Hunger is once more on the rise globally after having been kept in check for many years. An estimated 720–811 million people – around one in 10 – were undernourished in 2020, up from 607 million in 2014. More than one in five children under five years old suffered from stunted growth because of a lack of adequate nutrition in 2020.
According to the South African Child Gauge 2020 on food and nutrition security, published by the UCT Children’s Institute, one-third of the country’s children live in households that can’t afford to buy enough food to meet their minimum energy needs. And the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will only exacerbate this already deepening crisis.
Aid to agriculture in developing countries has fallen dramatically. In Africa, this is happening in the face of predicted longer and more frequent droughts caused by global warming.
The interdisciplinary African Centre for Cities (ACC) at UCT has a cluster that works on projects related to food and nutrition security and food systems governance in cities in the Global South. These include the Hungry Cities Partnership, the Consuming Urban Poverty Project and the Nourished Child project. Dr Gareth Haysom and Dr Jane Battersby work closely with local and provincial government and United Nations agencies to embed food security within the urban policy and planning agenda.
Water scarcity is an increasing challenge to agriculture: UCT’s Plant Stress Lab is internationally recognised for its work on how certain plants manage to adapt and even thrive in dry conditions. By studying the mechanisms that these resurrection plants use to survive, researchers aim to introduce the same genetic characteristics into crops for improved drought tolerance and ultimately food security in the face of climate change, notably in Africa.
Other food security initiatives at UCT include postgraduate research in partnership with the Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign to strengthen localised food systems embedded in soil diversity, thereby cultivating nutritious food and fostering social wellbeing.