School of Life Sciences

UKZN Unites with Water and Agriculture Sectors for World Food Day Dialogue

UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) joined the Water Research Commission (WRC), the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the University of Venda (UNIVEN) to commemorate World Food Day via a virtual dialogue on strengthening indigenous food systems for more sustainable, equitable and healthy systems.

Facilitated by the WRC’s Professor Sylvester Mpandeli, presenters shared ideas and research findings, and highlighted some of the WRC’s work on food security, nutrition and health.

The WRC hosts World Food Day celebrations annually, and because of COVID-19 restrictions proceeded with a virtual event.

The event showcased the knowledge the WRC has developed with key partners on underutilised indigenous and traditional crops, a strategic initiative of the WRC.

‘We believe that through partnership and collaboration we can address some of the key challenges we are facing across the water and agriculture sectors,’ said Mpandeli.

WRC Chief Executive Officer Mr Dhesigen Naidoo welcomed guests and acknowledged partners, co-hosts and others who enable the organisation to achieve its goals.

‘2020 is the year of COVID-19 and life after this depends almost solely on the actions that you and I, and our organisations, and communities that we serve, take after this crisis,’ he said. ‘Post-COVID food insecurity will possibly be devastating, and science, technology and innovation must play a much bigger role than ever before.’

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at UKZN, Professor Albert Modi presented on indigenous crops as part of a transformative agenda with a focus on strengthening local food systems. He thanked the WRC for allowing UKZN to raise South Africa’s flag high on World Food Day, and addressed the potential of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) and crops to contribute to the food system and promote rural transformation, recommending that they be included in education and research systems. Modi also suggested that the WRC establish a “World Food Day Award” to form part of the World Food Day agenda from 2021.

The ARC’s Dr Hintsa Araya used a case study of a school garden project in Gauteng to speak about building food and nutrition security at local level, describing school gardens as a vehicle of knowledge and skills transfer to younger generations, and an opportunity to teach them that agriculture can enable any household to be sustainable and positively influence health.

Professor Victor Mmbengwa from UNIVEN and Professor Fhatuwani Mudau, Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, discussed the inherent resilience of indigenous food systems, with Mudau emphasising Africa’s capability and self-sufficiency for food production if it maximises its competitive edge and resources and makes use of science and technology and research and development.

Professor Sue Walker from the ARC drew on a lifetime’s experience to provide insight into the future of food in the context of indigenous crops, saying that alternative, underutilised crops need to be explored as the global population faces a high risk of food insecurity. She highlighted the need for more research and development, and innovation to secure food for the future and generate new knowledge of underutilised crops.

Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi from the CTAFS concluded by reiterating the importance of policies and institutions to support a just transition to equitable, inclusive and sustainable food systems that value natural capital and indigenous knowledge systems, and the inclusion of youth in agriculture. He thanked all the presenters and the WRC, saying the WRC’s support had made possible much of the research presented on underutilised, indigenous crops.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Image: Supplied