The ACFS has made it its vision to be the premier institution providing scholarship and leadership in understanding and monitoring and responding to the multi-faceted issue of Food Security in Africa.
The ACFS focuses on both its capacity-building and research into the arena of Food Security, and to guide its work uses an expanded Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) definition of Food Security as
“the physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food by all Africans, at all times, to meet their dietary and food preferences for a healthy life and productive life”.
Capacity-building and research is built around trans-disciplinary engagement between various sciences for new and innovative questions and solutions to be pursued for the betterment of the human condition. Through this continual renewal of scientific knowledge and competencies, the ACFS is producing scholars to lead the charge of improving Food Security across the continent.
The current mission of the ACFS is to facilitate and conduct professional training and trans-disciplinary research, and - through targeted information dissemination and informed advocacy - to support and sustain a critical mass of personnel.
The ACFS also works to maintain a network of collaborating institutions and organisations equipped to lead effective vulnerability policy and practice across the sub-continent.
Challenges still faced by the ACFS include disruptions in leadership and staff shortages. Additionally, the ACFS hopes to be able to, at some point, be able to introduce taught courses at Masters of Science and PhD level; currently taught courses are aimed at the postgraduate Diploma and Masters of Agriculture levels. The introduction of an Honours degree is also a challenge the Centre looks set to tackle; since there is currently no undergraduate qualification in Food Security this is not yet on offer. Staff in the Centre would also like to see increased options for its students to take modules offered by other disciplines.
As with most research Centres, funding is always a challenge that remains at the forefront of running a Centre, so staff remain on the lookout for opportunities to resource their work through funding partnerships.
The ACFS' key activities are capacity-building and research, both of which are carried out in a number of ways.
Training in capacity-building involves the teaching of key skills and competencies necessary for practitioners and policy-makers involved in vulnerability assessment, analysis, policy making and impact assessment. The Centre covers aspects from food production, availability, access and utilisation at national and household levels, to social protection opportunities, food rights and policy.
The qualifications offered by the ACFS are approved by the South African Qualifications Authority and are subject to regular internal reviews and audits to ensure quality standards are maintained.
In total, the qualifications offered by the Centre are: annual continued professional development short courses, a postgraduate Diploma at 4th year level, coursework Masters degrees (M Agric, MSc Agric and MSc Food Security) and PhD programmes. Students entering Food Security programmes have primarily scientific or agricultural undergraduate backgrounds, however there have been graduates from the Social Sciences who have enrolled in Food Security programmes.
Although in existence for a relatively short time, the programme and Centre has already qualified 46 students with degree qualifications and 21 through short courses, and provided elective modules for a range of other programmes. Students come from a variety of academic, research, public service and civil society organisations, and a growing proportion hail from other parts of Africa. By 2009, 36 students from 16 African countries (South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Sudan and Eritrea, to name a few) had enrolled for one or other of the postgraduate qualifications on offer.
In keeping with the trans-disciplinary ACFS approach, curricula are designed to expose learners to the vast array of complex and interrelated causes and symptoms of vulnerability while building on disciplinary knowledge. Trans-disciplinary education focuses on themes, topics, and issues typically assessed through summative active learning applications that promote higher-order critical thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, application and evaluation).
Each module is divided into logical, coherent, interrelated, iterative units, with very clear structures and explicit learning outcomes. This guides learners through exploration of the complex relationships between influencing factors in economic, social, natural, physical and human environments, empowering them to identify practical, sustainable opportunities for livelihood development and practical solutions to Food Security-related problems.
Students are drawn from various international agencies, Universities, Ministries and Departments of Agriculture, NGOs, CBOs, and National Research Institutions.
These students have either continued with their studies or have returned to various international agencies or government and non-governmental institutions. The research carried out by students covers a broad spectrum, illustrating the Centre's academic relevance to vulnerability assessment and analysis, social protection and the geographical coverage in research.
Flexible block module delivery and digital modules enable students to return to their countries and complete modules, assignments and research projects at their home institutions.
The ACFS has also prepared three modules for the international EC-FAO ‘Food Security Information for Action Programme’
. They include two lessons on vulnerability assessment and indicators for vulnerability measurement and the material forms the basis for short courses in vulnerability analysis. The third lesson contributed by ACFS focuses on community-based Food Security analysis. This lesson includes numerous examples of participatory tools and methodologies with which the ACFS has experimented. The Centre has tested the EC-FAO modules as part of the Masters programme's Measures and Monitoring module.
Other sectors and organisations also utilise the ACFS' offerings: the South African National Department of Agriculture’s Directorate for Food Security and Rural Development sent their entire staff complement on a short course in 2007, while the Directors of Southern Sudan’s Food Security Directorate attended the ACFS annual short course in 2008. Members of the SADC National Vulnerability Assessment Committees attended modules in 2008. The ACFS has also been approached by the Human Sciences Research Council to collaborate on vulnerability training for end and intermediate users of the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS). A group of Municipal and District Managers from Sekhukhuneland participated in a module with ACFS students in 2007.
The ACFS conducts important research in addition to its capacity-building.
The Centre focuses on evidence-based trans-disciplinary research towards practical solutions to food insecurity in Africa, including research into coping strategies, household food insecurity vulnerability, and resilience in relation to agricultural growth and economic development.
This work has significantly influenced Food Security analysis and policy development at continental level through bridging the divide between national assessments, understanding household dynamics and shifting the focus from price and nutrition indicator measurement to recognition that vulnerability to food security is an outcome of household coping behavior.
Staff and students in the ACFS have also examined the impact of agricultural growth on individual household member nutrition to determine whether broader economic development benefits individuals.
Another key area of research is the evaluation of Food Security interventions and impact on vulnerability, including assessment of seed and starter packs, community gardens, poultry projects, social grants, savings clubs and food aid.
Additional areas of research include assessment of malnutrition, comparison of vulnerability measures, experience of hunger, effect of seasonality on food consumption, coping strategies, consumption behaviour, social security, information systems, land issues, supply chains, horizontal and vertical co-risk behaviour, and production and storage practices.
Public Policy and Community Engagement
Community engagement is a critical element of trans-disciplinary research., with many research problems initiated by way of community engagement.
Until the demise of CAADP Pillar Institutions in 2011, the most exciting opportunities have been provided to UKZN and ACFS staff through the Centre's nomination as the AU/NEPAD lead institution for the CAADP Pillar III activities and policy development. The ACFS collaborated with the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Relief in the Sahel (CILSS) in West Africa on the CAADP Pillar III activities and networks of regional institutions to support the CAADP Country Round Table processes. The Centre has led the development of the CAADP Framework for African Food Security (FAFS), the only continentally agreed-upon plan of action internationally.
Staff members have participated in numerous missions to foreign countries and Development Agencies, consultation meetings and NEPAD meetings across the continent and globe. The Centre was also selected as the SADC Centre of Excellence for Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis in November 2006.
A variety of approaches have been used and experimented with, including participatory methodologies such as the development of a Livelihoods-based Participatory Analysis (LiPA) Manual. These in turn inform and strengthen teaching.
This kind of methodology provides an active and empowering dialogue for stakeholders to identify the vulnerable, review the effectiveness of current programmes and policies, and design effective integrated and comprehensive food security programmes in line with CAADP’s FAFS principles and objectives. The methodology employs various participatory tools that allow the very people targeted by development programmes to participate in development planning. The methodology has evolved through teaching and development of the ACFS Livelihoods Opportunities module (FDCS755) that involves the participation of community members such as local NGOs and Community-Based Organisations.