School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi.

Our Food. Our Heritage. Our Health

As the latest presenter in the popular “What Do Scientists Do” series hosted online by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, food security specialist, Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi discussed how increasing the production of indigenous crops could aid in the alleviation of hunger.

Mabhaudhi is an Honorary Research Fellow and Co-Director of the Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) at UKZN, and an Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia.

Mabhaudhi’s work entails research development, capacity building, civil society, academia, the public and private sectors as well as building partnerships with various communities. The water-energy-food nexus, global environmental change as well as sustainable and resilient food systems are the subjects of his multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. His objective is to conduct dynamic, transformative research and development that has real-world effects on poor communities and informs policy.

During his presentation, Mabhaudhi suggested a variety of indigenous crops that can be consumed as alternatives to the three mainstream carbohydrate crops, namely maize, wheat and rice. High on his list were millets (a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses), sorghum (an ancient cereal), bambara groundnut (a legume), teff (a self-fertilised tropical cereal), cowpea (an annual herb), lablab (an annual legume), sweet potato, taro (a herbaceous perennial herb), marama bean (a perennial legume), amaranth (an annual C4 spreading plant), spider plant (a C4 annual herb), jute mallow, and nightshade (an annual herbaceous plant). He spoke about the nutritional benefits of these plants, their ability to withstand climate change, their abundance in different nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and the fact that some of them are gluten-free.

Mabhaudhi said the main difficulty that South Africans faced, particularly those in rural regions, was exposing the larger population to traditional food sources and educating them on recipes that can be used with these crops. The crops are currently classified as superfoods in Europe and Mabhaudhi hopes that ‘we will not only be able to export them to Europe, but also take pride in our history and food, which is as diverse as we are as a country.’

Mabhaudhi pointed out that these crops have long been a part of traditional culture. ‘They are a component of both our landscape and who we are,’ he said. ‘The reason why we don’t employ them to address hunger issues therefore becomes the question. Why not utilise them to combat malnutrition in areas where poor food security and climate change exist as part of our climate change adaptation strategy?

‘Poverty can undoubtedly be solved once we value and support the local farmers who grow these foods. The main reason they are not an instant replacement at the moment is the low levels of production.’

Mabhaudhi’s presentation outlined a number of growth opportunities in the agricultural, business and educational sectors. ‘We must cooperate in order to make use of all of these opportunities for the benefit of our society as a whole,’ he concluded.

Words: Cindy Chamane

Photograph: Supplied