Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi.

Mandela Day Lecture Celebrates Improving Community Nutrition

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The Water Research Commission (WRC) hosted UKZN Researcher and Co-Director of the Centre for Transformative Agricultural and Food Systems (CTAFS) Professor Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi for a lecture on: Living the Legacy of Nelson Mandela by Ensuring ‘One Hand Can Feed Another’ Through Improving Community Nutrition.

Opening the Mandela Day event, WRC’s Dr Luxon Nhamo said: ‘We like to remember the legacy of our icon Nelson Mandela through the work we are doing in communities through research,’ and he highlighted UKZN’s key role in working with the WRC to drive advancements in the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus research and community nutrition.

Mabhaudhi, who received UKZN’s 2020 Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award in recognition of his research achievements and international reputation, is an expert in crop ecophysiology and crop-climate modelling and has expanded his focus to multi and transdisciplinary research covering food systems, global environmental change and the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus.

In his work within CTAFS, Mabhaudhi has prioritised research and development that is dynamic, transformative, informs policy and achieves real-life impacts within poor communities. The work of the CTAFS formed the basis of his lecture.

‘This is some of our philosophy of what it means to live in community and work together to achieve food security,’ he said.

Mabhaudhi highlighted the assets South Africa has in the field of community nutrition which include its diverse cultures and rich tapestry of biodiversity to deliver on food and nutrition security.

In the context of several “wicked” and protracted problems such as severe inequality, unemployment, food insecurity and malnutrition, Mabhaudhi emphasised the importance of collaborative processes in addressing complex challenges, saying food and agriculture are at the heart of sustainable development.

‘The CTAFS vision is a fit-for-purpose, sustainable African food system based on her agrobiodiversity and people that celebrate Africa’s heritage, culture and dignity, led by African farmers, researchers and policy makers,’ he said.

Mabhaudhi noted that production systems moved away from diversity to narrow production to support societal changes such as colonisation and urbanisation, resulting in a loss of resilience and community structures.

Work underway at UKZN is exploring what is happening ecologically when there is a return to systems that include diverse, neglected and underutilised species (NUS), particularly benefits in terms of adapting to and mitigating climate change and in ensuring diverse sources of nutrients and livelihoods, especially for marginalised communities.

This research has uncovered evidence of biodiversity and locales that are available to be transformed for diverse food production by communities, with benefits for the environment and mechanisms to bring farmers closer to consumers and vice-versa, with the chief aim being to empower communities to produce their own food.

To this end, CTAFS seeks to deliver a hybrid kind of education and research to combine scientific methods and indigenous knowledge systems.

Mabhaudhi spoke of a hopeful future with positive outcomes, drawing on Africa’s rich heritage of culture and biodiversity to bring about sustainable community development as researchers apply themselves to developing transformative solutions, and as institutions shift their focus from silo thinking to collaborative cooperation while working to scale up successful interventions.

He concluded by reminding his audience of Nelson Mandela’s statement that: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.’

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Tony Carnie