Two UP researchers receive R5,6m in grants to aid research into improving food security and nutrition

Posted on April 16, 2021

Two University of Pretoria (UP) researchers have received grants of up to $200 000 (R2,8m) each from the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP), as part of the Partnerships for Innovative Research in Africa (PIRA) grant programme.

Professor Eugénie Kayitesi and Dr Farai Kapfudzaruwa are the principal investigators in two research projects that are being funded by PIRA, a tiered funding opportunity designed to cultivate and support multidirectional and transregional research partnerships that are focused on impacting lives and livelihoods in Africa and beyond. One of the unique aspects to these grants is the expectation that organisations will establish and develop equitable partnerships from the conception to the closeout of the project among themselves and with relevant local stakeholders.

Prof Kayitesi, an Associate Professor from the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences in the Faculty of Natural & Agricultural Sciences (NAS) at UP, will lead an investigation that looks into the nutrient deficiencies (iron and vitamin A, and protein) of at-risk populations in South Africa, Jamaica and the USA through the formulation of innovative nutrient dense composite flours. The funding for the project is over a period of 18 months.

“This project involves innovations around use of common and recognisable food crops such as dry beans, maize, cassava and vitamin A bio-fortified sweet potato to create products with improved nutritional and health promoting properties,” Prof Kayitesi explained.

Titled Novel Composite Flours for Globally Nutritious Foods, the research project will be tackled by the team, made up of researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) in the USA and University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica as well as the University of Pretoria.

Prof Kayitesi added that she is excited to continue this research, as it deals with malnutrition. “Many communities worldwide suffer high rates of malnutrition, especially among children, while diet- related chronic non-communicable diseases have become a common phenomenon in developed countries. In each of our partner countries, there is limited availability of economical, nutrient-dense flours for small- to medium-scale food manufacturers,” she said.

“The subsequent unavailability of affordable, nutrient-rich, convenient foods for low- and medium-income urban consumers may contribute to malnutrition. It is therefore important to use sustainable and easily accessible (economically and physically) food crops, already in use by the target population, to produce nutritionally-enhanced foods. As a result, this project will present possible solutions for these challenges, thus contributing to nutrition and food security.”

Dr Kapfudzaruwa, Post-doctoral Fellow: Future Africa at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) at UP, will lead a project titled Implementing an Africa-Asia Business Partnership Forum using Trans-Local Networks and Transdisciplinary Approaches to Support Capacity Development of African Entrepreneurs and New Collaborative Business Ventures that will establish an Africa-Asia Business Partnership Forum by developing a trans-local network of African and Japanese entrepreneurs, researchers, policymakers, business, civil society and local communities utilising a combination of interactive workshops and two case study "living labs”.

“These labs will do the following: Firstly, provide regular opportunities and platforms for young African and Asian entrepreneurs to interact with and learn from experts and leaders engaged in various types of Africa-Asia partnership exchanges; secondly, promote co-innovation of new collaborative business ventures; and thirdly, make room to evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency and validity of trans-local approaches,” Dr Kapfudzaruwa explained.

The project’s funding is for a period of two years and will bring together researchers from the Michigan State University in the US and Akita International University in Japan. Dr Kapfudzaruwa said this project had an important role to play because it critiques the developmental approach in Africa.

“Firstly, the project critiques the developmental and industrialisation approach in Africa, which is often aligned to Western Europe and North America. Instead, it sheds light on the relevance or applicability of Asia’s recent industrial development experience to Africa’s alternative development paths. The project also integrates development approaches linked to "translative adaptation" models underpinned by an innovative blending and integration of Asian development models into home-grown and African-centred solutions,” he said.

Professor Anton Ströh, Vice-Principal: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Education, responsible for the operational leadership of institutional planning, monitoring and evaluation, said he is pleased to see the university’s aim of producing research that matters come to life.

“The subject matter of both these research groups’ deals with issues that affect society intimately. I am pleased to see that our researchers will be at the helm of such important work, and also pleased with the AAP’s decision to support them. We wish them well as they undertake this task,” Prof Ströh said.

The Alliance for African Partnership (AAP) has awarded $1,5m (R21,2m) in grants to 11 research teams from AAP member universities together with allied research teams from non-AAP universities. The projects will begin in July 2021.

- Author Masego Panyane
Published by Xolani Mathibela

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