Participants at the first RUNRES stakeholder meeting in Pietermaritzburg.

RUNRES Project Hosts First Stakeholder Meeting

An international project aimed at establishing a circular economy for resilient city region food systems in South Africa, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda held one of three international start-up meetings between various stakeholders in Pietermaritzburg.

The Rural-Urban Nexus: Establishing a Nutrient Loop to Improve City Region Food System Resilience (RUNRES) project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s Global Programme Food Security for an eight-year period. Professor Johan Six of ETH Zürich leads the project, together with UKZN, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Bukavu in the DRC and Kigali in Rwanda, and Ethiopia’s Arba Minch University.

Dr Alfred Odindo of Crop Science at UKZN is the Principal Investigator for South Africa.

South Africa’s project team includes Professor Chris Buckley of UKZN’s Pollution Research Group, Dr Cathy Sutherland of Development Studies and Pro Vice-Chancellor of UKZN’s African Cities of the Future Research Flagship Professor Rob Slotow, as well as representatives from the Msunduzi Municipality. The Institute of Natural Resources’, Ms Zinhle Ntombela co-ordinates the South African project team.

In each rural-urban area, the project will establish solutions-oriented and transdisciplinary innovation platforms with collaborators from academia, the private sector, government, and local communities. This will demonstrate that innovations for value chain development and waste recycling can serve as a catalyst to generate a flow of resources throughout the rural-urban nexus that will improve the resilience of regional food systems. Additionally, the project will create a platform for specialist studies in a range of disciplines, inviting collaboration between academia, the private sector, government, and local communities.

More than 40 participants attended the two-day meeting, including representatives from Vulindlela’s Ward 1, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs, the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM), Msunduzi Municipality, and project partners from the DRC, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) and Head of UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Professor Albert Modi welcomed delegates, thanking the organising committee for co-ordinating the meeting and highlighting the importance of projects that enable UKZN to reach out to communities through research.

Modi noted how this project aligned with the College’s agenda for agricultural Higher Education, science, technology and innovation.

‘This project is going to allow our University to enhance innovation and create opportunities,’ said Modi. ‘It will assist us to address a serious input for farming, particularly in subsistence and smallholder farming, where a circular system that is not only making our environment safe and clean is also taking back the nutrients that are wasted to the places where food security is threatened.

‘We are going to enhance knowledge exchange and experience along the entire food and agriculture value chain to more effectively address challenges, scale innovation, and create economic return and sustainable jobs,’ said Modi.

Vulindlela Ward 1 Councillor and Head of Department for UMDM’s Economic Development Programme Ms Jabu Ngcobo highlighted the potential of the project to solve many problems the Municipality was facing and its potential to contribute throughout the UMDM.

Professor Six thanked the DVC and UKZN for the enthusiasm shown, and described the project background and goals, explaining that the meeting would involve hearing from participants about how they envisioned their contributions.

Delegates participated in a social network survey and worked on exercises that included participatory systems mapping. Delegates also had the opportunity to pose questions to project leaders and outline priorities for the project.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod