- IOL News
Food security and socio-economic development: revisiting investment in agricultural research and development (South Africa)
The economic and agricultural landscape in southern Africa has undergone considerable change in the past few decades All countries in this region have experienced robust economic growth and improvement in human development indices, reducing poverty and malnutrition to a great extent. Yet, it remains home to sizeable proportion of the population’s poor and malnourished people. Eleven out of the 14 southern African countries (this excludes the island states of Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar), under the auspices of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have an estimated 130 million people inhabiting an area of about 555 million hectares, thus giving a population density of 23.5 people per square kilometre. The population places an enormous burden on the relatively small and declining natural and agricultural resource base. Dealing with such issues reminds one of Thomas Malthus’s (1766-1834) hypothesis. It postulates that a rapidly growing population will inevitably outstrip any society’s capacity to produce enough food. This will result in mass starvation and human misery. Though humanity has been largely able to avert the doomsday prediction, thanks to the development of modern cutting-edge agricultural research and development and technologies, increasing hunger and malnutrition remain a stark reality especially in resource-poor countries like some in southern Africa, where 34% (44.8 million people) of the population suffers from food insecurity, according to a recent SADC report. Food insecurity increased by 10% in the region last year compared to the previous year, largely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change-induced change, conflict (collapsed governance) and economic challenges. Despite agriculture playing an important role in the SADC economy, with most inhabitants depending on agriculture as their main source of livelihood, accounting for about 8% of the regional GDP, government expenditure on agricultural research and development remains shockingly low in most countries. The threatening situation of hunger and food insecurity is farther compounded by poor agricultural infrastructure, inappropriate use of resources, and inadequate investment in agricultural research and development. Though southern Africa has more technical and scientific expertise in research and development than before, the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition indicates that there is plenty of room to improve.
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2. The Source
Africa Initiative awards new round of pilot grants (Africa)
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to curtail nonessential travel, it hasn’t tamped down interest in interdisciplinary partnerships involving Washington University in St. Louis faculty and their colleagues across the globe. Case in point: the university’s Africa Initiative recently received more than two-dozen proposals from faculty as part of its call for proposals to fund research projects on the continent. The applicant pool was so robust, the Institute for Public Health and the McDonnell International Scholars Academy boosted the number of awards available from three to eight. “The level of interest in the Africa Initiative pilot grant program this year was very high, as was the quality of projects,” said Kurt Dirks, vice chancellor for international affairs and director of the McDonnell Academy. “While the pandemic created a temporary hurdle to international collaboration, the need for the research and the interest remained unchanged. Our faculty remain eager to partner with scholars around the globe to make important discoveries. We were pleased to award funding to faculty projects engaging collaborators in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda, and we look forward to seeing the results of these partnerships come to fruition.” The Africa Initiative funded a total of eight projects involving five countries on the continent: Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. The grants, provided with support from Nestle Purina, will fund earlystage projects designed to build new collaborations with African institutions and their faculty. Winning proposals came from Arts & Sciences, the Brown School, the McKelvey School of Engineering, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the School of Medicine. All of the projects are interdisciplinary and address wide-ranging social and medical issues, from health literacy during the pandemic to gender-based violence to reducing dangerous human-wildlife interactions. Krista Milich, assistant professor of biological anthropology in Arts & Sciences, and Penina Acayo Laker, assistant professor at the Sam Fox School, are collaborating with colleagues at Makerere University in Uganda to launch a community-based design research project in partnership with people who live near Kibale National Park. Their goal is to craft messages and symbols that will reinforce positive and safe human-wildlife interactions. “The importance of collaborative research opportunities in Africa is obvious,” Milich said. “Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is part of a continuum of increasing rates of emerging infectious diseases of zoonotic origin, I would like to think that the whole world now recognizes the need for these types of collaborations — the importance of working together to create conditions in which there are reduced interactions between humans and wildlife and better communication about how to achieve those goals. “Unfortunately, I think despite the global attention to this pandemic, that message has not been articulated well to the public, so I’m thrilled to be working with Penina Acayo Laker on this project and to learn these types of health communication skills from her.” To see a full list of the funded pilot projects and for more information about them, visit the university’s global website.
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