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26 February 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Vegetable tunnels
Two vegetable tunnels were recently established on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to contribute to the fight against food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a problem on university campuses worldwide. The three campuses of the University of the Free State (UFS) are not exempt from this plight. Research findings indicate that more than 64% of students at the university go through periods of hunger.

Annelize Visagie, , from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading the Food Environment Office at the UFS, confirms that food insecurity at higher education institutions is not a new phenomenon.

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

“Students use different coping mechanisms, with an alarming percentage of students (40,6%) using fasting as an excuse to friends for not having food, 60% of students skipping meals because they do not have enough money, and 43,2% of students being too embarrassed to ask for help.”

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

Focus on student wellbeing
Aligning with the UFS strategic goal of improving student success and wellbeing, UFS staff is working hard to implement initiatives and obtain sponsorships and food donations to ensure that students do not go hungry.

Members of the university’s Food Environment Project, Drs Johan van Niekerk and JW Swanepoel from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE), and Karen Scheepers from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading KovsieAct partnered to move the existing vegetable tunnels on the UFS experimental farm to the Bloemfontein Campus.

The construction of the tunnels and boxes was financed by Tiger Brands. Professor Michael Rudolph and Dr Evans Muchesa who are involved with the Siyakhana Food Gardens, assisted with the training of students and consultation throughout the project.

The two tunnels (30 m x 10 m each) are covered with netting, and two water tanks with pumps are fitted to provide the necessary irrigation.

Vegetables add value
Dr Swanepoel explains: “In each tunnel there are 20 raised wooden boxes. Each residence received one box where they planted one type of vegetable crop, including Swiss chard, cabbage, carrots, beet, kale, and broccoli.”

Residence Committee members from all on- and off-campus student communities in civic and social-responsibility portfolios, as well as civic and social-responsibility student associations, received the necessary training to plant vegetables.

The vegetables were planted in mid-February and the first harvest is expected around mid-April.

This initiative, which will help students in the near future to keep the hunger pangs at bay in a healthy way, adds to the existing No Student Hungry programme. Visagie says it is important for the university to assist students in making healthy choices and to educate them on decisions to secure nutritional food for themselves.

In addition, the university also received food parcels from Rise Against Hunger, together with donations from organisations such as Gift of the Givers – providing 200 food parcels to students on the Qwaqwa Campus, and the recent donation from Tiger Brands – providing 500 food parcels to students.

News Archive

A mind shift needed in agriculture in Africa
2010-12-02

Prof. Frans Swanepoel (Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development), Prof. Monty Jones, Prof. Driekie Hay (Vice-Rector: Teaching and Learning), Prof. Alice Pell (Cornell University, USA), and Prof. Izak Groenewald (Director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development) at the inaugural lecture of Prof. Jones as Professor Extraordinary. 
- Photo: Stephen Collett

Food stability is essential for stability in all countries around the world. Radical interventions, and not incremental changes, are necessary to end hunger and poverty in Africa, said Prof. Monty Jones, Professor Extraordinary in the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development at the University of the Free State (UFS), in his inaugural lecture.

Prof. Jones is Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and Chairperson of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR). In his lecture he focused on the contribution of agricultural research to development and food security in Sub- Saharan Africa.

He said Africa is not known for good politics to promote food production. Countries under invest in research, education, knowledge management, agriculture finance, etc. There is also uncertain and restricted access to land. He specially mentioned women’s access.

Sub- Sahara Africa moved from being a net exporter of food to a net importer of food (28%). “Government spending on agriculture and transport went down and stagnated. A mind shift is necessary. Africa has the resources. We must take advantage of the opportunities,” he said, and added: “Africa must create visionary and inspirational leaders and managers who can drive developmental issues.”

Prof. Jones emphasised that fact that nutritional security is just as important as food security. The number of hungry people has grown to more than a billion in 2009. Hunger is the most severe in the developing world, especially Africa. Added to this is Africa’s population growth that i s also higher than the rest of the world. It is estimated that the demand for food in Africa will double in the next 40 years.

“Research and development alone cannot win the war against hunger in Africa. Everyone has a role to play,” he said.
– Leatitia Pienaar.

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