Freshly forged leaders will drive sustainable agriculture


Activists lift placards calling on the world's biggest CO2 emitters to fill the 'Loss and Damage' fund supporting the adaptation and development of countries most vulnerable to climate change, at the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 4, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • Bringing the agriculture leaders together for a long period enables them to create platforms for dialogue and collaboration.
  • Today’s world is fast-evolving and thus places a heavy burden on leaders to anticipate and respond to uncertainties.

By a stroke of serendipity, the UN Climate Conference being held in Dubai — the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) — is taking place at the same time as the graduation of 76 leaders in agriculture from eight African countries.

Global conversations and commitments, such as those emerging from the climate conference, require switched-on leaders who can translate high-sounding pitches and sound bites into actionable and context-specific strategies to ensure food security in Africa.

The graduands, picked out of a pool of 1,000 applicants from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, were the second cohort to undergo the Advanced Leadership Programme run by the Centre for African Leaders in Agriculture (CALA).

The graduates of the programme now represent the continent’s most dynamic leaders in agriculture with 45 per cent of the lot drawn from government agencies, 26 per cent from the private sector and 29 per cent from civil society.

They went through a 16-month collaborative, hands-on and tailored experience for senior and rising leaders in Africa’s agriculture sector. They were also required to undertake action learning projects (ALPs) in responding to the continent's unique food systems challenges.

The programme is designed for rising stars and established executives in Africa’s agriculture sector and is the continent’s premier academy for developing the brain trust to advance sustainable priorities.

Transform agriculture

Selection is highly competitive but the learning emphasizes collaborative and practical experience focused on supporting leaders to advance their professional skills and contribute to flagship programmes in their countries that will transform agriculture.

The centre that runs the programme, CALA is an AGRA-owned initiative which is implemented by African Management Institute and Policy Link. Since its founding in 2006, AGRA has been working to change agriculture on the continent from a lonely individual’s struggle for survival to a thriving business that reduces hunger, guarantees healthy livelihoods and adapts to climate change.

It is focused on putting smallholder farmers at the centre of the continent’s growing economy by transforming agriculture from a solitary struggle to survive into farming as a business that thrives.

Because the sector employs majority of Africa’s people, nearly all of them small-scale farmers, developing smallholder agriculture into a productive, efficient and sustainable system is essential to ensuring food security, lifting millions out of poverty and driving equitable growth.

The deliberate focus on nurturing leaders is an attempt at breaking with reliance on outside help to make way for its people. Transforming Africa’s food systems requires effective leadership to drive it.

Africa’s food system

Bringing the agriculture leaders together for a long period enables them to create platforms for dialogue and collaboration, which ensures that all stakeholder voices are heard and their perspectives integrated into policy and implementation strategies.

By understanding that together they can go far, leaders who embrace and adopt holistic approaches to the challenges their nations face will be able to develop integrated policies that address multiple facets of Africa’s food system.

As leaders in their respective organisations and fields, the graduates have a singular opportunity to align their respective countries’ national priorities to the regional ones to ensure the transformation of food systems is grounded in the realities of local communities.

They join the first cohort of 80 to form an alumni body of over 150 that is part of efforts to build capacity to influence systemic change across Africa to prioritise transformation of food systems for future generations. It is expected that cohort members will find it easier to collaborate because of their shared experience and previous common interactions.

Today’s world is fast-evolving and thus places a heavy burden on leaders to anticipate and respond to uncertainties such as the conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine and challenges them to turn to innovation and adoption of sustainable practices that enhance the resilience of Africa's food systems.

Leaders have a responsibility to ensure there is a tomorrow for Africa’s children. They can learn from and build each other for the betterment of the continent by investing in research and technology that is easily accessible to the smallholder farming household while supporting and promoting sustainable agricultural practices and improving productivity.

Dr Bekele is the head of state capability at AGRA. [email protected]