School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Professor Joyce Chitja, Director of UKZN’s African Centre for Food Security.

UKZN to Contribute Food Security Expertise to International Collaboration

UKZN is one of 18 partners that comprise the African Research Universities Alliance Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems (ARUA-SFS) which has developed a successful proposal for an Africa-Europe Cluster of Research Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems to promote a new approach to equitable research collaboration.

At a summit in Brussels, the Vice-Chancellors and Presidents of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (The Guild) launched 17 Clusters of Research Excellence (CoREs).

These clusters bring together distinguished researchers from universities and institutes in Africa and Europe, ARUA, The Guild and beyond to contribute to transformed collaborative research where equity and inclusiveness are preconditions for excellent, impactful research to address societal challenges. This unique research partnership will usher in a new era of collaboration between Africa and Europe in research, innovation, and Higher Education.

Each CoRE addresses a key societal challenge, framed by the African Union-European Union Innovation Agenda that forms part of the Global Gateway Strategy. Local perspectives provide context for scientific and societal research to enhance the impact of the research.

A statement from The Guild notes: ‘The Africa-Europe CoRE will thus develop new research paradigms and transform our joint capacities to overcome major health challenges, address climate change, strengthen our technological transformations, and sustain our societies facing conflict and change. They will help ensure that a common research agenda is at the heart of the African Union’s Africa 2063 strategy which envisages Africa’s transformation to a knowledge society.’

The ARUA-SFS Centre of Excellence is hosted at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and the University of Bologna in Italy and includes partner universities and organisations in South Africa, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Kenya, Ghana, Slovenia, Uganda, and France. It aims to address the challenges that food production systems will face in enhancing sustainability and will ultimately contribute to innovation in African and European food systems.

UKZN’s African Centre of Food Security (ACFS) will lead contributions from the University, which will also benefit from the CoREs’ research and capacity-building activities.

The clusters were developed from the bottom up, with researchers identifying and formulating interdisciplinary visions in response to society’s most pressing needs. They arise from the context of the research and innovation sectors in Africa and Europe supporting the development of equitable and sustainable science collaboration and the need for integrated approaches that prioritise excellence and capacity-building. The aim is to initiate dialogue with policymakers and funders on pioneering solutions and opportunities for investment in societal transformation. ARUA and The Guild were impressed by the proposal’s academic vision, clear institutional commitment, and the quality of the partners.

To combat the inequity that characterised research related to Africa and affected global scientific progress, institutions have made long-term commitments to support the clusters, and researchers are committed to transforming Africa’s capacity for knowledge production by focusing on training young researchers and facilitating their contributions to global science on the continent while also building capacity in high-level research infrastructure.

The ARUA-SFS was described as a remarkable coalition of academic and non-academic partners to address the central issue of sustainable food systems and to build capacity.

‘This is a key opportunity for the ARUA-SFS to join forces with strategic partners and work together on achieving development targets, in particular the elimination of hunger and malnutrition in our lifetime,’ said Professor Frans Swanepoel, Interim Director of the ARUA-SFS at the University of Pretoria.

Director of the ACFS Professor Joyce Chitja said the Centre, along with the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) and the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) contributes to food systems research. The ACFS has a long history of teaching, research, and community engagement in food security and food systems research which prompted this invitation to collaborate.

Chitja acknowledged CAES Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Fhatuwani Mudau, Dean of Research Professor Neil Koorbanally, and UKZN Vice-Chancellor Professor Nana Poku for their support and endorsement.

‘The ACFS has produced excellent research and graduates across the continent and beyond and its work has always been of a collaborative nature due to the complexity of food and nutrition security. We look forward to this great opportunity of collaborating with ARUA-SFC on the complex yet important issue of sustainable food systems for now and in the future,’ said Chitja.

‘As UKZN and the CAES, we are proud to be part of this significant project,’ said Mudau.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod