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The History of the African Centre for Food Security

The African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) was first conceived of in the late 1990s following UKZN staff members' attendance at a conference in Zambia on the topic of Food Security. Inspired by discussions at the conference, around 20 staff members began to explore the possibility of launching a programme focused on Food Security capacity-building and research at UKZN. 

 

Prof Sheryl Hendriks

These discussions came at a time when interest in the topic of Food Security was gaining traction in the media and literature, precipitating the need for a multi-disciplinary academic response to questions being asked about how to tackle challenges related to Food Security. With issues of hunger and malnutrition on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa, combined with the effects of a changing climate and a growing population, the staff designed a programme that would provide multi-disciplinary training on the topic, with a three-year trial programme commencing in 2000. 

Professor Sheryl Hendriks, then a lecturer from the Community Resources programme, initiated the development of the ACFS and led the Centre until departing in 2010 for the University of Pretoria, where she now heads up the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-Being. Other academics who played an integral role in the development of the Centre's academic programme included Professor Mike Lyne, Professor Gerald Ortmann, Professor Ignatius Nsahlai, Dr Philip Copeland, Dr Fiona Ross, Marie Paterson, Professor Maryann Green, Professor Eleni Maunder, Professor Neil Ferguson and Professor Rob Gous. Professor Ayalneh Bogale led the Centre after Professor Hendriks' departure, and left the University in 2013 to take up a position with the African Union's Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture in Addis Ababa.

 

The Director post in the ACFS remained vacant until February 2016, when Professor Steve Worth was appointed to the post of Associate Professor of Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management and Director of ACFS.

With the registration and training of its first students from 2001, the ACFS graduated the first person in the world to hold a postgraduate Diploma and later Master of Agriculture in Food Security, Likeleli Makhotla from Lesotho. In 2008, Dr Samuel Chingondale and Dr Joyce Thamanga-Chitja became the world's first PhD graduates in Food Security.

The programme was officially designated a Centre in 2006 and increased its training activities to upskill students in the field of Food Security. It offers postgraduate training in Food Security, with a one-year postgraduate Diploma in Food Security on offer, as well as Masters and PhD qualification.

The modules offered by the ACFS were audited and approved by the SADC Regional Food Security Training Programme Accreditation Committee in 2005. Of the three identified institutions known to offer Food Security-related training (the University of Lesotho and Eduardo Mondale University being the other two), the UKZN programme was the only one offering a dedicated programme and modules in Food Security.

With the phasing out of the Community Resource Management Programme in 2008 following Professor Maryann Green's retirement, elements of the training it had provided were absorbed into Food Security and related programmes in the School. A third year module from the programme was taken over by Food Security and enabled them to introduce undergraduates to issues of Food Security.  

Dr Joyce Chitja

Staff members from the Community Resource Management Programme also joined Food Security, one of them being Dr Unathi Kolanisi, who was part of the UKZN family from 2006 until she departed in late 2015 to take up an Associate Professorship post at the University of Zululand.

The ACFS was endorsed by NEPAD as the lead agency in its Pillar III Food Security activities of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and received formal recognition as the SADC Regional Centre of Excellence for Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis. It is also the only facility in the world to offer transdisciplinary training and named degrees in the field of food security.

The ACFS has led, together with CILSS from West Africa, the development of the AU/NEPAD Framework for African Food Security, a continental policy framework for addressing hunger and malnutrition in Africa through African led-initiatives.

In 2011 the ACFS signed an MoU with 5 other universities in the region and began offering its popular short course on Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment to build capacity in the CAADP region.

In 2005 regional partners were sought as the demand for training and research for vulnerability assessment and analysis as demand was far greater than any one institution could absorb. Collaborating colleagues include staff at: Bunda Colllege of Agriculture (University of Malawi), Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania) and Makarere University (Uganda) and Maseno University in Kenya and a continually growing network of African institutions.

The ACFS continues to strive to engage with local and regional partners, and works with key partners and funders like the KwaZulu-Natal Treasury. Its international partners include Cornell University's International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, from whence a delegation of staff and students have visited every year since 2012.

The ACFS has graduated 20 postgraduate Diploma students, 22 Masters students and 4 PhD students since 2002; in 2014 alone 10 MSc students graduated from the ACFS, demonstrating the growing student numbers.


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