CoE Articles

Strengthening the CoE-FS legacy: celebrating a decade of excellence

Published June 13, 2024, by Stephen Langtry

The CoE-FS 10th Anniversary Symposium was held at UWC from 22 to 24 May 2024. Photo Je’nine May/CoE-FS.

“The imperative of government is not only to protect an entity like the CoE-FS, but to also look at strengthening it”.

With these words, Professor Ramashwar “Ramesh” Bharuthram set the tone for the 10th-anniversary symposium of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS). The symposium, held from 22 to 24 May 2024 to celebrate a decade of achievements, saw contributions from various experts and highlighted the centre’s impact on food and nutrition security research and policy.

Professor Bharuthram, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) when the CoE-FS was established in 2014, shared his insights on the journey. He recalled the collaborative effort that brought together winning proposals from UWC and the University of Pretoria (UP), leading to the historic decision to host the centre at UWC, with UP as the co-host. This made UWC the first historically disadvantaged institution to host a centre of excellence, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation.

Reflecting on the past 10 years, Bharuthram highlighted the CoE-FS’s remarkable achievements. These include funding for 322 postgraduate students and postdoctoral Fellows, and support for 248 non-bursary scholars, as well as establishing a national and global presence. He pointed out that the CoE-FS is an entity that speaks directly to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2, which is “Zero Hunger”.

Prof Ramesh Bharuthram reflected on the CoE-FS’s progress over the past 10 years. Photo Je’nine May/CoE-FS.

Bharuthram, the first recipient of the DSI/SARIMA Award for Exceptional Leadership in Research Management lifetime achievement award, emphasised the need not only to protect but also to continually strengthen the CoE-FS, ensuring its ongoing impact and sustainability.

“I therefore hope that the leadership of the DSI and NRF will take cognisance of what this entity has achieved, and what it’s potential is to address the issue of food security,” he said.

Professor Julian May (CoE-FS director) and Professor Lise Korsten (CoE-FS co-director) shared their perspectives on the centre’s achievements. They discussed the empowerment of communities through research, and the CoE-FS’s role in fostering social justice.

Prof Julian May is the CoE-FS director, based at UWC, and Prof Lise Korsten is the CoE-FS co-director, based at UP. Photo Je’nine May/CoE-FS.

Over the last decade, the centre has successfully met all its targets, demonstrating a strong commitment to addressing food and nutrition security challenges.

Children at the heart of FNS

The keynote address, delivered by Associate Professor Wiedaad Slemming, director of the Children’s Institute (CI) at the University of Cape Town, emphasised the importance of placing children at the centre of research, policy and planning for food and nutrition security (FNS). She discussed the paradox of food security where, despite sufficient national food supplies, malnutrition remains a pressing issue.

Associate Professor Slemming spoke about the “slow violence” of malnutrition, and highlighted the double burden of under- and over-nutrition, advocating for early intervention and the creation of a child-centred food system.

“If you want to change anything, you’ve got to intervene early.

“If you do something for the ones who are going to struggle the most, it actually benefits everybody … So, if you put children at the centre, it affects everyone,” she said.

A/Prof Wiedaad Slemming reflected on the long-term partnership between the CoE-FS and the CI, noting the impact of the collaborative 2020 Child Gauge. Photo Je’nine May/CoE-FS.

The CI director added that, “We’ve got two-thirds of our children living below the upper-bound poverty line”, and stressed the need for continuous engagement and meaningful partnerships to address the vulnerabilities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to be ambitious in our thinking for children in South Africa. We can no longer be thinking just about keeping them alive; we have to make sure that we are enabling them and creating environments where they can thrive.”

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