and the actors involved.


Throughout this process AFSA seeks meaningful engagement with food industry actors, from start-up restaurants to national coops. One of the key challenges facing the Africa and global food industry is to reconcile the competing requirements of consumers – for cheap food, and for quality food.


Policy Lab1 The agriculture-food-health nexus in Africa: How could diets (an incidence of diet-related non-communicable diseases) be improved by the type of agriculture that is practiced and the policies supporting it? Can these outcomes be improved by policies favouring agricultural and dietary diversity? What is the role of nutritious guidelines in this regard, and how can such guidelines influence agricultural production?
Policy Lab 2 The Food Environment: How and to what extent are consumer food choices determined by the role of advertising, food education, supermarket discounting, portion sizes and other elements of the food environment? How could policies and regulations be adapted to make this environment more conducive to healthy diets?
Policy Lab 3 Alternative food systems in the Au: Which regulatory and policy frameworks can best support local -level initiatives towards sustainable food systems in the form of short supply chains or other alternative systems? Are alternative food systems accessible and affordable to majority of producers and consumers, and what complementary tools might be needed to bring the benefits of these alternatives to a wider range of food systems actors?
Policy Brief 1 Publication and launch of policy brief 1 (a common food policy that promotes healthier diets (drawing on policy labs 1 and 2)
Policy Lab 4 The trade-development-environment nexus: How do trade policies shape agro economic choices and their environmental consequences, as well as their impacts on rural development? This policy lab will examine the extent to which trade policies support sustainable food system and sustained development in third countries.
Local Lab 1 To be convened in partnership with an organization and a country TBC, bringing together various food policy and alternative food networks in the city.
Policy Brief 2 Publication and launch of policy brief 2: Building sustainable food systems from the ground up: Local level alternatives (drawing on policy lab 3 and local lab 1)
Policy Lab 5 Access to Healthy diets of low income families in Africa: How does poverty affect access to healthy diets in Africa? What are the different faces of urban/ rural poverty, and how do consumption habits related to socio-economic deprivation and education levels? What type of policies could improve access to health diets? Could different fiscal arrangements (e.g. shifting the burden of taxation away from workers), or the reform of food aid, help to break the cycles of poverty and cheap food?
Local Lab 2 To be convened with xxx in xxx country (TBC)
Local Lab 3 To be convened with xxx because of xxxxx (TBC)
Local Lab 4 To be convened with xxx in xxx country (TBC)
Local Lab 5 To be convened with xxx in xxx country (TBC)
Policy Brief 3 Publication and launch of policy Brief 3, ‘access to health diets in an age of inequalities: new food-scrapes and new economic paradigms to make good food and healthy diets accessible to all (building on policy lab and the local labs)
Final Report Publication and launch of the final report bringing together the policy briefs and drawing further on the local labs and the deliberative forum
Additional advocacy, dissemination and outreach activities to continue building support around common Food Policy Vision and to continue building a African ‘sustainable food movement’


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