University of Pretoria: Striving to Feed 10 Billion People by 2050

Posted on December 05, 2019

One year ago United Nations Academic Impact announced the inauguration of the UNAI SDG Hubs, UNAI member institutions selected as exemplars for their innovative scholarship and engagement related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who serve as resources for best practices for the UNAI network, currently composed of over 1 400 universities and colleges in more than 130 countries.

On the anniversary of the programme launch, we’re taking this opportunity to check in with some of the hub schools to highlight their scholarship and activities over the past twelve months and look ahead to future initiatives. The second school profiled in our anniversary series is the University of Pretoria (South Africa), hub for SDG 2: No Hunger.   

The University of Pretoria (UP) is committed to conducting research and training that advances and supports the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While UP hosts the UN Academic Impact Hub on SDG 2, much of the research and innovations tackle multiple SDGs simultaneously.  Since 1930, the university has been conducting impactful research that aims to provide food sustainably. Our research includes fundamental science, embracing new technologies and conserving Africa’s rich biodiversity.

UP’s research inspires hope that we can meet the food needs of future generations. The university produces research that is innovative and inclusive, but our work does not end there. Through our partnerships with various international, continental and national networks, we aim to put this research into the hands of people who can use it to make an impact.

A breeding project by the Department of Animal and Wildlife Sciences to produce cattle that were efficient and effective was started in the 1930s. The Bonsmara has now become the breed of choice in South African beef production. Our Department of Plant and Soil Sciences is researching the potential of vertical farming using 25 square meters to grow over 1500 plants at a time. This aeroponic technology uses ten times less land (SDG 15) to produce nutritious food (SDG 2). The Department of Consumer Science contributes to research that aims to end hunger and malnutrition (SDG 2) by relying on indigenous food that is readily available and can withstand drought.

Informing national, continental and global development

The Department of Agriculture Economics, Extension and Rural Development has contributed to the increased capacity of African policymakers in agriculture through its training. Direct support is also extended to national governments through capacity strengthening programmes, inputs into policy process and the development of tools to support policymaking. The research work cuts across issues of poverty (SDG 1), gender equality (SDG 5), climate action (SDG 13) and inclusive, sustainable partnerships for development (SDG 17).

In the spirit of leaving no one behind, our Faculty of Education continues to showcase and advance research that draws on the capacities of African communities to drive economic, social and rural development. Similarly, for more than ten years the Centre for Resilience Studies has researched community cohesion and capabilities for improving well-being (SDG 3) through school gardens (SDG 2 and 4).

At a national level, a transdisciplinary team from the University of Pretoria supported the development of the South African SDG report. The report, launched in September 2019, at a side event at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), highlights South Africa’s progress on the SDGs and indicates areas requiring increased attention. UP also hosts the South African SDG Hub which connects policymakers with the research needed to meet the SDGs.

Many of our staff participate in international platforms where they inform national and continental development agendas. Professor Rashid Hassan has and continues to serve as a member of many international and national boards and science councils including the United States Academy of Science, the United Nations Committee on World Food Security High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) on Food Security and Climate Change, and the United Nations Committee for Development Policy (CDP). His participation in these and several other capacities has contributed to informing key global environmental and development initiatives and processes including the sustainable development agenda. Dr Moraka Makhura led the development of the Committee on World Food Security’s High-Level Panel of Experts Report on Multi-Stakeholder partnerships to finance and improve food security and nutrition in the framework of the 2030 Agenda. Professor Sheryl Hendriks continues to participate in the Malabo Montpellier Panel, which provides policy guidance and support to African countries, showcasing success stories for other countries to consider.

Training and Collaboration

The University of Pretoria offers a transdisciplinary Masters in Development Practice programme focused on building the leadership competencies needed to achieve the SDGs. Also, for the third consecutive year, students from UP were selected to participate in the 2019 UNLEASH programme. UNLEASH is a global innovation lab, aimed at bringing together specialists from around the world to identify solutions to addressing the SDGs.

UP collaborates with partners from across the world to develop innovations. For example, the collaboration with the Virtual Irrigation Academy investigates irrigation technologies. The research includes trails of the use of the Chameleon Sensor, a clever invention that helps farmers decide when to irrigate their crops. This technology improves food production (SDG 2), water usage (SDG 6) and incomes (SDG 1). As part of the Africa Australia University Network (AAUN), UP collaborates with the University of Nairobi, the University of Ibadan and University of Western Sydney to develop technologies that aim to improve people’s diets. Through this collaboration, the Ustawi mobile app was designed to combat hidden hunger (SDG 2).

The Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE) – hosted by the University of the Western Cape and co-hosted by UP – is a virtual organisation that brings together expertise from South African and international institutions across various disciplines. UP also hosts the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) Centre of Excellence (ACoE) in Food Security which aims to create a network of talented researchers to move institutions forward in pursuit of ending hunger and malnutrition. ARUA’s Director, Professor Hettie Schönfeldt, has been involved in the development of the West and East African Food Composition Tables.


Transporting UP into Future Africa

In the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, UP has almost completed the construction of a state-of-the-art engineering 4.0 building, which will host the first independent transport reference and testing facility. This facility will take students, particularly in civil engineering training, out of the classroom and enable them to put into practice theoretical aspects of their training. The research possibilities of this facility offer innovations for connecting people to food that is often wasted.

The Future Africa campus, launched in March 2019, provides a platform for bringing together African researchers to conduct transdisciplinary research that aims to achieve the Africa we want. The Future Africa academic programme is built on the recognition that finding effective solutions to Africa’s complex challenges requires converging approaches, and the integration of knowledge from the life, physical, social, and economic sciences, and engineering (SDG 17). Future Africa will foster the development of science leaders and provide links for them to research networks across the continent and the world, enabling an exchange of ideas, the building of partnerships, and the development of relevant sustainable research programmes.

The challenge of feeding 10 billion people by 2050 is formidable, but the University of Pretoria is providing a platform for research, innovations and partnerships that will make this possible.

This article was first published on the United Nations Academic Impact website.

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