Our Programmes

Tags: food security, food system, agro-foods, agriculture, food politics, food governance, consumption, malnutrition, fortification, Food safety, food policy, social grants

Research Focus

Following our establishment in 2014, we adopted an approach of targeted food security research to address the key constraints in the South African development context.  Between 2015 and 2016 we concentrated on forming an integrated research framework, moulding the initial identified key focus areas into more focussed, prioritised programmes. From 2017 - 2019, we will continue to focus on the causes (determinants), context (status quo, situation and experience of people) and consequences (impact) of food security for poor and vulnerable populations in a changing food system, and in the face of the triple burden of malnutrition and that of poverty, inequality and unemployment. We will also research the systemic and structural factors that shape food access, dietary choice, and health and nutrition outcomes, as well as the role of the survival and food security strategies, choices and decisions of poor and vulnerable people. Furthermore, we will investigate the coherence of current policy concerning food security, and the capacity to govern inter-sectoral challenges in comprehensive and coordinated ways. Finally, we will develop opportunities to contribute towards improved food security through innovation.

To address the above named issues, our research is organised through Six core Programmes that can vary in scope and complexity. In addition to the six Programmes that are directly funded by the NRF, our research also include a Programme on the Humanities and Food Insecurity funded by the Mellon Foundation, and a South Africa/United Kingdom Bilateral Research Chair in Social Protection for Food Security funded by the Newton Fund and the NRF.

The areas of research informing the focus of our work are:


Programme 1: Understanding the National and Global Food System - SYSTEMS  

South African finance corporations have moved rapidly into the agricultural sector, getting directly involved in the ownership and control of agro-food companies and firms. This contributes to the reshaping of mega-farms and other segments of agro-food value chains as investment opportunities for institutional investors. This programme is concerned with the structure, dynamics and influences on the South African food system and how this is changing.

The Programme Principal Investigator(s) for this programme are:

Programme 2: Innovation and Technology for Enterprise Development - INNOVATION

The focus of this programme is to investigate the organisational and technological innovation of food systems in terms of food production and processing required to maintain and improve livelihoods through enterprise development for food security. The nature of the problem is complex and requires a trans-disciplinary approach. The technological transformation for enterprise development should impact positively on environmental, economic, social and nutritional health.

The Programme Principal Investigator(s) for this programme are:

Programme 3: Food safety hazards that affect food security - SAFETY

South Africa does not have a national food safety authority, and this complicates effective regulation and control. If food, and particularly fresh produce, is not handled, stored, distributed and prepared correctly, it can become contaminated with microbial pathogens, it will deteriorate in quality and nutritional value, rot and no longer be fit for human consumption. This, in essence, will contribute to food waste and contribute to food insecurity. Therefore assuring safe quality food for all is an integral part of any national food security programme. 

The Programme Principal Investigator for this programme is:

Programme 4: Shelves, Baskets and Plates - PLATES

This programme investigates the dietary intake of poor and vulnerable South Africans, tracking the trends, drivers and trajectories of this intake.  It examines the differing contexts within which food is consumed and details the food environments that shape food preferences and choices. The Programme will also identify and evaluate the strategies employed by the poor and vulnerable to survive and thrive while also seeking to meet their food and nutrition requirements.

The Programme Principal Investigator(s) for this programme are:

Programme 5: Persistence of Child Malnutrition in South Africa - CHILDREN

 The prevalence of some micronutrient deficiencies has improved, but not to the levels that would be expected given both South Africa’s wealth and the introduction of fortification and supplementation programmes. In addition, overweight and obesity has emerged as a concern among children of primary-school-age, along with worrisome trends in associated non-communicable diseases (NCD) in early childhood. This programme seeks to identify trends, determinants and consequences of food insecurity for mothers and children in South Africa, as well as propose policy and innovative solutions to address these challenges.

The Programme Principal Investigator for this programme is:

Programme 6: Food Governance and Policy Reform - POLICY

To make an impact on the future food security in South Africa, the CoE needs to be actively engaged in the facilitation of dialogue that not only informs policy making with the research we have done but also helps shape the research of the CoE. This will serve as a two-way interaction between researchers and policy makers. To acheive this, the POLICY Programme has been established as both a programme of action research and serves as our Knowledge Brokerage platform.

The Programme Principal Investigator for this programme are:

Programme 7: The Symbolic Construction of Food Consumption in the Context of Food Insecurity - SYMBOLS

This programme contributes to one of the three core research questions addressed by the CoE, namely: “Who are the ‘food insecure’, where are they located, what are their choices, strategies and opportunities when seeking food security, health, and well-being and how do these change in response to the changing food system?” The core intuition of this Project is that the consumption of food is situated within the social construction of reality and that cultural and religious symbols inevitable construct and distort the ways in which food is selected, prepared and consumed.

The Programme Principal Investigator for this programme is:

Programme 8: Food Politics and Cultures: Humanities Approaches to Food - POLITICS

This Programme explores human relationships to food, the power dynamics around food production and access and the meanings that food acquires in particular cultural and social contexts. The Programme initially focused on research community building at the national and international levels. Platforms for driving this included the setting up of a website and the organisation of colloquia.

The Programme Principal Investigator for this programme is:  

Programme 9: Social Protection for Food Security  - SARChI

One in five children display stunted growth. Yet since South Africa's democratic transition in 1994, social protection programmes have increased dramatically. Given this context, this programme will interrogate why South Africa’s comprehensive social protection system is not making a much more significant contribution to the eradication of food insecurity and hunger, and to identify how this contribution can be enhanced.

The Programme Principal Investigator for this programme is: