Going global

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Annabel de Frece reflects on how IFSTAL is evolving to embed its interdisciplinary approach into teaching programmes around the world

Launched in 2015 to work with Masters and PhD students in the UK, IFSTAL has evolved through IFSTAL International to reach a wider cohort that includes young career professionals and – following our latest course in Uganda­ ­– members of academia.

IFSTAL International is increasingly collaborating with overseas governments, universities, food sector professionals and NGOs to embed its unique brand of food systems training. The inaugural international course took place in Ghana in July 2018, followed by the first course in Asia – held in Bogor, Indonesia, in February 2019.

In the same year, the IFSTAL team also returned to Ghana for a second course, this time joined by PhD students from the N8AgriFood cluster of universities in the north of England, and colleagues from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, thus increasing the disciplinary and regional diversity of expertise.


Achieving food security is a global challenge: nearly 1 billion people are hungry and at least 2 billion more lack sufficient nutrients. At the same time, more than 2.5 billion people are overweight or obese. A food system approach is needed to identify those policy and practice options that will enhance local, national and global food security. This relies on interdisciplinary systems thinkers in the workforce however a lack of hands-on training, in part due to insufficient curricula and syllabuses in national universities, means the workforce lacks this vital capacity.

In response to this issue, IFSTAL International has evolved to offer a training approach based on the IFSTAL pedagogy, which includes unique teaching materials, group collaboration, problem solving, methods and analysis. The courses are active, thoughtful and thought provoking. Through systems thinking in a multi-disciplinary learning environment, participants are able to understand how their work connects to the whole food system and how they can collaborate with others to make change.

Our latest activity saw IFSTAL travel to Uganda in the first week of 2020 at Makerere University in Kampala. Funded by Open Society Foundations, the week kickstarted a project that aims to build a legacy of food systems knowledge and training in the country. At Makerere University, postgraduate students and young professionals working across the food sector and NGOs were joined by members of academia in the IFSTAL classroom. It was an incredibly vibrant and inspiring week that sowed the seeds for a network of food systems thinkers in Uganda.

The IFSTAL cohort at Makerere University

The week also laid the foundation for the co-development of an interdisciplinary food systems curriculum at Makerere University. A working group at Makerere has been established to work with the IFSTAL team to identify how food systems training can be integrated into the university’s postgraduate programme and beyond. In March 2020 IFSTAL will return to Uganda to run a ‘train the trainer’ course with members of the faculty. It’s an exciting opportunity to build on the talent and passion for transformation that we witnessed in that first week.

Complex problems require solutions that cut across disciplines; we know that innovation occurs when experts with the skills to collaborate come together to listen to and learn from each other. In Uganda, key food systems challenges such as climate change, malnutrition and weak regulatory systems are complex. However, the expertise that can be harnessed through collaboration between academics and professionals makes a strong case for embedding IFSTAL systems thinking approach into graduate training programmes so that those who will eventually be charged with finding solutions will have the skills to make meaningful change. It is hoped that this project will see Makerere become the East African hub for food systems teaching and research.

As a team, we are dedicated to building a widespread community of food system thinkers who are able to bring about food system change within their own professional areas in other parts of the world too. In addition to our visit to Uganda, 2020 has already seen us run IFSTAL courses in the University of the South Pacific (in Fiji and Vanuatu) and again in Indonesia with plans afoot to establish IFSTAL-style courses for universities in Australia, Canada and the USA.

Dr Annabel de Frece is a Senior Teaching Fellow in Sustainable Development and Programme Director, MSc in Sustainable Development, at the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She is also an IFSTAL Education Coordinator.

Read more about IFSTAL International here
Main image: Kyle Glenn | Unsplash