Minister Hanekom launches of Centre of Excellence in Food Security

South Africa's drive to create a competitive and food secure state was boosted on Tuesday (15 April) with the launch of the Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Food Security at University of the Western Cape (UWC).

Food security has been defined as the access by all people, at all times, to enough food for an active and healthy life. For South Africa to be food secure, food needs to be available both nationally and locally, and people have to have the means to access it (producing it themselves, buying it or bartering for it). People also need to have the knowledge to make informed choices about what they eat.

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.

UWC said: "The award to host the Centre of Excellence in Food Security is indicative of the phenomenal strides made by UWC in the past 10 years in becoming a research-driven institution, with a growing cohort of excellent scholars on its academic staff and significant developments in postgraduate education."

The Food Security Centre of Excellence is the first CoE to be hosted or co-hosted by a historically black university since the 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 this case."

The Chief Executive Officer of the National Research Foundation, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, said: "The launch of the Department of Science and Technology (DST)- National Research Foundation (NRF) CoE in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape, in collaboration with the University of Pretoria, will enable South Africa to tackle the challenge of food security and nutrition faced by a significant number of South Africans. According to a study released in 2013 by the Human Sciences Research Council, more than half of South Africa’s population does not have regular access to enough food. National food security is estimated at 45,6%. It is initiatives such as this Centre of Excellence in Food Security that will ensure that we build more skills and resources and conduct more research to help confront the issues of poverty, hunger and malnutrition in our country."

The new CoE will investigate three overarching questions:

  • How are global and national food systems changing and how does this affect the sustainability, availability, access and attributes of food?
  • Who are the "food insecure"? Where are they located, what are their choices, strategies and opportunities when seeking food security, health and well-being, and how do these aspects change in response to the changing food system?
  • What policies, technologies, interventions and products enable access to affordable and nutritious food in ecological, economic, social and politically sustainable ways?

Research activities 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.

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.

David Mandaha, Department of Science and Technology
Cell: 072 126 8910
Palesa Mokoena (National Research Foundation)
Cell: 083 494 2322

Luthando Tyhalibongo (University of the Western Cape)
Cell: 079 880 4655

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