Food security (FS) is widely recognized as a complex social problem. While there is broad agreement that FS involves ensuring that everyone has sufficient food for a healthy and productive life, now and in the future, research in the field encompasses a wide range of perspectives, objectives and methodologies. From an initial research focus on food production to ensure national food security, the field broadened to include factors affecting household and individual food security, food chain analysis and more recently, community food security. Issues related to environmental and social sustainability of the food system have also recently become more prominent in food security discourses.
Stellenbosch University (SU) has embarked on a Food Security Initiative (FSI) in which research focuses on some of the key areas surrounding food security. Working with a range of stakeholders, FSI adopts a multi-method approach to gain a better understanding of factors that affect food security in the context of changing bio-physical, economic, and socio-political conditions. The vision of the initiative is to contribute to the emergence of a resilient, sustainable food system in Southern Africa, by conceptualizing the food security challenge, and creating new models of practice in the food system, through the integration of findings from in-depth research on key issues in the food value chain, collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, capacity building, and systematic impact assessment.
The FSI vision statement is in line with the University’s 2012 vision as well as the Millennium Development Goals. The FSI currently consists of nine broad projects with several sub-projects focusing on a range of topics. Five faculties, Agrisciences, Engineering, Health Sciences, Science, and Social Sciences currently participate. The historical, geographical and agricultural history lends the University to research that has a strong focus on agricultural production and managing production losses (specifically horticulture, wheat, grapes and wine as well as various meats and meat products); land and labour relations; logistics in the farm to fork chain; and complex community dynamics and experiences and how these affect food and nutrition security. The challenge is how the FSI can ensure that these specific contributions do not remain isolated projects, but also advance the discourse on food security, and influence food security policy and practice, as anticipated in the FSI vision statement.
We propose a three-pronged approach. If adopted, the current research program will require some modification to accommodate the proposed conceptual development, review and documentation activities. The different facets are considered important in order to understand the challenges to FS in our region but also to think through conceptual frameworks and so consider how thinking should evolve.
Firstly, the FSI would contribute significantly to the field of food security research and action by creating and maintaining a database/repository on both published and unpublished work on food security in South and Southern Africa. The database/ repository would be further enhanced through the regular publication of systematic reviews of the evidence base for various components of the research agenda.
Secondly, and building on initial collaboration among universities in the Western Cape, FSI should implement a collaborative process to develop a framework for a food security research agenda for the Western Cape, and eventually add to other work for South and Southern Africa. This process would use the emerging framework, conclusions and recommendations from major regional and national food security initiatives (including the HSRC Food security programme, the Southern African Food Security Change Lab, and the Food Security Pillar of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Process [CAADP] process in SADC) and outcomes of the FSI research projects.
Thirdly, the FSI can contribute significantly to the global discourse by cataloging and categorizing the various theoretical perspectives, conceptual frameworks and methodological approaches applied to food security, in order to develop a meta-perspective on food security. Insights from complexity theory, transdisciplinarity and integral theory can be used to inform this process.
Using the three pronged approach the FSI can align with other researchers working in the area and international researchers who have a keen interest in research topics that are pertinent to understanding the root causes of food insecurity in the Western Cape and how these fit into the causes for South and Southern Africa. This will involve aligning with regional networks (SADC and NEPAD) and has already involved working with the other Universities in the Cape.
The FSI, being research based, aims to identify key research questions to maintain relevance and applicability. We will do this through ongoing analysis of research work and outcomes relating to the food security research questions on which we focus, identifying new research questions as we do this. We envisage that this will be done by identifying students to undertake reviews of such work. As a research lead initiative we seek to be evidence based and thus will work towards non-bias work that will genuinely help towards answering some of the key research questions surrounding food security.