African food environments and food systems go under the microscope

BY: Graphic Online

Local, continental, and global food systems stakeholders will deliberate on African food environments and food systems at the 2nd Africa Food Environment Research Network (FERN) Meeting, to be held virtually on the 3rd, 10th, and 17th November 2021.

The 2nd FERN meeting, dubbed #FERN2021, will build on the progress made from the first meeting, and leverage research, practice, and policy-making networks to contribute to the transformation of Africa’s food environments and food systems as a whole.

The event will be held jointly with the International Network for Food and Obesity/Non-communicable Diseases Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS)’s e-symposium series.

The impact of a multitude of pandemics, including undernutrition, obesity and COVID-19, coupled with the ongoing climate crisis, on our food environment and food systems in general is immense and requires urgent attention. Addressing these challenges will require improvement in food environments resulting in a food system that is good for people and planet.

In Africa, improving food environments is an urgent priority. As the continent rapidly urbanizes, larger scale food systems changes have led to smaller scale food environment changes and created consumer demand for highly processed, energy-dense foods high in refined carbohydrates, sodium, sugar, and saturated and trans fats. These diets are characteristic of the nutrition transition and have been closely linked to the rising burden of obesity and diet-related non communicable diseases in the region.

Africa needs policies and practice guidance designed to create supportive food environments for healthy food choices. To be successful, food systems actors and stakeholders require inputs such as data, evidence, advocacy, and relevant policies.

Such actors include:

  • those who work in roles that enable people to access food by growing, harvesting, packing, processing, preparing/chefs, distributing, selling, storing, marketing, consuming or disposing of food)
  • those who work in sectors that shape food systems (eg infrastructure, transport, financial services, research community, information and technology)
  • those who work in areas that influence or are affected by food system policies (eg specialists in natural resources, the environment, the economy, culture, indigenous knowledge, policies, politics, trade, regulations and beyond).
  • eg women, youth, young people

The event format will be half-day meetings with pre-recorded and live presentations, discussions, and workshops. As with the previous FERN (#FERN2020) meeting, participants will share experiences, emerging findings, best practices, methodologies, challenges, and opportunities for improving research on food environments and related policy in Africa. Sessions will include a debrief on the United Nations Food Systems Summit by country and summit representatives.

The meeting will serve as a regional platform for food, nutrition and health policy experts, academia, governments, civil society, non-governmental organizations, and health-promoting private sector to foster collaboration towards transforming the food systems on the African continent.

FERN2021 partners include: MEALS4NCDs Project; International Network for Food and Obesity / Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) Research, Monitoring and Action Support (INFORMAS); The Drivers of Food Choice Program (DFC); Réseau de Recherche sur les Politiques et les Systèmes Alimentaires en Afrique de l'Ouest (REPSAO); Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa (CDIA), Agricultural, Nutrition and Health Academy (ANH), UNESCO Chair in World Food Systems, and Food Prices for Nutrition Project.