Advancing Food Banks

A Week of Learning and Community for Africa’s Growing Food Banks

Sharing knowledge and building community are two of the greatest opportunities and responsibilities of The Global FoodBanking Network. But with food bank partners in more than 50 countries, convening in person is of utmost importance. In late May, I was delighted to join food banks from across Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, for the GFN Fellowship Exchange, a week of learning and community hosted by FoodForward SA, the largest and longest-running food bank on the continent, serving nearly 1 million people each year. 

“The fellowship exchange is key because it not only provides information to others,” said Andy Du Plessis, managing director at FoodForward SA. “It’s the social component that binds and unites food bankers together in this journey to make sure we address two key problems: one, the environmental challenges of food loss and waste, and two, growing food insecurity.” 

The food banks that attended this fellowship are growing and hoping to establish a solid foundation to better serve people facing food insecurity and protect the planet. Participants were: FoodQuest Eswatini; It Rains Food Bank of Ethiopia; FoodForward SA; Banco de Alimentos de  Moçambique; and No Hunger Food Bank from Nigeria.  

Zenawi Naigzi Woldetensay, executive director of It Rains Food Bank of Ethiopia, was impressed by the operational standards at FFSA. 

“I am really excited because this is an opportunity that has given me a deep outlook about the key functions of food banking,” he said, adding that he was ready to return to Addis Ababa to help guide his colleagues in operations and partnerships on lessons learned.  

Emmanuel Baah, the newly onboarded operations manager at Food for All Africa in Ghana, came to food banking with decades of experience in international shipping and logistics. But he knew he had much to learn about the intricacies of food banking, and he found an open forum in Cape Town.  

“FFSA is open and ready to tell you even more than you are ready to hear,” he said.  

This fellowship exchange provided momentum for Baah to return to Ghana, where he oversees operations in Accra and Kumasi, and go above and beyond the “highest 1 million standard,” which he rated his peers in South Africa. 

While some endured long flights to reach Africa’s southern tip, none worked harder to make it to Cape Town than Elias Matine and Adelino Chauque from Banco de Alimentos de Moçambique. These participants in GFN’s New Food Bank Development program journeyed 40 hours by car from neighboring Mozambique and overcame language barriers from Portuguese to English to better understand the fundamentals of starting a food bank. One of Matine’s first takeaways was the importance of a reliable team and making sure the right people are in key roles at the food bank. 

His mission to return to Mozambique to share these lessons with his team reminded me of my favorite Senegalese proverb: “If you have the knowledge, you must transfer it.” 

This spirit permeated the entire fellowship. Food banking is not a proprietary concept, and the impact we can make as The Global FoodBanking Network depends on these moments of fellowship and knowledge sharing. 

Fellowship exchanges are times of motivation and opportunities to become accountable to other food banks in the Network. That was the takeaway for Celani Matsenjwa and Thulile Nxumalo from Food Quest Eswatini.  

“We have to up our game, rearrange things, and hit the ground running; we don’t want to start something and stop in the middle or be failures,” said Nxumalo. “We want you guys to be proud of us so that you say, ‘We do have Food Quest in Swaziland (Eswatini).’” 

Through long, intense sessions on topics like warehousing, logistics, human resources, community agency management, food sourcing, finance, and much more, FoodForward SA made sure it didn’t just feel like one long business meeting.  

They nourished our bodies and minds with delicious foods and unforgettable experiences: from lunches catered by local women-owned eateries—we tasted the spicy pili pili and sweet coconut koeksisters, a gamut of cultures and traditions transmitted in cuisine— to the drive down the towering, beautiful Chapman’s Peak.  

“I love food, so I think the food we have eaten has been great, the chili especially, helping us to commit and participate more effectively,” said Gbade Odularu, president and CEO of No Hunger Food Bank in Abuja, Nigeria.  

These experiences filled us with gratitude and a desire to do it all again very soon. 

Khamil Hiraman, national director of operations at FoodForward SA, wrapped up the week with an abundance of wisdom.  

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Set a standard for growth, reflect, and do it. Safety is paramount. Be transparent internally and externally. Communicate. Lead with pride. And most importantly, build credibility and protect it.” 

His words rang true as we sat inside the national headquarters of FoodForward SA, surrounded by 30 of their staff members, and as we reflected on the impact of their network of food banks across the country, we could see what is possible for food bankers across Africa. 

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