Earlier this year I was selected as an NGIN Ambassador, joining 18 other young people from across the globe as ‘agvocates’ and changemakers. As part of this programme, we were invited to Tanzania to attend the Africa Food Systems Forum/AGRF and NGIN flagship programme where we all met in person for the first time! This was an incredible week to collaborate with other leaders in the agriculture, entrepreneurship and innovation spaces. Throughout the 10 days we engaged in professional development, pitch training, field visits and learned more about each other’s passion for the agriculture industry. In this reflection piece I have listed some of my highlights:
- As part of the NGIN flagship programme, our delegation travelled to Zanzibar to visit the Healthy Seaweed Company and see how they empower women from the seaweed harvest through to production. The team works with 130 women who pick 17 tonnes of seaweed annually to ensure the producers receive a fair price and that this value can further support Tanzania. Later we headed to a rural area outside of Dar Es Salaam where we saw the value-add and production side of the seaweed in there lab. We also got to hear from co-CEO Nancy Iraba and her story about how the Seaweed Cafe came to be.
- Later in the week we worked with the Rijk Zwaan team on a plant breeding workshop. Here, our NGIN delegation were split into small teams to explore the factors of plant breeding that scientists need to consider when developing new options for the market. Our interactive workshop concluded with a chance to develop a new product for the market, full of laughs all around! Perhaps we will see some of these products on supermarket shelves in the next few years?
- Shortly after our workshop we went on a retail safari – visiting a local supermarket that stocked Rijk Zwaan vegetables grown from their seeds, before visiting a farm in the afternoon which grows hot peppers. Globally, Rijk Zwaan is working with 25 crops and 1600+ varieties and turning over €600m+ with 40% going back into research. Their plant developments have had great success, with examples including habaneros which can stay fresh for three weeks instead of 5-7 days, tomatoes being bred with tougher skin resulting in less bruising in transport and overall minimising food waste with less chance of rejection from consumers. This was a fun cultural moment as New Zealander’s call bell peppers “capsicums” and when some of our NGIN team said these were peppers, I naturally assumed they would be capsicums…not hot peppers!
- At the conclusion of the flagship event we picked up our passes for the Africa Food Systems Forum (AGRF) of which we will be attending for the remainder of the week! As part of #AGRF2023 I had the opportunity to speak and present our NGIN Ambassador call to action manifesto which we all contributed to throughout the week. Herein, we focussed on the five key issues of women and youth, agriculture and climate change, science and innovation, food security and better nutrition, and market access and trade. As emerging leaders, this is what we urge governments and businesses to consider.
- Out of all 41 sessions across the entire conference, there was only one fully youth led/moderated session, and it was run by our team, facilitated by the incredible agricultural storyteller Claire Taylor with six of our ambassadors across two panels. A common thread throughout the majority of panels was the need for youth engagement through opportunity, yet we didn’t see much of it.
- There were 5,400 delegates across 90 countries present, and it was amazing to speak to different people – including a woman who runs a dairy business in Kenya who started with one cow to feed her family, through to meeting people from the cashew board of Tanzania (the best cashews!). There was such a wealth of knowledge and conversation in the room.
People throughout the conference were incredibly kind and welcoming. I have never been in such a space where people were so genuinely interested in chatting to you about your background and agricultural systems back home. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the NGIN Ambassadors thrive in this space, sharing their stories and making connections. This is what the sector is all about.
Thank you to the NGIN team and sponsors for enabling us to attend this conference! I have come away with so much knowledge and a renewed passion for the sector and can’t wait to keep making waves here in New Zealand!