Recurring drought, conflict, and instability have led to severe food shortages in Africa plunging communities into recurring food crises. Strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security on the African Continent couldn’t be more urgent.
Africa is the world’s breakfast basket, home to powerful agricultural producers and hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers who anchor their communities and fill grocery store shelves thousands of miles away. Today a fifth of the African population (278m) is undernourished, and 55 million of its children under the age of five are stunted due to severe malnutrition.
The World Food Programme reported that hunger in large sections of Africa could increase by 20% — affecting 174 million people — if the Russian invasion of Ukraine doesn’t end soon.
But as with innovation anything is possible, even finding solutions towards eliminating hunger on the continent, innovation leads the way in constantly breaking boundaries, but leaders are required to lead the conversation, of finding internally based solutions to food shortages from the grassroot as opposed to outsourcing food production, creating expensive unsustainable dependence on food importation.
Local solutions designed for the locals can be adopted to help quell the mass food insecurity in Africa and that is where E.A.T Africa Founder, Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu is among the few leading the conversation.
For this edition, we will be discussing the transformation of Africa’s agricultural sector through Innovation. Also the impact of tailored support programs by innovation hubs and non-profits organizations towards transforming Africa’s agriculture systems.
E.A.T Africa is a non-profit organization devoted to identifying, supporting and propagating ideas and innovations that hold the potential to positively transform Africa’s agriculture systems and on this edition of Dreams Talks, we speak with the Founder, Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu, on E.A.T Africa’s mission and journey.
Dreams Talks: What inspired the creation Of EAT Africa?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: Thank you for having me. So I’m a third-generation agriculture entrepreneur and typically we see it. The development and production of Africa’s food systems are externally set. Let me explain what I mean by that. Most of our farmers are small farmers, rural farmers. Rural-level farmers provide over 90% of the food consumed on the continent’s roads and when we now talk about developing that sector in the modern and perhaps Western sense of development and build-out, the parameters of that development and its terms are externally set meanings. Typically from countries or players outside of the continents who are, to a great extent, copying and pasting that system here. Right. And this has gone on for many years and we’re still in the same place to a great extent. So for us, the question then becomes how do we have those internal conversations and come up with our internal parameters of what development looks like in this space, right? And this is being informed by players in this space, larger companies, startups, executives, and policymakers. And deliberately trying to foster our direction. So that to a great extent is the inspiration.
Dreams Talks: Speak to us on the redefinition of the African Food System, what can we expect and EAT’s strategy towards said goal?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: Okay. So as it is right now, we are in a unique position, just like what happened with mobile phones, if you remember, or mobile money. Because we didn’t have landlines in every single home. Just a few people had them. When mobile technology came, we were able to leapfrog the systems and the structures of the land and widely adopt mobile technology. And then mobile money, mobile banking in Africa is more advanced as far as mobile money and mobile banking is concerned than many other developed countries; well not that Africa is a country, but in the collective of countries in Africa, you find more mobile money advancements, and fintech advancement. So in the same way, we’re able to leapfrog some of the more harmful industrial practices.
Dreams Talks: You’re also the Founder of the Zebra Agro-Industries, speak to us on the pivotal role it plays now and will continue to play in the African Agro Sector?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: So Zebra is an innovation-focused agricultural innovation for companies to drive innovation in food systems. We started off commodity trading and eventually went into the industrial parts where we focused on feed processing. So we run a network of food processing factories, what we are growing to now and a new facet of our offerings is building out a network of micro solar-powered storage and micro solar-powered processing. So a decentralized system as opposed to a centralized system. So we believe that to create better access and efficiency and sustainability in our food systems, we need to bring these connectors closer to the rural farmers. So how are storage units directly within communities processing directly into rural communities? Smaller level, but within the rural communities. And then you might have a centralized aggregation force. Right. But these services and offerings need to be closer to these farmers who are typically disconnected. So disconnected from markets, services, including storage, and processing. So they are forced to sell as soon as the product comes out of the ground at whatever price they get to a great extent. So a lot of it rots away. You have a 60% spoilage for perishables and about 40 to 30% from nonperishable commodities.
Dreams Talks: How important is research to sustainable development and solutions to the African agricultural sector?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: Oh, very important. Very important. But equally important, if not more important, is the perspective of the person or body conducting the research. Research is very important because it determines how you move. It determines what the gaps are, what it is you’re trying to fill, and what will have the most impact and the only way you can determine that is by researching and gathering data and things of that nature. The quality of the research is, you know, and the basis and the underlying material is another thing to be considered.
— Africanian News (@africaniannews) May 7, 2023
Dreams Talks: Though there are varying opinions towards the authenticity of data collation in Africa, still it is true many are untrusting of what they call “Dubious Data” what’s your take on this ?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: People gather data to suit their objectives. The problem is on the continent for many things, even outside of agriculture. You know, we wait to be told by someone else what our realities are. If you have your data and someone else brings conflicting data, then I mean, you can’t go to the United States of America and tell them what their population is. You can’t. But if they have not conducted a census and then the only way to know what numbers they have is by a census conducted by maybe some African country, it becomes very difficult because if we say, well, America has only 20 million people. How do they argue that they have about 200 million? Well, I go, give us the data and then you don’t have the data. So, yes dubious data. People are maybe uncomfortable sometimes with the data that is presented and they question the motives. But then you need to have an alternative to that and that’s what we have to have in total conversations about being more deliberate about this sort of data collection. But at the same time, holding accountable other entities or bodies or organizations whom you know.
Dreams Talks: Another issue is the difficulty of collation first, and then when said data has been collated, there’s also an unwillingness to share said data within different communities – why is this a problem?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: I think that when people collect data, any entity outside of a government body that collects it, they collect it for a purpose, they’re probably collecting it to monetize, right? They also offer it to people or for it to inform their internal operations. And it can be an arduous process to collect this data, especially from disconnected communities. There are a lot of people that can’t just sit at a computer and find data. Yeah, you have to go in and buy-in. It’s not cities. I mean, you have a lot, especially in the agriculture space, you have to go to communities and within countries like Nigeria, for instance, you know, it’s an eclectic mix. Each community or each region is so different that you need a different mindset or probably even a different team to go and collect data from each of them. So when you go through that, it’s either someone’s buying that data from you or they think your data is the basis of a partnership with them. So if one comes to you and expects you to just offer them the data, I can see how that can be challenging to just offer data for free. So I guess it depends on why the sharing is necessary
Dreams Talks: What are the Challenges Facing Eat Africa and how is the organization solving these problems, inturn creating a template format that younger hubs can follow?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: The challenge is trying to influence mindsets. Also determining that your direction is right. And the governing body and partner with a lot of people to determine what you think works and then try to influence the drivers or the supporters of this space i.e. the development bodies, the investment companies, or possibly sometimes even the policymakers.
So the shift is how do we partner with more bodies and make these conversations wider beyond each other so that they become sort of like a continental push? And then it becomes easier for adults as we talk about development and industrialization generally globally. You know, you have large corporations and bodies who would funnel trillions of dollars into the systems now that we are discovering.
Dreams Talks: 20 years from now, what do you expect the name E. A. T Africa to mean to the next generation of Africans, especially innovators ?
Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu: 20 years from now, I hope that we are persistent enough, and for E.A.T Africa to become somewhat of a compass. A compass for entrepreneurs, executives, possibly policymakers, and development agencies who are trying to navigate Africa’s food space. For us to be one of such necessary purposes. In navigating the space, providing the necessary information, fostering the right partnerships, serving as a repository for tool and beta through which organizations and individuals navigate the food space. So in one word, it would be a compass.