Collaborative laboratory BE-SUSTAIND Africa - Breakthrough technologies for sustainable food systems transformation in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa

Collaborative laboratory BE-SUSTAIND Africa - Breakthrough technologies for sustainable food systems transformation in Africa


Dr. Denyse Snelder, Center for International Cooperation, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Dr. Sandra Hasanefendic, Research group Breakthrough Technologies and Sustainable Innovation, Faculty of Science Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The team at the Center for International Cooperation and Faculty of Science Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam facilitating and scientific coordination staff, includes: Dr Henk van den Heuvel; Dr Bart Bossink; Ms Sabina Di Prima; Ms Mekky Zaidi; and Ms Colette Gerards.

Seed Guardians of Agricultural Biodiversity at AMPC, Urok, TINIGUENA

The initiative BrEakthrough technologies for SUSTAINable Food Systems Transformation in Africa focuses on achieving (radical) change in terms of new capacity building, new knowledge implementation and new social behavior to build resilient, robust and food secure societies.

It considers sustainable food systems as systems that delivers food security and nutrition for all, while using natural resources without damaging the planet and its people, and at the same time contributing to the growth of a country’s economy. This is because sustainable food systems transformation through (breakthrough) technology is a socio-cultural process formed and perpetrated through: a) community and participatory inclusion and involvement in implementation of sustainable technological advancements in e.g. water, land, energy systems and b) cultural technological accommodation whereby normative and social conditions contribute to the success of sustainable technological innovations and diffusion of new technologies in the agri-food sector. Many new technologies in the agricultural sector result from the reuse of existing innovations in new contexts so it becomes relevant to stress the historical and cultural backgrounds, as a source of guidance and inspiration for development and innovation.

Africa has an agricultural economy which employs 65–70 percent of Africa’s labour force and typically accounts for 30–40 percent of GDP. The continent is uniquely positioned to double or even triple its current agricultural productivity: it is a continent rich in natural resources and has a youthful population of approximately 60 percent. However, Africa has been steadily losing its share of the global market over the last 50 years, with increasingly limited opportunities to use its labour-cost advantage to balance its technology backlog or move towards higher value-added trade. As global agricultural value chains become more knowledge intensive, it becomes more difficult for developing economies with limited access to a skilled workforce and other relevant capabilities to retain a market share.

Africa is heavily dependent on foreign support and investment for its technological development. There are examples of success, but these are mostly small-scale setups ranging from context-specific water collection systems to improve agricultural productivity, to solar panels that provide energy for the processing of agricultural products, to mobile payment systems to provide market access for farmers in rural areas, for example. Meeting future demands, improving Africa's economic position and reducing its reliance on foreign dependency will require societal changes and breakthrough technologies that address the uneven impacts of climate change, the dramatic decline of biodiversity and the health and economic crisis to guarantee a safe and secure food environment for the population in Africa. These include new digital initiatives and technologies for climate- and energy-smart and nutrition-sensitive agriculture, aligned with the socio-cultural process needed to promote the implementation and diffusion of technology for sustainable agricultural development.

More concretely, this initiative focus on SUSTAINABLE food system transformation through technology-driven and socio-culturally acceptable modernization of African agriculture. Within this domain, it builds on work of past and on-going projects, such as, Spatial Planning for Agribusiness and Policy Development – SPADE; Partnerships in evidence-based higher Education on food systems and climate change - INSSPIRE; Jardin Pauvre on community allotment gardens in Africa; sustainable livelihood improvement in Humid and Semi-Arid areas of Kenya - ASALI; natural resource management and conflict mitigation in Great Lakes Region - 3C project in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.

The initiative builds on ongoing and current projects in East Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania - with other potential future ventures in West and South Africa):

  • Growing cities, growing food: the role of urban agriculture in secondary cities in East Africa (urban-urban food linkages). The focus is on knowledge sharing among collaborative actor networks, e.g. local municipalities, social and economic stakeholders and academics) in middle sized cities like Kisumu (fish and vegetable farmers) in Kenya; Mbarara (vegetable farmers) in Uganda and Dodoma (community gardens) in Tanzania with linkages to large cities of, respectively, Nairobi, Kampala and Dar Es Salaam.
  • Urbanisation as driver of food system transformation and opportunities for rural livelihoods in East Africa (urban – rural food linkages). The focus here is on connecting rural areas to agricultural value chains, both in terms of food production and value addition, to contribute to food and nutrition security in urban areas, without jeopardizing food and nutrition security in the rural areas nearby cities (Kisumu and Nairobi in Kenya, Mbarara and Kampala in Uganda, and Dodoma and Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania).
  • Sustainable water management through social innovation and smart technological solutions in East Africa). (water and food linkages) This topic will address societal water-related challenges arising from climate change that disproportionately affects the semi-arid areas of Kenya (Kitui and Kajiado County), Uganda, and (Dodoma region) in Tanzania (e.g., Kenya and Tanzania), by combining appropriate social innovation and smart technological solutions to achieve adaptation to climate change in a sustainable way.

  • More specific information per city and relevant collaborations within the proposed Collaborative Laboratory are listed below:

    Kisumu as medium city (located along Lake Victoria; 367,000 inhabitants) and Nairobi (4,922,192 inhabitants)

      Interested people:
    • Maseno University (Kisumu): Dr Lilian Omondi, Prof George Onyango
    • South Eastern Kenya University (Kitui): Dr Moses Mwangi, Dr Harun Kiruki
    • Moi University: Dr Rose Ramkat, Prof Ambrose Kiprop
    • University of Nairobi: Prof Madara Ogot
    • SPADE’s Multistakeholder platform (founded through Nuffic funded project)
    • Food Liaison Advisory Group (FLAG), a food policy-oriented platform with extensive network (70+ partners). supported by the FAO to promote urban agriculture for food security in Kisumu County
    • Mango producer Mr Francis Kiplagat in Kerio Valley, Elgeyo Marakwet County
    • Livestock breeder= - entrepreneur Mr Willy Kirwa
    • Biogas International Limited: Mr Dominic Wanjihia Kahumbu (CEO)

    Cities to be considered in Uganda: Kampala (1,208,544 inhabitants); Mbarara (91, 867 inhabitants)

      Interested people:
    • Mbarara University of Science & Technology (MUST: Dr Ronald Twongyeirwe
    • Makarere University, Kampala: Dr Shamilah Namusisi, Dr Charles Drago Kato
    • Makerere University Private Sector Forum
    • Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC), Mbarara: Dr Robert Bitariho, Dr Dennis Babaasa
    • Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Uganda
    • AgriProFocus Uganda


    • Tanzania Engineering and Manufacturing Design Organization (TEMDO): Dr Frederick Cassian Kahimba, Director General, Dr. Sigsbert Mmassy (Marketing/Agrosytems, TEMDO), Eng. Patrick Kivanda (Climate-Smart Technologies/Cold-rooms technologies/Energy Engineering, TEMDO)
    • Sokoine University of Agriculture: Soil-Water management research group