25 June 2021 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Supplied
UFS Food Environment Office - Improving student well-being through collaborative food provisioning initiatives.

Food insecurity plagues students across universities worldwide, and the University of the Free State (UFS) is not exempt from this plight, with research findings indicating that more than 64% of students at the university go through periods of hunger each year.

In conjunction with national Youth Month this year, the UFS reflects on the initiatives established by the university to address food insecurity across the Bloemfontein, South, and Qwaqwa campuses to help care for and support young people for the duration of their academic careers.

UFS Food Environment Office 

Annelize Visagie from the Division of Student Affairs (DSA), who is heading the Food Environment Office at the UFS, stated that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with Tiger Brands and Gift of the Givers last year to sponsor food parcels to students who do not have bursaries every month. Visagie further explained that UFS staff members are working hard to implement initiatives and obtain sponsorships – such as the one with Tiger Brands and Gift of the Givers – as well as food donations to ensure that students do not go hungry.

In a study that Visagie conducted in 2019 with first-year students as the focus, it was found that academic performance declines and coping mechanisms increase as the severity of food insecurity increases.

“Students use different coping mechanisms, with an alarming 40,6% of them resorting to fasting as an excuse to friends for not having food. Sixty percent of them skip meals because they do not have enough money, and 43,2% of them are too embarrassed to ask for help,” explained Visagie. 

 Various factors contribute to this scenario, with the main reason being that most students come from impoverished economic and social circumstances. This suggests that although students may receive NSFAS funding or any other bursary, it is not a guarantee that they are food secure.

UFS Food Insecurity Support initiatives

There are many students who lack adequate financial support to sustain them through their academic careers at university. 

The UFS No Student Hungry (NSH) Programme under the UFS Division of Student Affairs (DSA) provides students in need with modest food allowances and daily access to one balanced meal. Students are selected in terms of financial need, participation in student life, and a commitment to giving back to the community. The programme allows students to focus on their studies without worrying about their next meal – increasing their chances to excel academically and ultimately obtain their degrees. 

According to Dr WP Wahl, Head of Student Life in the DSA, the division encourages innovation to meet the challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition among students. Several student volunteers and student governance structures are collaborating with the DSA on various initiatives. 

Students from residences and other student communities have planted vegetable gardens on the Bloemfontein Campus with the assistance of KovsieACT and the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, where students and staff continuously harvest and distribute vegetables to needy students on a weekly basis.  The construction of these gardens was financed by a collaboration with Tiger Brands and Siyakhana Food Gardens, who have assisted with the training of students and consultation throughout the project.

The continuation of the food parcel project and other support initiatives facilitated by the Food Environment Office thrive through collaborations with businesses, NPOs, UFS students, and DSA staff to address food insecurity and malnutrition among students. Staff and students are encouraged to contribute by also collecting non-perishable food items for the UFS Food Environment Office.

To apply for support, or to contribute, contact the Food Environment Office or Annelize Visagie

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