The CoE-FS grantees were joined by students from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Kenya, the Netherlands, Senegal, Spain, the UK, and the USA.

In March 2024, grantees of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) travelled to Montpellier in France to spend two months in a structured, capacity-building programme, the “Feed, Protect, Care: Global Collaborative PhD Platform”. Through the programme, these grantees – all PhD candidates at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Pretoria – will build their skills as researchers, as well as scientists able to achieve societal impact. 

The CoE-FS is one of the founding partners of the Platform, for which the objective is to strengthen and secure the capacity of the global scientific community to inform and support critical transformations to sustainable futures at local and global levels. One component involves the selection of doctoral students to participate in events organised by the Platform.

One such event is the “2024 Montpellier Process – Pooling Collective Knowledge for Action”, which took place from 18 to 20 March 2024, and was attended by the PhD candidates and CoE-FS director Professor Julian May. The Montpellier Process is a collaborative and safe working space that facilitates collective intelligence, strengthening the science-policy and science-society interfaces in which food systems are a catalytic transformation lever.

On 18 March 2024, participants in the Montpellier Process, including the CoE-FS grantees, were treated to a presentation by Carlos Alvarez Pereira, the Secretary General of The Club of Rome who recalled the youth protests of 1968, mentioning the role of South Africa, and of activists such as Dr Mamphela Ramphele, who was also in attendance.

Gerda Verburg, the former United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary-General, urged researchers to focus on ‘the how’, to stop competing with each other, and to work across disciplines and with society. Akiko Suwa-Eisenmann, chair of the UN’s High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition emphasised the critical role to be played by social scientists and the humanities.

To close the opening session of the Montpellier Process, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, president of CGIAR, and former member of the CoE-FS’s Steering Committee (STEERCOM), reminded participants of the work ahead for the duration of the conference, and Professor Patrick Caron of the University of Montpellier, and CoE-FS’s longest-serving STEERCOM member, officiated the evening.

On World Food Day 2023, Prof Julian May spoke to CapeTalk about the importance of water for food and nutrition security. Photo Ashraf Hendricks/CoE-FS.

16 October 2023 marked World Food Day, the annual commemoration of the founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The theme for World Food Day 2023 was “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind”.

As part of the science communication and knowledge brokerage work of the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS), director Professor Julian May spoke to CapeTalk’s Clarence Ford about this year’s World Food Day theme in the context of South Africa, and the impact of water – both the availability and quality thereof – on food and nutrition security.

Here are five extracts of answers from Professor May, who holds the UNESCO Chair in Science and Education for African Food Systems, during the interview:

On whether South Africa can respond to issues of food and nutrition security: “We can deliver. We have the skills in the country. We have the resources. Our economy – despite taking a battering from different aspects, continues to survive … we’ve got that resilience that enables us to deliver. We just need the political will. We need the planning. And we need to get on with it. It cannot be delayed any longer.”

On water scarcity in the Western Cape: “What is of importance now is while we have been having not only good rain – but too much rain – we need not to lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, we are always called upon to conserve water. … the basic practices we had back in 2017 (in response to the drought and in preventing Day Zero) … are things that we should keep as standard, whether or not the rivers are flooding.”

On citizens viewing water as an infinite source: “I think wealthier people tend to take water for granted. If you had to collect water from a river and had to walk an hour each day with a bucket on your head, you certainly don’t take water for granted — and that’s the situation for the majority of South Africans … it’s people like myself who tend to take water for granted because I have grown up expecting to turn on a tap and there’s the water.”

On the equal importance of the quality of water: “… we also need to value water that is clean. One of the biggest issues around food security is childhood stunting. This is when children don’t grow as fast as they ought to, and a large part of that is attributed to diarrhoea. So, when children drink contaminated water, or eat food that has been washed in contaminated water, they run the risk of getting ill, they lose weight and, ultimately, they suffer stunting, which is a lifelong condition; after the first 1000 days, it is not something you can recover from.”

On the role of academics in development: One of the things that is being done – and the University of the Western Cape [host of the CoE-FS) pushes this quite hard – is how academics can feed into the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs were agreed to by most countries in the world. They set targets which include “leave no one behind”, water and zero hunger … [UWC leadership is] trying to get researchers to identify work that would contribute towards these goals … It enables us to think, ‘What work are we doing?’, and ‘Are we doing work that matters?’.”

Listen to the World Food Day 2023 interview, in full, here:

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