The cacophony of diverse voices, fervent discussions, and the energetic buzz of activity at the 2023 Africa Food Systems Summit (AGRF 2023) in Dar es Salaam painted a vivid picture of Africa’s hope and determination. Amidst this hopeful tumult stood Kelvin Odoobo, an Agtech founder and staunch advocate for a food systems revolution. As a proud delegate of the Centre of Agriculture Leaders in Africa (CALA), Kelvin’s journey resonates as an embodiment of Africa’s evolving agricultural narrative.
With a contemplative gaze, Kelvin reminisced about his AGRF initiation: “Back in 2021, at the Africa Green Revolution Forum, I felt an unmistakable pull. The weight of my past and the vision of my future seamlessly converged. I was definite about one thing – I needed to be at the 2022 edition.” And indeed, his sheer determination saw him not just attending but actively contributing to AGRF 2022, an event that had transitioned in name and vision to the Africa Food Systems Summit.
However, the road leading to this summit wasn’t straightforward for Kelvin. As the pandemic’s grip tightened, challenges amplified. “I wasn’t just battling external crises. Internally, I was grappling with a professional void. Despite my extensive agribusiness experiences across seven vibrant African markets, there was a nagging feeling. A hunger for more nuanced knowledge, a structured leadership roadmap. Most of what I knew was pieced together from scattered sources – my close-knit network, family elders’ wisdom, insightful books, and an ever-evolving media.”
Then, like a beacon, CALA’s Advanced Leadership Program emerged on the horizon. Kelvin’s eyes lit up as he spoke of it. “The call for applications was a pivotal moment. It was the confluence of my academic dreams and professional pursuits. In my heart and mind, I thought, This is it.” Yet, life threw another curveball as his first application attempt met with disappointment.
Refusing to be subdued, Kelvin’s pursuit of enlightenment took him to the doors of the African Food Fellowship leadership program, an innovative collaboration between Wasafiri Consulting and the esteemed Wageningen University & Research.
“The ten-month virtual sessions were transformational. Every week, as I delved deeper into food systems and the art of system craft, I was evolving,” Kelvin shared, his voice thick with emotion. “There, amid a cohort of like-minded visionaries, a realization dawned. Over the past decade, without even consciously charting the course, my path had shifted from pure agribusiness to a broader, more impactful realm of food systems leadership.”
This shift was profound, not merely in nomenclature but in essence. Kelvin elucidated, “This new perspective is about holistic understanding. It’s not about jumping to solutions, but about meticulously analyzing problems, and understanding their myriad causes and ramifications. We have to approach challenges with a collaborative spirit, seeking tested, practical solutions rather than opting for convenient quick fixes. It’s about digging deeper, understanding the nuances of every challenge.”
Kelvin’s refined approach soon yielded dividends. In 2022, revisiting CALA with renewed vigor, he not only secured his place but also received a coveted invite to AGRF 2022 in Rwanda. And his accolades didn’t end there. Today, he is deeply entrenched in transformative projects, such as the initiative assisting maize farmers in Kayonza District of Eastern Rwanda to navigate the treacherous waters of climate change.
As our dialogue drew towards its close, Kelvin’s message for the next generation of African leaders was crystal clear. “Agriculture is no longer just about sowing seeds and reaping harvests. It’s about transformative change, ecosystem thinking, and sustainable futures. Food system transformation is a vast, fertile terrain awaiting exploration. Young Africans must dive deep, explore every corner, and shape its future. Institutions like CALA and the African Food Fellowship are the guiding stars.”
Odoobo’s journey, from the rugged terrains of African farms to the hallowed halls of global food system summits, is not just a personal success story. It signifies the possibilities and potential of African agriculture. As the dynamic CEO & Founder of Shambapro, an avant-garde agritech startup, Kelvin believes he will continue to pioneer pathways, shaping and reshaping the tapestry of Africa’s agricultural renaissance.