Food Systems Youth Leadership Program: Uniting young leaders across Africa


Accra, Ghana: The inaugural workshop of the Hub’s Youth Leadership Program recently convened in Accra from 8-12 April , uniting almost 30 aspiring leaders from across Africa. These individuals, dedicated to reimagining and transforming food systems, gathered for a five-day workshop supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and organized by the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub and the FAO Regional Office for Africa. The event was facilitated by the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation and served as a vibrant platform for cross-disciplinary learning, action and inspiration. 

Watch a recap of the workshop


About the Youth Leadership Program

The program aims to connect promising early-career innovators, practitioners, scientists, and activists from low- and middle-income countries. Designed to meet the urgent need for skilled professionals who can integrate sustainable food system strategies into national policies, as highlighted in the UN Food Systems Summit +2 Report of the UN Secretary-General, the workshop covered leadership, science, and policy advocacy, among other crucial topics. Participants were chosen through a competitive process and equipped to catalyze change in their communities.

Module 1 – Transformative leadership

The workshop began with an opening ceremony featuring a message from Mr. Stefanos Fotiou, Director of the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub. Mr. Fotiou emphasized the critical role of youth, stating, "You, the young leaders, represent the possibility of change. You can challenge the old paradigms that have hindered progress for too long."

Ms. Paulina Addy, the Food Systems National Convenor of Ghana, echoed this sentiment, noting, "With the youth comes the innovation that drives a lot of processes.”

Participants then engaged in sessions focused on understanding their leadership styles and mastering the complexities of food systems to drive influence.

Module 2- Science and innovation

These sessions delved into the scientific underpinnings necessary for sustainable food systems. Participants mapped out the root causes of unsustainable practices within their regions and explored innovative solutions to these pressing issues. Insightful keynotes by leaders like Ms. Olanike Adeyemo from the Hub’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) enriched the discourse, emphasizing the critical nature of systems thinking and the role of science and innovation to drive transformation.

Ms. Adeyemo highlighted the unique position of the participants, stating, "this workshop is vital because it brings together multidisciplinary leaders from across Africa, all equipped with systems thinking needed to address our multidimensional challenges. For us to develop solutions, especially in the context of the African continent, we need leaders who can boldly drive this change."

Module 3- Policy and practice

Focusing on scaling science-policy interfaces, the day was packed with activities that prepared the participants to negotiate change, tap into networks, and finance solutions. Interactive workshops simulated real-world negotiation processes and stakeholder engagements essential for effective policy advocacy.

Participant Carlos Paul Nidza from Zimbabwe reflected on the overall experience, saying, "the learning journey has been quite remarkable, being acquainted with the right knowledge and skills poised to make a meaningful impact on the world." Similarly, Njabeh Rita Bonwi from Cameroon highlighted a significant learning outcome: "A key learning moment has been understanding complex problems and adaptation strategies. This has given me the confidence that greater impact will be created towards food system transformation."

Experiencing food systems in the field

Participants also engaged in field work at the Food Research Institute, where they applied their learning in real-world settings, enhancing their understanding of practical challenges of food processing and access to makerts, while learning how small and medium enterprises must play a more active role in food systems solutions. 

Participant testimonials

Ghea Sandrine Mawen (Rwanda)
"A pivotal moment for me during this workshop was realizing the power of collective action. Seeing people from tech, communications, policy planning, and advocacy backgrounds converge showed that everyone can contribute to building a sustainable food system in Africa."

Irene Ernest (Tanzania)
"I believe it's crucial for the youth to be actively involved in food system transformation because we are the future stakeholders. Our voices and fresh ideas are essential for long-term sustainable solutions."

Jody Frank Brown (South Africa)
"We have been able to connect with like-minded individuals, focusing on understanding the complexity of food systems and how we can grow our communities through social movements and science."

Keshia Hoaeane (South Africa)
"We came to realize that while all sustainable development goals are important, if we fail at food, we fail at everything. It should be about daily life, not just tomorrow."

Michaela Ama (Ghana)
"Africa has the largest population of young people in the world, and this will be an asset to ensure continuity and progression in our food value system chain."

Senait Yihenew (Ethiopia)
"I plan to apply systems thinking to food systems transformation by analyzing the root cause of problems, identifying leverage points, and designing solutions considering the long-term impacts."

Shadrack Agaki (Kenya)
"Going home, I will use the knowledge and information from this workshop to build the capacity of young people to engage in the policymaking process to transform the food system."

Synthesis and action

The final day focused on synthesizing the week's learning. Participants designed projects to tackle specific challenges in their regions, ensuring they were prepared to implement the solutions developed.

The workshop concluded with a ceremony where participants shared their takeaways and commitments for future action. Ms. Nicole de Paula, a senior SDGs expert at the UN Food Systems Coordination Hub, encouraged the young leaders to continue their advocacy and leadership back home. As these professionals return to their communities, they carry not only new skills and insights but also a collective ambition to foster a world where sustainable food systems support economic growth, climate action, nature protection, human health, and social justice.