It has been almost a decade since the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) was launched, with the vision “to become a global leader in research, capacity building, and knowledge brokerage and service provision in food security and nutrition in Africa”. In 2019, 2020 and 2021, the University of Pennsylvania’s ‘Global Go To Think Tank Index’ ranked the CoE-FS in the top 100 global think-tanks in food security. This has been achieved through our output, science communication and collaborations with outstanding institutions and scholars.
Since our inception, we have concluded 43 memoranda of agreement and Collaborating Agreements (CAs) with universities, research institutions, civil society organisations and public institutions. These include the Institute for Development Studies, University of Sussex (IDS), ranked first in the field of development studies by the Times Higher Education Index; the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the World Bank; and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), ranked second in the world in terms of co-publications with African researchers in the field of agricultural science. We have collaborated with 10 out of South Africa’s 26 universities, seven of which are other historically disadvantages institutions (HDIs). We have also collaborated with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). At the same time, we work with local government and grassroots organisations including the Breede Valley and Witzenberg municipalities, the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, the Neighbourhood Farm, Local WILD and the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (WCEDP).
Our Steering Committee (STEERCOM) has guided our work throughout our 10 years of research, capacity building and community engagement, and has involved internationally renowned scholars. These have included World Food Prize Laureate Professor Lawrence Haddad; the former chair of the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) Professor Patrick Caron (now CIRAD); and Dr Mickey Chopra, the World Bank’s Global Solutions Lead for Service Delivery in the Health Nutrition and Population global practice. We are delighted to welcome Professor Mary Scholes as the new Chair of our STEERCOM. Professor Scholes holds the Research Chair in Global Change and Systems Analysis at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and serves on the Council of ASSAf.
The CoE-FS has operated as a virtual centre since its founding and thus quickly adapted to the COVID-19 and post-pandemic environment. In 2022, we continued to bring together the expertise of South African and international institutions, across various disciplines. In this current three-year cycle, research and training activities take place in three long-term research programmes: (1) Governance, Policy and Power; (2) Innovation and Technology; and (3) Health, Nutrition and Safety.
Science communication in all forms has been our priority. In 2022, we have published 58 peer-reviewed journal articles, one book, six book chapters, 12 working papers/reports, graduated 33 students (this figure includes postdoctoral fellows who completed their research), and received 200 media mentions (and counting). We have also supported 127 students in 2022.
Food and nutritional security are imperative for human survival with dignity and must take account of economic vitality, social justice, and human and environmental health. To operationalise this value, we have worked with human rights research and advocacy institutions, such as the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance and Human Rights (DOI) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the Centre for Human Rights (CHR) at the University of Pretoria (UP), and the Children’s Institute (CI) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). This work has contributed towards submissions to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) among others, including on the right to food for students studying at higher education institutions (HEIs). In recognition of this, in 2021, the CoE-FS was invited to become one of the founding members of the international Food Equity Centre hosted by IDS. During 2022, we participated in an international webinar on food equity, and co-presented a paper on our place-based research, together with examples of similar studies in Brazil and Ghana.
The bulk of our bursaries are awarded to South African students. However, leverage funding has enabled us to undertake research in 10 other countries on the continent, including in north Africa. The extension of our reach was consolidated with the award of the UNESCO Chair in African Food Systems in 2017, and in 2022 we participated in 30th Anniversary of the Chairs programme in Paris and applied for the renewal of the Chair to be jointly hosted by UWC and UP.
Our capacity to assist with policy formulation was enhanced in 2022 with the appointment of the Director to the National Planning Commission (NPC) where he serves on a task team focusing on agriculture, land and rural development. In addition, following the successful completion of the South African Rapid Food System Assessment for the FAO in 2021, the CoE-FS was appointed as the lead on the Southern and East African Synthesis of food systems at the end of 2022.
Over the past decade, the CoE-FS has served to advance UP’s track record in food and nutrition security, while consolidating UWC’s expertise in public health, food system governance and agrarian studies. It has drawn together a research group in food plant molecular biology at UWC, and a similar group in food safety at UP. More importantly, the CoE-FS has provided a safe space for engagement between researchers at different universities, the different government departments with which these researchers have been working, and the civil society organisations that engage with the food system as consumers and producers of food. Our science communication activities have contributed towards widening engagement with food systems, and debates over how outcomes from this system can be more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.
Although much has been achieved, food systems are constantly changing. Climate change, a global pandemic, food safety crises, and war have added to the complexity and pace of this change. In the immediate term (three to five years), we can expect escalating food prices; outright shortages; new products, technologies and processes; new ways of transacting; and changing systems of governance and innovation.
Discipline-specific research and training will remain essential as will the need to increase both the diversity and output of those producing this knowledge. However, the achievement of food and nutrition security requires more than scientific enquiry. Critically, transdisciplinary approaches need to be mainstreamed so that environmental, social, cultural, economic and political drivers of change can be better understood and leveraged in a manner that achieves positive outcomes.
A centre of excellence is well placed to contribute towards this. By accepting that research output is a prerequisite rather than a goal, that science communication is embedded rather than desirable, and that impact is a value and not an aspiration, the CoE-FS is a fit-for-purpose institution to further contribute towards the knowledge and innovation infrastructure of South Africa and the continent.
The ambitious model in which an HDI has led a co-hosted centre of excellence has been challenging, but has, nonetheless, endured. Our 2022 Lekgotla concluded that the union of the host and co-host offers strength, opportunity and diversity, and committed the CoE-FS to continue — whatever funding opportunities may be in place. In August 2022, the vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors (research and innovation) met and agreed that our collaboration will continue, irrespective of the source of funding that the CoE-FS may receive.
In 2021, the extension of the State of Disaster, additional waves of COVID-19 infections and the emergence of the Omicron variant continued to shape both the research environment of the CoE-FS as well as global, national and local food systems. In our 2021 Annual Progress Report, we document the work of the ...
The events of 2020 highlighted the importance of the research and capacity development that is undertaken by the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS). The unprecedented measures put in place to slow the pace of new infections of COVID-19 had an immediate and direct impact on household food security. ...
In 2019 the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), National Research Foundation (NRF), and the Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) concluded the process of responding to the recommendations arising from the mid-term review. This Annual Report reflects on the achievements, challenges and the lessons learnt from this process while ...