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Research grant will help to alleviate food insecurity
Author: Sue Segar
Published: 11/06/2020

​The Division of Human Nutrition recently received a R7 million grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF) which will bring together a wide range of researchers who are working on food insecurity in South Africa.

Professor Xikombiso Mbhenyane, head of the Division of Human Nutrition and Research Chair in Food Environments, Nutrition and Health, said the grant, which will run over two years, will enable the researchers to engage, compare notes and identify gaps in research and to collaborate on other issues relating to food insecurity.

Mbhenyane said food insecurity in a country is largely addressed through the implementation of strong, informed government policies and programmes. She said she hopes that, through bringing diverse researchers together, their work can assist and inform the government in its planning and policy making.

“The awarding of this grant was excellent news for us and for all researchers working in food insecurity in the country. We were elated when we heard we had received it," Mbhenyane said. “We put our proposal together in a relatively short period of time!

“The solution for food insecurity must be addressed through government programmes and policies, so whatever we come up with, we will advise the governing authorities on how to address food insecurity.

“As we know, one of the key focus areas for the National Development Plan is the elimination of food insecurity. There are many research activities taking place to address food insecurity in the country but we all deal with different populations to try and understand what is taking place on the ground. We hope to cover all the geographical areas of the country.

“What this Community of Practice grant does is bring together all the researchers in the country who are busy with food insecurity research so that we can compare notes and identify gaps."

Mbhenyane said some of the funding will be used for actual research, mainly through funding students' projects – “but the bulk will be spent on scientific engagement, including workshops, bringing people together, including principal investigators and their students working on the projects.

“We are already planning four science engagement workshops in 2020. We'll also be zooming in a lot on climate change and now on the consequences of Covid-19 in relation to food insecurity."

Mbhenyane said, in putting the grant to use, one of her key goals is to develop capacity. “I hope through this project that, among other things, we can produce useful knowledge on how to eliminate food insecurity – and that we can also train emerging researchers in the field of food insecurity.

She said that, having trained as a dietician and then working as a clinician she realized that “healthiness starts in the household".

“This boils down to how well people eat. For me, it's about how can I contribute to ensure that food is accessible to all people. In the context of SA, we've always known as nutritionists that there is enough food in the country to feed the nation. Even if we did not import food, we would have sufficient to feed 51 million people but food is not accessible due to social disparities. The issue is how do we, as researchers, advise the authorities on how to facilitate access to food. That's what we hope to achieve by means of this grant."

Photo credit: Damien Schumann