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Improving food systems in sub-Saharan Africa: responding to a changing environment

Internet-based forum and International Working Meeting, Yaounde, Cameroon

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Internet-based Forum

International Working Meeting in Cameroon

Venue information

FoodAfrica Secretariat
Natural Resources Institute
The University of Greenwich at Medway
Central Avenue
Chatham Maritime
Kent ME4 4TB
United Kingdom

Email: Keith Tomlins
Tel: +44 (0)1634 883360
Fax: +44 (0)1634 883567


Food systems in sub-Saharan Africa will have to respond to a changing environment. New challenges are arising that food research and development scientists will have to tackle to ensure food security, economic growth and ‘quality of life’ of the population.

The objectives of FoodAfrica:
• Review the current research and development activities that affect food systems in sub-Saharan Africa;
• Identify gaps in current food and health research strategies;
• Recommend future research strategies; and
• Improve the links between researchers, in particular young scientists, in Africa and Europe.

FoodAfrica Summary

Use the theme bar at the top of this page to read the summaries or click below:
Summary on Food, nutrition and health
Summary on Food Safety
Summary on Urbanisation
Summary on Agro Enterprises and Processing
Summary on Food Security

Several cross-cutting issues arose that were considered important for each of the main themes of FoodAfrica. Cross cutting issues included:
• need for documentation and information;
• adopting new technologies;
• need for education – technology transfer;
• use of market-orientated/end-user participatory approaches; and
• importance of an enabling environment i.e. policies.

Documentation and Information
The lack of information on specific subjects was common across the FoodAfrica themes. This included identifying the gaps information, improving the quality of information and improved documentation. Several of the discussions suggested establishing databases. The topics suggested included, for example:
- A database on food processing technologies. This should include existing African or indigenous techniques as well as potential new ones.
- A human resources database, a web-based database to improve communication between researchers
- An African food consumption patterns database
- A database with laboratory and human capacities for analysis, eg of nutritional value, food safety hazards.
- A food-database with nutritional value and composition
It was recognised that it is important to improve information sharing and networking and to provide support and encourage collaboration among various stakeholders. It was suggested that there was a need for an African Food Journal to make information on African food and African Food systems more widely available.

Adopting new technologies
The introduction of new technologies was considered necessary for increasing agricultural productivity and the availability of food. A major challenge is the issue of scaling up and commercialisation of technologies. It is important to take developed technologies beyond the pilot-scale level. In certain circumstances it may be necessary to adopt technologies from different regions or from other African countries, Europe or even from South Asia. Such technologies will however need to adapt to the local circumstances and this needs to be done with the participation of end-users. It was considered at the meeting that processing technology development should be in line with government policies and objectives.

Education- technology transfer
Education was viewed as very important in food systems development and that technology transfer needs to take place at different levels in such systems. Specific needs identified included: dissemination of improved processing methods, business and enterprise skills for new small and medium scale enterprises, information on nutritional properties of food, the promotion of micronutrient-rich indigenous foods and of food safety in general. It was also recognised that it was important to make use of indigenous knowledge for example, on food storage.

Market–orientated/end user participatory approach
Interventions in food systems in sub-Saharan Africa should be market-orientated. This needs to occur at all levels in the production and marketing system. It is also important to take a participatory approach to technology development so that all players in the sector from farmer to consumer are involved and the end result meets the identified need.. New knowledge must be disseminated in an appropriate and agreed form so that impact can be maximised. A multi-disciplinary approach to research and development involving both technical and socio economic disciplines is necessary so that impact is achieved and, for example, gender issues are taken into account.

Enabling environment - Policies
An enabling environment and sufficient inputs were identified as necessary to create a situation where food was available for all. Inputs identified included: infrastructure, credit, ecosystems, labour and labour-saving technologies and support services, for example laboratories. Corruption is undesirable. It was reported in that in some cases financial transfers from the agricultural sector to other sectors take place.

Government commitment is absolutely necessary, but to achieve this researchers need to inform policy makers of major issues. Policies and legislation must be favourable and supportive, and if newly developed they also need to be enforced and controlled. A policy framework that supports small-scale agro-processing is welcome. Harmonisation of standards amongst countries is also necessary. Trade barriers between countries can be a constraint. Taxes and tariffs give higher prices, whilst non-tariff trade barriers can have a significant impact on the ability of developing countries in general to access international markets.

Political stability is another important part of the overall enabling environment.. This applies at the national, regional and continental levels.

International Working Meeting

The FoodAfrica International Working Meeting was held in the Congress Centre/Palais de Congres, Yaounde, Cameroon from 5 to 9 May 2003. The five day programme included plenary sessions on each of the themes with keynotes speakers and parallel sessions on each topic. There were also poster sessions for each theme. Group Discussions Sessions were held in order to identify gaps, consider research strategies and develop recommendations.

Click if you would like to read the Overall Summary of FoodAfrica. The proceedings are also in preparation and will be sent to all fully registered participants.

Photo by John van Camp

FoodAfrica has brought together many of the young and more experienced professional scientists in sub-Saharan Africa who work on many different aspects of food systems. Linking together the different themes of the workshop was productive because scientists were able to share and exchange knowledge and ideas. Click here for Snap Shots of the Conference Dinner on 7 May 2003

Internet Forum - 31 March - 11 April 2003

Summaries of the internet based forum can be found under the following links:

Discussions on FoodSecurity
Discussions on FoodSafety
Discussions on Agro-Enterprises
Discussions on Urbanisation
Discussions on Food, Nutrition and Health


For more background information click on Purpose

You can download and print the first announcement which is in pdf file format: in english or french.

Organised By:

Link: Natural Resources Institute

Institut de Recherches Médicales et d’Etudes des Plantes Médicinales

Link: International Foundation for Science




Sponsored by:

Logo of the European UnionEuropen Union


Link: International Foundation for Science


Rockefeller Foundation

Micronutrient Initiative

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Helen Keller International