First World Food Day Symposium for UKZN

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The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) hosted UKZN’s first celebration of World Food Day with an online symposium, accompanied by a food stand on the Pietermaritzburg campus, aimed at encouraging research and technology for the development of symbiotic ecological food production systems and sustainable food production.

UKZN joined the nation and the world to highlight the plight of 870 million undernourished people globally, many of whom live in rural areas where their main source of income is agriculture.

More than 130 participants joined the online symposium. Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the CAES Professor Albert Modi said the aim of the event was to explore what is done with the research produced at UKZN to change people’s lives. He noted that many UKZN students come from rural and peri-urban areas where poverty and hunger are prevalent, and many across the University’s five campuses live in residences and are funded by government.

Modi announced that UKZN is developing a model of zero hunger for all students, exploring innovative ways for students to grow their own food, and providing them with the skills and knowledge to address their own situations by looking to both health and academic outcomes.

Ms Shelley Barnsley from the CAES Student Support Services spoke about the hidden, prevalent, and escalating problem of hunger among students at UKZN, emphasising that a healthy student is a healthy university and providing an overview of contributing factors and proposed solutions.

Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi from UKZN’s Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) presented a perspective on the Water-Energy-Food nexus, highlighting research done at UKZN in this regard, emphasising that COVID-19 had worsened existing inequalities and that integrated, nexus planning was needed to ensure there is more balance in terms of equitable access to these resources post-COVID-19.

Professor Suna Kassier from Dietetics and Human Nutrition stressed the importance of students following a healthy diet and explained what it means to be food secure, emphasising food quality as well as access to adequate quantities of food.

Professor Betty Mubangizi, South African Research Chair of Sustainable Local (Rural) Livelihoods at UKZN addressed food security and local government and how sectors can work together for sustainable food security.

Professor Maheshvari Naidu from the Discipline of Anthropology spoke of the importance of context and connection in framing any point of view, including those on food sovereignty and food justice.

Mr James Martin, Acting CEO of the UMgungundlovu Economic Development Agency (UMEDA) noted that agriculture is a cornerstone sector of economic activity, while Shoprite’s Mr Lunga Schoeman detailed the retail group’s focus on sustainability and hunger relief programmes, particularly those being developed in partnership with universities.

Modi complimented the event’s focus on the topic, and said these discussions would form part of the University’s model for the Zero Hunger campaign.

Participants commented that the event was informative, that engagements provided insight into issues of food security, and that the focus on multiple disciplines was interesting.

Students on the Pietermaritzburg campus were also able to visit a food stand where students and facilitators from Dietetics and the CTAFS discussed the food insecurity challenges faced by students, and introduced competitions challenging students to grow their own food at their residences and to shop efficiently with limited funds to purchase nutritious and affordable food. Dietetics students demonstrated food preparation tips for handy meals and the Rise Against Hunger meal packs, while a Shoprite Checkers food truck distributed free meals.

Students were able to access resources explaining how to understand food labels, and how to eat a balanced diet, and could pick up a booklet on how to eat healthily on a limited budget.

The event featured the participation of several organisations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Enactus; the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform; Shoprite Checkers; the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development; UMEDA; the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs; the South African Weather Service; the South African National Biodiversity Institute; the National Research Foundation; the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research; the Institute of Natural Resources; uMngungundlovu District Municipality; the Water Research Commission; the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems programme; and the uMngeni Resilience Project.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Nicole Chidzawo and Ntokozo Dladla