Sowing the Seeds for Sustainable Food Systems and Cultivating Youth Employment

DSM and GenU joined forces to create inclusive employment opportunities for young people in Africa through sustainable food systems

Florentine Oberman, Erich Suni Melgar, Rosa Hogerzeil
09 December 2020
A photo of a child with the words "Sustainable Food Systems for Enhanced Nutrition and Youth Employment"
Generation Unlimited

The next generation of African youth faces three distinct but interconnected challenges: weak food systems, malnutrition, and youth unemployment. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 3 people in Africa were malnourished, and young people (15-24) represented 60% of the unemployed. Unfortunately, the situation continues to be exacerbated: the pandemic has impacted the fragile food value chains increasing food prices in West Africa by 25% this year.

Against this backdrop, leaders at UNICEF and Royal DSM – a global, science-based company leading the way in nutrition innovation –joined forces to create inclusive employment opportunities for young people in Africa through sustainable food systems. As part of the Generation Unlimited platform, the cross-sectoral partnership along the agri-food value chain, GenU Sustainable Food Systems (GenU SFS), is being developed to build an environment conducive to thriving and inclusive business. Here, DSM brings in scientific know-how in food fortification, nutrition think-tank Sight and Life brings expertise to SMEs and connection with young agri-food entrepreneurs, UNICEF supports as experienced nutrition and education programmer and Generation Unlimited forms the overarching youth platform connecting partners with complementary competencies. Building on GenU's priority area of boosting entrepreneurial skills and employment opportunities, this joint partnership is committed to 1) generate 1 million decent jobs for young people along the agri-food value chain by 2025, 2) improve the livelihoods of 1 million smallholder farmers by 2025, and 3) increase availability of nutritious, affordable, safe and aspirational food which consumers of Africa want and need.

These promises were, in part, inspired by the success of Africa Improved Foods (AIF) Rwanda, a social enterprise processing maize and soy, and a key investment of DSM. Founded in 2016, AIF enterprise created over 300 direct jobs, sourcing from over 130,000 smallholder farmers regionally and selling nutritious and fortified foods to over 1.6 million beneficiaries. It has grown to generate around US$50 million in revenues while adding US$1 billion in net incremental value to East Africa, successfully prototyping a model that is simultaneously profitable and contributing to the SDG Agenda.

Feike Sijbesma, Honorary Chairman of Royal DSM, made the call to action during the November GenU Global Leadership Council meeting to join GenU SFS in their effort to advocate for and create enabling market environments that prioritize nutrition in sustainable food production. Young agri-food entrepreneurs, private sector partners, local governments, and donors are all invited to share their views, technical expertise, financial resources, and innovative ideas on implementing this project in focus countries and address some of the biggest challenges facing young people in Africa today.

Why the initiative is important

The challenges around weak food systems, malnutrition and youth unemployment present immense opportunities to create decent jobs, improve population's nutritional status and generate sustainable economic growth by stimulating employment in the agri-food sector and harnessing the potential of young people themselves. Rather than attempting to mitigate the challenges separately, we must treat them in a systematic and interconnected way by creating sustainable food systems. A food system encompasses every step of the value chain that brings the ingredients to your plate – from grain supplier to consumer, including farmers, processors, and more. Sustainability implies to both environmental and financial sustainability. As Africa's agriculture is most vulnerable to climate change, environmental resilience is not only a long-term moral imperative but also an immediate economic concern. Financial sustainability is crucial as the best way to ensure continued upkeep for food systems initiatives is to weave business interests with social targets. The age of aid packages delivered from Global North to South must cede the way to more robust and inclusive solutions for food systems – especially in Africa, whose booming young population could benefit enormously from the development of these systems.

Please contact Erich Suni Melgar (Innovation Manager, GenU Global Team) for further information (