Woman standing in front of banner
‘We are born farm workers – we know how to work on the farms, how to produce food and how to send it to market’ - Bettie Fortuin, a farm worker speaking at the Future of Farm Workers Conference. ©

Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies

10 November 2020

Today is World Science Day for Peace and Development

World Science Day for Peace and Development is marked on 10 November every year to highlight the crucial role of science in society and to highlight the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives, including how we can make our societies more sustainable.

We look at a current UK-South Africa Newton Fund research project that addresses a pressing global sustainability issue: food security.

Eradicating hunger and malnutrition are among the great challenges of our time. Not only do the consequences of not enough – or the wrong – food cause suffering and poor health, they also slow progress in many other areas of development like education and employment.

Supporting sustainability in South Africa through the Newton Fund 

The UK-South Africa Newton Fund is a partnership administered by South Africa’s Department for Science and Innovation and the UK’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Based around a matched funding model, the UK-South Africa Newton Fund has already seen a co-investment of £30 million since its launch in 2014 and has identified priority areas for funding including food security, as well as related areas including environment, climate change and health.

Despite a comprehensive social protection system, many South Africans experience poverty and food insecurity with 11 percent of the population - 6.5 million people - suffering from hunger in 2019 (source: Statistics South Africa). Very little is known about seasonal hunger in South Africa, or about the food security and nutritional status of farm workers.

Addressing food security in South Africa

A UK-South Africa research team supported by the Newton Fund and delivered by the British Council addresses the issue of food insecurity in South Africa – and is expanding knowledge on food insecurity in the South Africa population as well as helping to inform policy at the national level. 

Professor Stephen Devereux leads the UK-South Africa Bilateral Research Chair on Social Protection for Food Security at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. His research team undertook a study into the state of food security among the farm worker communities in the previously unexplored Northern Cape province, involving the monthly monitoring of three food security indicators, with a sample of 195 female farm workers in the province.

The researchers learned that many people in this group find themselves unemployed from April to August - the South African winter season - during which very little agricultural activity takes place, and the farm workers do not receive unemployment benefits.

Seasonal food insecurity is experienced by the farm workers due to a lack of income, rather than a lack of access to food items, and revealed their need to employ coping strategies to deal with intensified food insecurity during winter such as borrowing food, or borrowing money to buy food, and limiting food intake.

These research findings address a significant gap in academic research and development policy and has led the team to call for forms of social protection for farm workers - essential for sustaining those growing South Africa’s food and export produce.

The research is also giving a platform for representatives from the farming communities to share their experiences with academics and policymakers at the national level: farmers involved in the study were invited to join researchers at the national Future of Farm Workers Conference 2019 to feed into the wider national-level dialogue in the field of food security, including farm worker legislation and labour rights.

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Bettie Fortuin addressing delegates at the Future of Farm Workers Conference 2019 

The value and contribution of this research was recognised by being shortlisted for the annual Newton Prize which celebrates pioneering research and innovations that come from international partnerships, with each project helping to solve global development challenges.

‘Professor Stephen Devereaux’s Newton Fund Research Chair in Food Security is a great example of a UK and South Africa research collaboration that is shaping policy and practice to address food insecurity issues affecting farm workers. We’re delighted to support research that is making a real impact and contributing towards a more sustainable South Africa.’
Meekness Lunga, Science Programme Manager, British Council South Africa

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