Every South African must be able to develop their full potential and this can’t be done on an empty stomach. This is why this new Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Food Security is so unique – it must lead to interventions that will positively change people’s lives and combat food insecurity in our country.
This was the central message of the Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom at the official launch of the CoE in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The University of Pretoria (UP) co-hosts the CoE with the UWC.
The Food Security Centre of Excellence is the first CoE to be hosted or co-hosted by a historically black university since the Department of Science and Technology (DST) – National Research Foundation (NRF) Centres of Excellence Programme began 10 years ago. Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, said he hoped that this would be the start of a trend.
Mr Hanekom emphasised that food security was high on the country’s list of priorities. “In case there was any doubt, the release last year of the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey confirmed that too many of our people are underfed, overfed, or both. The fact that this is occurring in a relatively well-off nation, and despite adequate domestic food production, is a reality of which all of us here today are no doubt keenly aware.
“Obviously, food security is a subject that requires comprehensive treatment. This is true of most important socio-economic issues, of course, but food security is arguably an extreme case, because it involves questions of agricultural production systems, market dynamics, nutrition, people’s habits and preferences, our social security system, and so on. This is one reason why achieving food security is such a challenge, and why the centre of excellence approach is particularly appropriate in meeting this challenge
Dr Romilla Maharaj, Acting Executive Director: Research Chairs and Centres for Excellence at the National Research Foundation (NRF) referred in her address to countries such as India and Japan who created CoEs to promote excellence in specific fields. “The CoEs are one of the NRF’s strategic tools to drive research excellence and promote inter-institutional collaboration and multi-disciplinary research for societal impact in the country”.
Prof Julian May from UWC and the Director of the CoE, emphasised the importance of food security by comparing a malnourished three-year old child’s brain with a normal three-year old – the latter’s brain was much bigger. “In South Africa over twenty per cent of South Africans are food insecure and this must change drastically. We will make a difference to food security by linking innovative science to critical enquiry,” Prof May said.
Studies show that in South Africa, where over 60% of the population is urbanised, food insecurity is widespread, with Statistics South Africa reporting that approximately 45% of South Africans live below the poverty line. Chronic malnutrition affects one in five young children in both rural and urban areas, and about one in 10 households in South Africa experience hunger every month.
Prof Sheryl Hendriks, Co-Director of the CoE and also Director of the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being at UP explained that the research activities of the CoE will be carried out in four thematic areas, i.e. Food Creation, which concerns production, processing and preservation; Food Distribution, which concerns markets, livelihoods and value chains; Food Consumption, which concerns health, nutrition, choice and behaviour; and Food Governance, which focuses on safety, standards, policy and rights. She also added that ”the new CoE creates an exciting opportunity for researchers to make a meaningful difference to solving some of the complex problems regarding how to address poverty, hunger and inequality.”
The Department of Science and Technology-National Research Foundation CoE in Food Security will bring together a cohort of experts and researchers from 19 South African and international institutions to study the systemic and structural factors that shape food access and dietary choice; as well as food security strategies, choices and decisions for poor and vulnerable people. It will not look at agricultural productivity in isolation, but will take a “farm to fork” approach to the food system.
Malnutrition – including over- and under-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies are the top contributors to the global disease burden. Globally, 800…