The University of Venda (UNIVEN), World Food Programme (WFP) and Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (LDARD) jointly hosted a Food Security Information Day under the theme ‘Fighting hunger through rural transformation’. The event was recently held at the UNIVEN Sport Hall where smallholder farmers were given an opportunity to display and sell their fresh and processed produce. Stalls were set up outside though they extended all the way into the foyer of the Sport Hall. The major highlight of the day was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UNIVEN and the WFP.
The Acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Agriculture Prof Jude Julius Owuor Odhiambo was the Programme Director during this event. He stressed that the Information Day was organised to showcase the interrelated roles that the university plays and establish how, collaborating with other key players, it could contribute to the attainment of food security in our country.
Dr Tiwonge Machiwenyika delivered the keynote address on behalf of the World Food Programme Regional Director for Southern Africa. He revealed that it was an immense privilege for the WFP to partner with UNIVEN, which was celebrating its 40th birthday. He highlighted that the event presented the WFP with a rare opportunity to discuss with UNIVEN, which is rural area-based, and work together to address the food and nutrition security threats facing Southern Africa. “Food production is one of the most important challenges for everyone.” This challenge is partly due to the fact that there has never been much progress in addressing the nagging issue of land availability. Africa is the biggest continent in the world and should be making land readily available for farmers. As Africans, we need to address our challenges. We need to be determined in dealing with hunger within our continent. Food security is everyone’s business. Over the last year, the WFP had the opportunity to meet key stakeholders to discuss the issue of food security.”
Welcoming guests during the briefing session, the UNIVEN Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni reiterated UNIVEN’s deep commitment to dealing with sustainability issues. “As a University, we assume relevance when our work impacts communities and societies positively.” Dr Nthambeleni noted that the theme of the Food Security Information Day was well aligned with what UNIVEN does on a daily basis. “The University belongs to the communities. Let us work together to change the dire situation our people find themselves in,” he added.
Cllr Avhashoni Tshifhango, representing Vhembe District Municipality, said the District and Local Municipalities were prepared to work hard to make land available for those who want to cultivate it. This would enable local people to effectively fight poverty. Cllr Tshifhango said the Covid-19 pandemic, which worsened food scarcity, affected every country in the world. He indicated that the war between Ukraine and Russia made the situation even worse. “Today as we speak, food prices are extremely high due to sky-rocketing fuel prices caused by the war in Ukraine. We have many emerging farmers here who need support for them to produce better. They are doing a lot and we have to give them the necessary support. Entering the market is also another challenge that confronts smallholder farmers. The issue of water worsens the challenges that the farmers face.” Cllr Tshifhango promised that Municipalities would play their roles with the aim of ensuring that the challenges were addressed.
Mr Hlalanathi Fundzo, the Special Advisor to the WFP Director for the Southern African Region said that the World Food Programme wanted to make sure that everyone had enough food to eat every day. “No one should go to bed hungry. That is why we are partnering with UNIVEN to address the challenge of food scarcity. We are here to make sure that we reinforce harmony as we confront hunger.” He called for research and technology that boost the production of food.
Mr Tshianeo Mathidi, the Chairperson of the Vhembe District Farmers Association, expressed the view that the information day was an incredibly significant milestone. However, he revealed that water and land scarcity were twin challenges that continued to hamper farming. As he delivered his message of support, Mr Mathidi noted the need for the government to make sure that it availed land to those who wanted to farm. “Also, as farmers, we need water, there is no farming that can be successfully conducted without water. Nowadays, we cannot rely on rain because of climate change. Due to climate change, we need to change the kind of crops that we are growing. Without support, farming will be difficult for farmers. We really need both the government and community to support us,” he emphasised.
Presenting the context of food and nutrition security in Limpopo Province, Mr ML Mariba, the Acting Vhembe District Director, LDARD explained that food security only existed when everyone had all the means to access food. As the LDARD, “We are more focused on water saving technology that is needed to boost production. We strive to use less water and produce more food. We need academics to come to the party and assist in addressing the challenges that farmers face on daily basis. We are moving towards the times when everything becomes digitised. We are confident that through partnerships like this, these challenges will be addressed.”
Ms Mulalo Maumela, the Deputy Chairperson of the UNIVEN Postgraduate Studies Committee, delivered a message of support. She applauded the birth of the partnership between UNIVEN and WFP, indicating that it was an important achievement because of its potential to assist farmers to produce more food and give them access to markets. She stressed the importance of strengthening research in efforts to address the challenges that farmers continued to face. “Postgraduate students must be given opportunities to contribute solutions to food and nutrition insecurity through research that leads to action.”
Prof Nosisi Feza, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Postgraduate Studies, was elated to see such a broad range of people and organisations gathering to develop mechanisms aimed at addressing food security. Noting that food scarcity was a global challenge, she pointed out that “We need to produce quality food. This region produces a lot of food. It is important to make sure that what we produce is quality because of health challenges that the world is facing. Let us fight for quality rather than focusing on just quantity.”
Ms Sephiwe Lubisi, representing the Directorate of Legal Services at the University of Venda facilitated the signing of the MoU.
The Director of Community Engagement at UNIVEN, Prof Vhonani Netshandama, delivered the vote of thanks. She indicated that the signing of the MoU excited her especially in light of the fact that UNIVEN was striving to enhance its relevance and have impact in society. In this regard, it was crucial for UNIVEN and the WFP to work together to finding solutions to the numerous challenges that smallholder farmers, most of whom operating in the deep rural areas of Southern Africa, face.
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Date: 18 November 2022