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20 July 2018 Photo Leonie Bolleurs
Research informs about sustainable use of fresh water for food production
Conducting research on the topic of water-footprint assessment, are from the left: Dr Enoch Owusu-Sekyere, Dr Henry Jordaan, study leader and Senior Lecturer in the UFS Department of Agricultural Economics, Dr Frikkie Maré (Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics), and Adetoso Adetoro.

The fact that South Africa is a water-scarce country has been highlighted during the past couple of years, and even city dwellers were suddenly very aware of the drought due to the strict water restrictions. These are the words of Dr Frikkie Maré, Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of the Free State (UFS) and one of the graduates who received his PhD on water-footprint assessment studies at the recent June 2018 graduations.

The department is currently involved in various water-footprint and water-management research projects which assist in providing solutions for better water management in the future. “As department, we want to be at the forefront of research that will assist all agricultural producers with sustainable production practices to ensure economic, environmental, and social sustainable food and fibre products for the society at large,” said Dr Maré.

Research funded by Water Research Commission

The UFS recently conferred two PhD degrees (Drs Enoch Owusu-Sekyere and Frikkie Maré) and one master’s degree (Adetoso Adetoro) in the Department of Agricultural Economics. All three have been working in the field of water-footprint assessment. The research formed part of two different projects that were initiated and funded by the Water Research Commission.

According to Dr Henry Jordaan, Senior Lecturer in this department, four of his students already received their master’s degrees on the topic of water-footprint assessment, while two students are busy with PhDs and three more are working on their master’s degrees.

Topic gains momentum in research community
The water-footprint concept serves as a useful indicator to sensitise society about the impact of the food we eat on scarce freshwater resources – from agricultural producers using water to produce primary food crops and products on the farm, to the end consumer buying the food products in the retail store in town.

“Water-footprint assessment is a relatively new field aimed at informing the sustainable use of fresh water for food production. This topic is gaining momentum in the research community, given the substantial increase in the global population in the context of freshwater resources that is getting increasingly scarce. The challenge is to feed the growing population while still using the scarce freshwater resources sustainably.

Volume of water used to produce food

“In order to inform water users on how to use the resource sustainably, it is important to know the volume of water that was used to produce the required food products. Through our research, we are contributing to this knowledge by assessing the volume of water that was used to produce selected products, and to interpret the water use in the context of water availability to gain insight into the degree of sustainability with which the resource is used. The results are expected to inform water users, water managers, and policy makers regarding the sustainable use of fresh water for food production,” said Dr Jordaan.

News Archive

The state of HIV/AIDS at the UFS
2010-05-11

“The University of the Free State (UFS) remains concerned about the threat of HIV/AIDS and will not become complacent in its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS by preventing new infections”, states Ms Estelle Heideman, Manager of the Kovsies HIV/AIDS Centre at the UFS.

She was responding to the results of a study that was done at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in 2008. The survey was initiated by Higher Education AIDS (HEAIDS) to establish the knowledge, attitudes, behaviours and practices (KABP) related to HIV and AIDS and to measure the HIV prevalence levels among staff and students. The primary aim of this research was to develop estimates for the sector.

The study populations consisted of students and employees from 21 HEIs in South Africa where contact teaching occurs. For the purpose of the cross-sectional study an ‘anonymous HIV survey with informed consent’ was used. The study comprised an HIV prevalence study, KABP survey, a qualitative study, and a risk assessment.

Each HEI was stratified by campus and faculty, whereupon clusters of students and staff were randomly selected. Self-administered questionnaires were used to obtain demographic, socio-economic and behavioural data. The HIV status of participants was determined by laboratory testing of dry blood spots obtained by finger pricks. The qualitative study consisted of focus group discussions and key informant interviews at each HEI.

Ethical approval was provided by the UFS Ethics Committee. Participation in all research was voluntary and written informed consent was obtained from all participants. Fieldwork for the study was conducted between September 2008 and February 2009.

A total of 1 004 people participated at the UFS, including the Main and the Qwaqwa campuses, comprising 659 students, 85 academic staff and 256 administration/service staff. The overall response rate was 75,6%.

The main findings of the study were:

HIV prevalence among students was 3,5%, 0% among academics, 1,3% among administrative staff, and 12,4% among service staff. “This might not be a true reflection of the actual prevalence of HIV at the UFS, as the sample was relatively small,” said Heideman. However, she went on to say that if we really want to show our commitment towards fighting this disease at our institution a number of problem areas should be addressed:

  • Around half of all students under the age of 20 have had sex before and this increased to almost three-quarters of students older than 20.

     
  • The majority of staff and a third of students had ever been tested for HIV.

     
  • More than 50% of students drink more than once per week and 44% of students reported being drunk in the past month. Qualitative data suggests that binge drinking over weekends and at campus ‘bashes’ is an area of concern.

Recommendations of the study:

  • Emphasis should be on increased knowledge of sexual risk behaviours, in particular those involving a high turnover of sexual partners and multiple sexual partnerships. Among students, emphasis should further be placed on staying HIV negative throughout university study.

     
  • The distribution of condoms on all campuses should be expanded, systematised and monitored. If resistance is encountered, attempts should be made to engage and educate dissenting institutional members about the importance of condom use in HIV prevention.

     
  • The relationship between alcohol misuse and pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS needs to be made known, and there should be a drive to curb high levels of student drinking, promote non-alcohol oriented forms of recreation, and improve regulation of alcohol consumption at university-sponsored “bashes”.

     
  • There is need to reach out to students and staff who have undergone HIV testing and who know their HIV status, but do not access or benefit from support services. Because many HIV-positive students and staff are not receiving any kind of support, resources should be directed towards the development of HIV care services, including support groups.

Says Heideman, “If we really want to prove that we are serious about an HIV/AIDS-free campus, these results are a good starting point. It definitely provides us with a strong basis from which to work.” Since the study was done in 2008 the UFS has committed itself to a more comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS. The current proposed ‘HIV/AIDS Institutional response and strategic plan’, builds and expands on work that has been done before, the lessons learned from previous interventions, and a thorough study of good practices at other universities.

Media Release
Issued by: Mangaliso Radebe
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2828
Cell: 078 460 3320
E-mail: radebemt@ufs.ac.za  
10 May 2010

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