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Centres of Excellence

Food Security

The ACoE in Food Security is led by University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the University of Ghana, Legon and the University of Nairobi.

The African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence in Food Security (ACoE) brings together ARUA members from East, West and Southern Africa, and two historically disadvantaged South African universities as associate members (i.e. Universities of the Western Cape and Fort Hare), as well as a broader consortium of African and international partners working on food security research, policy and capacity development to exponentially increase the networks of each participating institution, and to maximise the translation of knowledge into impact at the grassroots and/or policy levels.

Partner Institutions and Collaborations

In addition to the academic partners, we believe it is necessary to engage with other entities who have a similar goal, but work in other spheres, to maximise the translation of knowledge into action, and ultimately impact. For this reason, the proposed ACoE will partner with several role players in research (South African Agricultural Research Council – ARC, French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, CIRAD), policy (Food and Natural Resources Policy Advocacy Network – FANRPAN, Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy – BFAP), gender (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development – AWARD) and capacity building (Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Africa – RUFORUM).

The Institute for Food Security, Nutrition and Wellbeing is an institute at the University of Pretoria (UP), and the University has wide-ranging expertise and research platforms focussing on food security and nutrition. UP also has two major initiatives that will enable the goals of the ARUA CoE to be realised: The Future Africa campus (to be opened in early 2019), which has Food Security as one of its Focus Areas, and a proposed ‘innovation corridor’ which aims to enhance collaboration between academia, industry and government, to stimulate the commercialisation and transfer of innovation (in all its forms) and to promote innovation driven socio-economic development.

Importantly, the University is co-host (along with the University of the Western Cape) to the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Food Security. This is a virtual Centre that brings together the expertise of numerous South African and international institutions, across various disciplines. The UNESCO Chair in African Food Systems (AFS) is hosted by the DST/NRF CoE in FS. In the context of the proposed ARUA CoE in Food Security, the UNESCO Chair can facilitate access to international funding, research and learning opportunities, and raise the international profile of the partner universities and our collaborators.

Similarly, our partner universities (within the ARUA network and South Africa) have a long-standing record of excellence in this domain of research and a set of complimentary networks – potentially expanding not only the quality of the science, but the reach of the impact.

Focus and Scope of Work

The ARUA CoE vision is to “Harness partnerships in research and innovation to drive agricultural and food system transformation to ensure sustainable food security and nutrition in Africa.

BROAD OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM: Food security and nutrition in Africa

African countries are confronted with a triple burden of malnutrition. This triple burden consists of (i) deficiency of macronutrients leading to malnutrition (ii) deficiency of micronutrients (iii) overweight and its associated diseases. Undernourishment in Africa remains high with 220 million Africans still estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger and 58 million children under five stunted. Although African countries may produce and import enough energy per person per day, energy alone does not ensure nourished communities. High intakes of low cost, low nutrient, higher energy staple foods contribute to malnutrition.  Additionally, food waste and loss reduce the availability of safe, and preferable foods.

Africa is also faced with the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.  In many African countries, large proportions of the population rely on agriculture not only for their food – but also for their livelihoods. A transformed agricultural and food system is thus a necessary condition for addressing this double-triple challenge. To accomplish this, there is an urgent need for a far greater focus on the full value-chain, from concept to commercialisation, effectively bridging the innovation chasm.  Such an approach requires the coordination of a range of stakeholders, including academics, indigenous knowledge holders, industry, science organisations and governments in Africa, to ensure progress. To address these challenges the ACoE will focus on four areas of research which maximise the intersection between institutional strengths and key opportunities for research.


A limited number of cross-cutting themes unify the agenda and ensure that the research is context-relevant. The cross-cutting themes for the proposed ARUA CoE (discussed below) are context-specific factors that are embedded in Africa’s future food security; they form the foundation, and inform the direction, of the identified research focus areas.

Transforming Africa’s agriculture and food systems.

Africa has been less successful than other regions in terms of the value it captures relative to the importance of agriculture to its economies. Research that is intended to have an impact on food security needs to have an overarching vision to catalyse the transformation of Africa’s agriculture and food systems.

Empowering vulnerable Groups.

Vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by malnutrition and at risk of food insecurity. Among these are smallholder farmers, landless agricultural workers and the urban poor. Within these vulnerable groups, children, the elderly and women are disproportionately affected. This has ethical and socio-economic consequences that affect individuals and communities. A truly sustainable, socially responsible food system cannot be achieved without taking into consideration the impact of the system on these vulnerable groups.

Food security and nutrition in cities and towns.

The share of Africans living in urban areas is projected to increase to 70% by 2050. When people move to urban areas, their consumption patterns change. Unless African food production adapts to changing consumption patterns, this shift will put pressure on the food system. These urbanisation patterns need to be understood in the context of Africa’s growing youth bulge, where the agriculture and food systems are teeming with opportunity for job creation for the youthful populace – this requires efforts to maximise these in an inclusive manner.

Harnessing big data and ICT.

Big data and smart-tech solutions are moving into agriculture in a rapid manner, offering high potential for unprecedented innovation. The “Internet of Things” is set to introduce disruptive innovations in all sectors, catalysing exponential increases in productivity and efficiency.  The ARUA CoE intends to explore how big data and ICTs can be positively engaged to transform the agricultural and foods sectors in Africa. The proposed ARUA CoE in Food Security is well-positioned to tackle these challenges in partnership with the Institute for Data Science and Big Data at UP.


The Focus Areas were selected based on the intersection between the scientific strengths of partner institutions and collaborators, the potential to undertake research projects based on 21st century science platforms and, the need to limit the scope of the research work to projects which address weaknesses in Africa’s agricultural and food systems.

01. Improve Africa’s herds

The purpose of this focus area is to protect Africa’s environment and wildlife heritage in a manner that addresses the interface between pastoralist communities and wildlife populations to contribute to food security and nutrition, as well as to livelihoods, with a strong One Health approach.

02. Unleash the potential of Africa’s crops

The purpose is to explore the soil-seed-water-plant-food-human health nexus to protect African crops, address the yield gap, reduce losses, enhance quality and secure safety of food.  The goal is to lead the revival of African underutilised crops through exploring the phyto-microbiomes and other novel innovative technologies to ensure future food for Africa.

03. Provide 21st century Africa with sufficient safe, nutritious, consumer-driven food

The purpose of this focus area is to explore the pathways to providing sufficient, safe, nutritious and consumer driven food to the populations of 21st century Africa. The objectives of the focus area are to design foods with local and indigenous African plants and animals that are affordable, marketable and convenient, nutrient dense rather than energy dense foods with extra health benefits, identify and implement appropriate food processing technologies for SMMEs to manufacture convenient African Foods and deliver nutrients of concern into policies and programmes to ensure that nutrient adequate foods are available, (culturally) acceptable, accessible and affordable to Africa’s population.

04. Inform evidence-led food policy

This focus area will concentrate on assessment of public policies related to the other three themes and their appropriateness to deliver on the overall vision of the ACoE to harness partnerships in research and innovation to drive agricultural and food system transformation to ensure sustainable food security and nutrition in Africa in line with the continental and national development policy aspirations. The research in this theme will produce (i) technical advice on policy issues such as technical working papers, journal articles based on single country cases and comparative analyses, policy briefs and (ii) educational resources for capacity development programmes.


The goals of the ACoE will fall into four broad categories as captured in the Table below.

Structure of the Centre of Excellence

The ARUA CoE in Food Security is physically hosted on the Future Africa campus at the University of Pretoria in collaboration with the Universities of Nairobi, Kenya and Ghana, Legon The ACoE is governed by a Steering Committee, which will have management and scientific subcommittees to guide the ACoE in the appropriate direction.

The UP-based leadership team forms part of the larger ACoE management committee, representing all three partner institutions. Under Professor Sibanda’s leadership, immediate priorities for the ACoE include the development of a five-year strategy and operational plan in collaboration with the Centre’s partners and to prepare for the upcoming ARUA-led review of its Centres of Excellence.

For more information please follow this link:


Prof. Frans Swanepoel
Interim Director ARUA Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems

Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee
Strategic Learning and Impact Lead