What can Africa teach the world about sovereign solutions?

What happened on Day 1 of GLF Nairobi 2023

All live-streamed sessions from GLF Nairobi 2023: A New Vision for Earth are now available to watch on demand. Stream the event here.

On 11 October 2023, thousands of people came together in Nairobi, Kenya, and online for the first day of the GLF Nairobi 2023 Hybrid Conference.

The two-day global conference explores some of the most innovative ways that all of us can play our part in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises. Day 1 was packed with 42 expert panels, keynote speakers and in-depth sessions exploring Africa’s role in forging sovereign solutions by and for its people.

Featuring scientists, practitioners, community leaders and changemakers from over 130 countries, the event saw vibrant discussions around sustainable food systems, land rights and landscape restoration. Solutions – not crises – were the centerpiece of the conversation.

“If we come together, we can go beyond surviving – to thriving,” said Éliane Ubalijoro, CEO of CIFOR-ICRAF. “It’s time to ensure that knowledge and wisdom from around the world are shared with those who need it most.”

CIFOR-ICRAF CEO Éliane Ubalijoro speaks in the opening plenary. GLF

A revolution in food systems

One key issue made its way to the top of the agenda: the immediate need to transform food systems in Africa and across the globe.

African agriculture is grappling with increasingly severe and overlapping crises, from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to the war in Ukraine to soaring energy costs and our embattled planetary systems.

“There is no doubt that our agriculture and food systems are not fit to feed a growing population,” said Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). “Agriculture and food systems must become equitable, low-emitting and resilient to multiple crises and external shocks.”

And there’s already a wealth of remedies on the horizon. Throughout the day, speakers showcased solutions from all over Africa, ranging from bamboo-based land regeneration and seed banks to agroecology and regional observatories.

Of course, it’s impossible to produce food more sustainably without involving farmers. “We cannot talk about transforming food systems in a country like Kenya and most of Africa without really putting farmers at the center of it,” said Daniel Mailutha, CEO of the Kenya National Farmers’ Federation (KENAFF).

It’s essential that farmers are listened to, but also that they grasp the importance of their role in the transformation, Mailutha added. “We need to make sure that farmers understand that it is in their self-interest to do what is right as far as the landscape is concerned.”

Opening plenary illustration
An artist’s interpretation of the opening plenary. Anna Denardin/GLF

To build truly sustainable food systems, Africa will also need the full participation of its marginalized groups, including Indigenous Peoples, women, youth and local communities. That also means defending their respective land rights so that they can tackle the persistent issue of land degradation.

“Land degradation is probably one of the biggest threats to land rights,” said Audace Kubwimana, Africa regional coordinator for the International Land Coalition (ILC). “It tends to be an issue especially for women and youth because we tend to inherit less profitable pieces of land, and the lion’s share will go to men.”

Many rural communities face similar obstacles. “We have a common problem: tenure security for Indigenous and local communities,” explained Isaac Tobiko, executive chair of Community Land Action Now (CLAN). “Indigenous populations hold 50 percent of the Earth’s land, but only 11 percent of Indigenous land is formally recognized.”

Land rights aren’t the only solution: it’s equally important to keep women and young people involved in agriculture, speakers emphasized.

“We have a number of issues that we need to address, like increasing the number of women and youth in the agricultural spaces by providing resources,” said Philis Njane, deputy director of research and innovation and an agricultural economist at the Ministry of Agriculture of Kenya.

Jenice Achieng, Kenya’s country representative at Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD), mirrored this sentiment. “We need to shift this narrative of going to the cities to get white-collar jobs and expose and show that there is a very big space in agriculture [for youth],” she said.

GLF Nairobi participants
Participants at a workshop on Day 1 of GLF Nairobi 2023. GLF

Financing sovereign solutions in Africa

A large part of Day 1 also revolved around how to finance the many innovative and locally-led solutions springing up across Africa. This included the need to channel funding toward disaster prevention, especially in major food-producing rural regions.

“For every dollar that is invested to try to minimize impacts of climate change, we have to spend around USD 7 trying to fight other potential disasters,” said Perpetra Akite, lecturer at the Department of Zoology at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. “We should step forward to minimize disasters rather than waiting for them to happen.”

The day closed with a lively debate on the use of development aid to promote food sovereignty in Africa. Panelists argued that aid can be a valuable source of funding to ensure food security. However, they also acknowledged that it often comes at the cost of food sovereignty, as many donors have promoted damaging legislation such as banning seed sharing and the use of manure for fertilizer in Kenya.

Instead, speakers emphasized the need to explore new approaches that balance short-term food security with long-term food sovereignty, shaped by farmers and rural communities.

Music at GLF Nairobi 2023
In-person participants were treated to a wide range of music and dance performances. GLF

Beyond the panels, the art

Alongside the panel discussions and plenaries, the event was also interwoven with inspiring art, films and music. The New Vision for Earth film festival continued with a full day of film screenings followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers, while the World Bank hosted three sessions in the Landscapes for a Livable Planet Pavilion.

And to add some local flavor, dancers from Bomas of Kenya made a cameo during the opening plenary, while musician Nabalayo Wattimah and poet Wangui Kimani also provided entertainment throughout the day.

Today, GLF Nairobi 2023 continues with another full day of activities – this time zooming out of Africa and crafting a survival guide for a planet in crisis.



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