May 31, 2013

Commentary - A Social Innovation to Solve the African Food and Nutrition Paradox

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., which was held on May 21st. For more information on the symposium, click here. Follow @globalagdev and #globalag on twitter to join the conversation.

By Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda
Chief Executive, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Sitting in the large auditorium at the 2013 Chicago Council symposium where I was participating for the first time, I saw a powerful force of change agents with a mission to achieve impact. Using its convening power and networks, the Chicago Council created an Independent Advisory Group on Global Agriculture Development, focusing on the power of science, trade and business to transform our sector.

My mission this year is to learn from others and apply the lessons learnt in my sphere of influence. In preparing for this commitment I have been reading up on impact and one concept that I have come to embrace is “social innovation”, which to me translates to “profoundly changing basic routines, access to resources and the authority flow of a social system”. Being an advocate for a “food secure Africa” involves dealing with people – government officials, policymakers, farmers, researchers and the private sector.

In my journey to advance evidence-based food security policies, I have come to realize that facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogues and integrating the views of major groups in promoting science policy interface is underestimated. Food security is a social problem, particularly amongst smallholder farmers in Africa. To fully grasp the complexity, solutions must be centred on the people themselves. Social innovation must be embraced and ‘crowdsourcing’ applied for new approaches and actions.

Why Now? Why Africa?

Ironically, Africa has an oral culture and yet we do not talk enough – at local, national or regional levels. Dialogue is generally at the global level, where a few speak for the majority and not on behalf of the majority. Change will come when each region is interacting with the rest and there is trust and connectivity in solving mutual agendas.  We need coordination: mediation between state and non-state actors, inter-disciplinarily, heterogeneity and involvement of citizens in co-development. We need to bring a convergence of ideas to civil society, the state and the business world.

African multi-stakeholder policy networks and think tanks have an important role to play in addressing the food crisis and must seize the present opportunity to develop strategies for permanent recovery from food insecurity.

Countries want to improve productivity, add value to produce, grow their markets through regional trade agreements, manage their resources better, and participate more competitively in the global economy through greater collaboration with their neighbors. But there is still a gap between agriculture think tanks, civil society networks, and policymakers; hence the impasse in the global trade and climate change policy negotiations.

The potential of think tanks and high-level panels to support democratic governments and civil society engagement is underestimated. Today, policymakers and civil society throughout the developed and the developing world face the common problem of bringing expert knowledge to bear on government decision-making. The challenge is to harness the vast reservoir of knowledge, information and associational energy that exists in public policy research organizations in every region of the world for public good.

Kilimo Kwanza Africa

It is time for Africa to come up with its own panel to deliberate and raise food security issues the continental and global level with the aim of informing food security policies. The name that sprang to my mind is “Kilimo Kwanza Africa” which means “Agriculture First in Africa” – a forum where issues raised at national levels through different platforms can be escalated to the panel for deliberation and endorsement for policy recommendations. 

FANRPAN’s comparative advantage positions it to be a convener for the “Kilimo Kwanza Africa” panel as we bring legitimacy and our convening power, where government, farmers, researchers and private sector are already members on the network in 16 African countries. FANRPAN also offers advocacy platforms at national, regional and global levels with a full policy engagement cycle where messages and evidence is generated to equip messengers that inform policy processes.  FANRPAN also has the capability to capture the voice of ordinary citizens.

Food security and nutrition are complex problems requiring complex connectivity between actors from local to global level. What I saw and learned at the Chicago Council symposium is an innovative model for influencing national and global policies that is truly worth scaling out to other geographic regions to achieve greater influence.

After only one day of engagements at the Chicago Council symposium, I am returning to FANRPAN with 25 new business contacts and having met with 10 close acquaintances and two of my mentors! Where in the world does one get so much in six hours under one roof? This is the added value of the Chicago Council symposium, not to mention the knowledge gained. Networks are clearly a success factor for social innovation.

Europe has the Montpellier Panel, and the United States has its Independent Advisory Group on Global Agriculture Development (convened by the Chicago Council). FANRPAN is ready to establish the “Kilimo Kwanza Africa” Council. Watch this space!


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.