3 Minutes with…..Entrepreneur Nandi Mkwanazi

Credit: Nandi Mkwanazi

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By Beru Lilako

Entrepreneur, ecological organic agriculture practitioner and sustainability advocate Nandi Mkwanazi let DevDispatch Contributor Beru Lilako into her world to speak all things climate change, food security and the AfCFTA. Nandi is also the Southern African Development Community chairperson of the Afrikan Youth Business Council.

We hope you enjoy their exchange.

Beru Lilako: Can you introduce yourself

Nandi Mkwanazi: My name is Nandi Mkwanazi, I am an entrepreneur and the founder and managing director of Nanloy Organic Farm. I am committed to changing the African narrative in the areas of food sovereignty, climate change and solution-based education. Nanloy Organic Farm is a sustainable and innovative agricultural venture dedicated to producing high-quality organic products while promoting environmentally friendly practices. Located in South Africa, our farm strives to redefine modern agriculture by combining traditional farming wisdom with cutting-edge techniques. I also work with PGS-SA (Participatory Guarantee System South Africa) to scale up adoption of organic farming practices and to unify local organic initiatives in the Southern African region.

I believe that food is not only a means to meeting a basic need, but it can also be a very powerful tool to build legacies and spread wealth and by making nutritious organic food easily accessible, Africa can achieve food sovereignty. Through my newly established social enterprise Africa’s Brain Hub my goal is to create sustainable change across industries through Africa’s future leaders. Africa’s Brain Hub is an innovative initiative designed for ages 12-18. The Hub is designed to foster the growth and development of the African continent with a focus on science, technology and agriculture. I believe that young people and women must be at the heart of the conversations that aim to build resilience and harness socio-economic growth and Africa’s Brain Hub aims to create a sustainable ecosystem that will enable Africa to become the hub of innovation and creativity.

As the Southern African Development Community chairperson of the Afrikan Youth Business Council I play an integral role in creating a conducive environment for women and youth to leverage the entrepreneurial ingenuity of Africa’s youth to drive cross-border trade in goods and services and make youth crucial contributors to the continent’s socioeconomic transformation.

Beru Lilako: Can you tell us about your work in agriculture and food sustainability in Africa?

Nandi Mkwanazi: As an organic farmer, my primary focus is on sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural practices. I am deeply committed to producing food in a way that minimizes harm to the environment, preserves biodiversity, and supports the well-being of local communities. I am actively involved in advocacy and education efforts. By participating in local and international discussions, workshops, and conferences, I aim to raise awareness about the benefits of sustainable agriculture and push for policies that support it. My work is deeply intertwined with the global effort to shape agricultural production and enhance food sustainability. By championing sustainable practices, conserving biodiversity, empowering local communities, advocating for change, networking, and innovating, I hope to be a part of the solution to the pressing challenges facing agriculture in Africa and beyond.

Beru Lilako: What do you think might be the hindrance towards achieving sustainable food security as envisaged under the African Union Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP)?

Nandi Mkwanazi: There are several hindrances that come to mind, while CAADP envisions sustainable food security in Africa, several hindrances and challenges can impede its achievement. I will focus on the five most crucial: Limited investment, infrastructure challenges, post-harvest losses, political instability and conflict, and policy and regulatory issues.

Many African countries still allocate inadequate funding to their agricultural sectors and it is a known fact that in order to achieve food security, significant investments are required in infrastructure, research, and extension services. The limited financial commitment we are seeing hinders the development of the agriculture sector. Post harvest losses and infrastructure challenges are intertwined. Insufficient transportation and storage infrastructure lead to post-harvest losses and reduce farmers’ income. This lack of infrastructure affects the overall food supply chain. It is a known fact that a significant percentage of food is lost after harvest due to inadequate storage and transportation facilities. Reducing post-harvest losses is critical for achieving food security however a dual approach that seeks to address the infrastructure challenges while minimizing post-harvest losses will yield impactful results.

Complex and inconsistent agricultural policies and regulations can also hinder the goals of the CAADP. Policy reforms are needed to create a conducive environment for investment and sustainable development. Lastly, regions with political instability or conflict face significant challenges in achieving food security. These issues can disrupt agricultural activities and displace farming communities.

The African Union (AU) and sub regional mechanisms should urgently adopt measures and establish systems to ensure rigorous human rights monitoring and reporting in areas of conflict, and to avert further atrocities and interruptions to the food systems of the continent

Beru Lilako: Do you think Africa has obtained premium benefits from its unique agricultural products?

Nandi Mkwanazi: Africa is indeed home to a wide range of unique agricultural products and commodities that have the potential to offer premium benefits. While there are success stories in sectors such as coffee, cocoa and minerals such as gold and diamonds the overall extent to which Africa has obtained premium benefits from its agricultural products is very limited. African countries like Ethiopia and Kenya are known for producing high-quality coffee beans which command premium prices. However These premiums do not benefit the farmers and the national economy, access to global markets and value chain infrastructure often limit the benefits that Africa can derive from the coffee sector. 

Africa grows 70 percent of the world’s raw cocoa beans but only produces 1 % of the chocolate. Countries in West Africa, such as Ivory Coast and Ghana are major producers of cocoa but miss out on the part that generates the biggest returns which value addition and processing. The same can be said for minerals such as gold, diamonds and uranium Africa accounts for the biggest reserves of all three minerals, but the extent of benefit gained from mining them is very meager compared to the benefits gained by the international companies that process them into finished products. Effective governance, sustainable practices, and responsible resource management are crucial to ensure that the benefits from these valuable resources are shared equitably and contribute to broader economic development and well-being in African nations.

Beru Lilako: Is there much awareness on the subject of Geographic Indications (GIs) in the overall context of organic agriculture?

Nandi Mkwanazi: Certain regions and countries may have embraced GIs as a means of protecting and promoting organic agricultural products that are closely tied to a specific geographic location.

The awareness of Geographic Indications (GIs) in the context of organic agriculture is increasing in the global North, especially when it comes to organically produced commodities which often fetch a premium price when compared to conventionally produced commodities. Global trade and agreements as well as efforts by agricultural organisations and industry associations to promote the value of GIs for organic products have contributed to increasing awareness.

Beru Lilako: Do you see an effective continental GI policy framework that has structures and measures that is expected to enhance the protection and exploitation of African agriculture?

Nandi Mkwanazi: Some African countries have started to seek GI protection for organic agricultural products. For instance, Ethiopian coffee from the Sidamo region and Rwandan coffee from the Maraba region have gained recognition as GIs. Additionally, Ugandan vanilla has sought GI protection. While the concept is still developing in Africa, some African countries are recognizing the potential of GIs to add value to their unique organic products and promote their distinct regional qualities. With the right policies, support, and collaboration, GIs can play a crucial role in boosting the organic agricultural sector in Africa.

While the CAADP doesn’t specifically focus on GIs, it does emphasise the need to add value to agricultural products, protect traditional knowledge, and promote local products. Some regional organisations in Africa, such as the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have made efforts to develop GIs and related policies at a regional level. However, the establishment of a comprehensive and effective continental GIs policy framework faces challenges related to institutional capacity, financing, awareness, and harmonization of policies across countries.

Beru Lilako: How should the continent push the adaptation of agricultural and food systems to mitigate the impacts of water scarcity and climate change?

Nandi Mkwanazi: Addressing the challenges of water scarcity and climate change in agriculture requires a holistic approach, involving governments, the private sector, civil society, and local communities. The continent needs to promote the adoption of climate-resilient agricultural practices such as ago-forestry, regenerative agriculture and drought-resistant indigenous crops that are well suited for the African climate. The starting point would be to enhance soil health by implementing soil conservation and improvement techniques to enhance soil fertility and water retention. Converting from conventional farming practices to organic farming practices can improve soil health and reduce the need for chemical inputs. Developing and disseminating climate-smart farming techniques, including water-efficient irrigation and rainwater harvesting will go a long way to promote sustainable water management. However, promoting the use of water-efficient technologies, such as drip irrigation, precision farming, and soil moisture sensors will not be sufficient, cross border collaboration will play a crucial role in addressing trans-boundary water issues and share knowledge and best practices – this collaborative effort will not only build social cohesion but would also aid in accessing climate financing and resources to support these adaptation efforts.

Climate change is both a negative outcome of environmentally damaging food systems, and a threat to the future of African food production and the communities that depend on it. By developing and implementing climate and weather forecasting systems to provide early warnings for droughts, floods, and extreme weather events, farmers will receive timely information to make informed decisions.

By combining these strategies, Africa can adapt its agricultural and food systems to mitigate the impacts of water scarcity and climate change, ultimately averting food and water insecurity.

Beru Lilako: How should the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) work together in order to achieve this goal?

Nandi Mkwanazi: Adapting Africa’s agricultural and food systems is not just a priority; it is an urgent imperative. The continent faces a combination of challenges, including climate change, population growth, environmental degradation, and economic disparities, which collectively threaten food security, livelihoods, and sustainable development.
The starting point would be to Develop and disseminate region-specific guidelines for climate-resilient agriculture practices, considering the unique challenges and opportunities in each region. Next, they will need to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and expertise among member states on innovative, climate-smart farming techniques that have been successful in absorbing and mitigating the climate shocks in their respective regions.
Again, I cannot emphasise the importance of working towards harmonising policies and regulations related to agriculture, water management, and climate adaptation across member states. This will be the foundation on which a common framework for incentivising and regulating sustainable agricultural practices and water use can be developed. Once this has been done they can collectively establish a central platform or database where member states can contribute and access relevant information on climate trends, water availability, and agricultural practices. The data collected can then be used for regional training programs and capacity-building initiatives to empower farmers, extension workers, and agricultural researchers with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt to climate change and water scarcity.
A critical component to achieving this monumental goal will be financial and technical support therefore a regional fund for climate adaptation in agriculture, with contributions from member states would be necessary in order to support projects aimed at climate-resilient agriculture and water resource management.

Beru Lilako: With the establishment of Africa Food Safety Agency which will coordinate risk based approaches and contribute to raising food safety levels and improving food safety under the AfCFTA, do you foresee any hindrances?

Nandi Mkwanazi: The establishment of the Africa Food Safety Agency (AFSA) is a positive step toward enhancing food safety in the context of the AfCFTA. However, several challenges and hindrances may be encountered in the process of implementing and coordinating risk-based approaches to improve food safety:

Achieving uniform food safety regulations and standards across diverse African countries is a complex task and differences in regulations and standards among member states can hinder the smooth operation of the AFSA. Africans pride themselves in celebrating and upholding their traditional and cultural food practices and these practices may not always align with modern food safety standards and balancing cultural practices with safety requirements is a sensitive challenge, one which will need a decisive and human centric approach.

Many African countries lack the necessary infrastructure, technical expertise, and resources for effective food safety monitoring and enforcement. This can make compliance with food safety standards and regulations, particularly among small-scale producers and informal food businesses difficult. Lastly, effective risk-based approaches rely on the availability of reliable data and information and establishing systems for data collection, sharing, and analysis across borders can be a significant challenge.

Beru Lilako: How do you think the AU member states should address this for the benefit of the millions on the continent?

Nandi Mkwanazi: To achieve the overall objective of improving food safety and ensuring safe and nutritious food for millions of people in Africa, member states should take a multi-faceted and coordinated approach to work towards harmonising food safety regulations, standards, and practices. This will facilitate the movement of safe food products across borders and reduce trade barriers. Investing in building the capacity of food safety authorities, laboratories, and food inspectors through training and education programs can enhance the skills and knowledge needed for effective food safety management. To achieve capacity building goals collaboration and partnerships among governments, industry stakeholders and NGOs are necessary and can provide technical assistance and support for food safety initiatives.

The significance of technology to support and advance the objectives of AFASA cannot be overlooked innovative technologies, such as block chain, to enhance traceability and transparency in the food supply chain. These technologies can help identify and address food safety issues effectively and quickly.

Beru Lilako: With the increasing population, do you see Africa achieving food security in the near future?

Nandi Mkwanazi: The achievement of food security in Africa in the near future is possible although it is a complex and challenging goal, given the continent’s rapidly growing population, which is expected to more than double by 2050. While the challenges are significant, there are also opportunities and strategies that, if effectively implemented, could lead to improved food security. Increased investment in agriculture, including support for smallholder farmers, infrastructure development, and research and development, can boost food production. As previously mentioned, increased investment in agriculture, including support for smallholder farmers, infrastructure development, and research and development, can boost food production.

Encouraging a diversified food production system that includes not only staple crops but also nutritious and climate-resilient crops can improve dietary diversity and nutrition. I firmly believe that part of the answer lies in embracing our indigenous foods that have been proven to be nutrient dense and well suited to our African dietary requirements. They are relatively easy to grow and hardy when compared to their hybrid counterparts. Most importantly our tenacity and resilient spirit as Africans will greatly contribute to the development of the continent and the strengthening of our communities. We have the necessary skills, education and passion to drive the change we want to see so yes, I do see Africa becoming food secure in the near future.

Beru Lilako: Any parting words?

Nandi Mkwanazi: Africa is on the brink of a transformative journey, one that has the potential to shape the destiny of millions and alter the course of history. The narrative that I seek to change is rooted in challenges, but it’s also brimming with opportunities. I envision a future where Africa not only feeds its people but becomes a net contributor to global food security.

The backbone of this vision lies in empowering our farmers, communities, and nations to take control of their own food systems. By championing food sovereignty, I believe we will foster a sense of ownership and self-reliance in our agricultural practices. It’s about equipping our farmers with the knowledge and resources they need to produce not just food, but nutritious, sustainable, and resilient crops. It’s about empowering communities to embrace diverse agricultural practices that safeguard both the environment and livelihoods.

The AfCFTA is a linchpin in our pursuit of food sovereignty and agricultural development as Africans. By working together, we can harness the strengths of different regions, from the fertile lands of the Nile to the lush forests of Central Africa. We can create a dynamic environment where ideas, technologies, and resources flow seamlessly, nurturing innovation and growth.