Sustainable food systems through diversification and indigenous vegetables

These publications of ECDPM present results of multi-disciplinary research and dialogue activities using a ‘food systems approach’ and a related governance analysis about the bottlenecks and drivers that make diversification of the food system difficult, with a focus on indigenous vegetables.

An analysis of the Southern Nakuru County

The current Nakury County food systems is poor in terms of economic, social and environmental sustainability: there are significant medium-term economi risks, a significant part of the population is excluded, environmental status is worsening with climate change and poor in terms of quantity and quality of food. A governance analysis with related bottlenecks that make diversification of food systems difficult shows that the policy landscape is characterised by a multitute of well conceived policies but implementatios tools are lacking, wich national subsidies and other policy execution largely dedicated to maize anf few other export crops. Local institutions are very weak.

There are several pathways to solutions to address such governance bottlenecks. For seed systems: subsidies for seed distribution, technocal assistance for smallholders and open source seed systems. For production systems: better extensions services, investment in storage and business brokerage. To improve processing system for indigenous vegetables, for distribution and consumption should be market research, build upon maize distribution networks and communication campaigns, public procurement and establishing a multi-dimensional sustainability label. Finally, an example of crosscutting solutions is a multi-stakeholder platform to regularly bring together all relevant actors. Effective implementation of these pathways requires working with local drivers of change and targeting the right ongoing policy processes.

An analysis of the Arusha area

One pathway to more sustainability is to support diversified agroecological systems. One way to diversify is to better integrate indigenous vegetables, which are generally highly nutritious, potentially require fewer natural resources, and can lead to higher profit margins. Despite their potential, indigenous vegetables are routinely neglected by policymakers. The food system is central to Arusha’s social, environmental, and economic sustainability, contributing to both positive (lower level of poverty compared to the rest of Tanzania) and negative outcomes (high levels of malnourishment and declining soil fertility). Diversification can alleviate some of these factors and contribute to long-term sustainability in Arusha.

The governance of Arusha’s food system is marked by fragmented and incoherent policies. While indigenous vegetables are present in the plot, market, and on the plate, they are largely absent from policy. However, several factors constrain a stronger integration of indigenous vegetables in Arusha, pertaining to production, distribution, consumption and governance domains. Although the indigenous vegetables value chain is relatively short, many actors are involved or connected to it. There are several entry points for stronger integration of indigenous vegetables in Arusha:

1) Stronger value chain governance through a multi-stakeholder platform, to facilitate stronger governance;

2) Better informed farmers’ choices by including indigenous vegetables in extension officers’ curricula, to strengthen etension services support;

3) Improved food safety and reduced loss along the chain;

4) Greater food knowledge about indigenous vegetables through information campaigns. Interdisciplinary research using a politically sensitive food system approach can help develop pathways that make trade-offs more explicit and take into account the interests and incentives of the different actors involved.

Further reading

  • The analysis of the Southern Nakuru County can be found here, and the PDF document here.
  • The analysis of the Arusha area can be found here, and the PDF document here.

The context

This report is a major output of the “Sustainable Agrifood Systems Strategies (SASS)” programme of ECDPM, aimed at building knowledge, policy dialogue and partnerships to contribute to sustainable food systems at national, regional and international levels, based on three research locations in Kenya and Tanzania.

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