IEE Newsletter No. 25

EUSA_ID: Experiences from a one-year research and teaching mobility in Cape Town, South Africa

Anne Siebert shares her impressions from a field research and teaching mobility at the Institute for Social Development at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in Cape Town. From 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016 Anne was granted an EUSA_ID scholarship for her stay in South Africa. During this period, she conducted research for her PhD project on urban agriculture and food sovereignty. Moreover, she was involved in teaching activities within the MADM programme and presented her intermediary results at conferences.

Delving into the South African food sovereignty context

In my PhD project, 'Food Sovereignty Initiatives in Ghana and South Africa: Policy Implications and Impacts in Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture,' I aim to critically evaluate the integration of innovative gardening movements in the urban food system and their engagement with the concept of food sovereignty. Particularly South Africa provides an extraordinary case amongst developing and transition countries facing many challenges in the food system. For instance, the country is confronted with a growing double burden of malnutrition, facing stunning overweight and undernutrition rates at the same time. While supermarkets are increasingly penetrating poorer neighbourhoods, high and volatile food prices from a concentrated food industry have made decent and healthy nutrition unaffordable for many. In this context, I am interested in the role, goals, and motivations of urban food movements in transforming the existing food system. In my South African case study, I focus on the initiative 'Food and Fynbos', which is active in George in the Western Cape. Thus, I spent about half of my research period in Cape Town and the other half in George. There, I conducted expert interviews with members of the initiative and representatives of the agriculture department, the municipality, and local and national NGOs. To get deeper insight into the situation in the involved, mostly marginalised, communities, I ran focus group discussions in the township of Thembalethu.
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With some participants of one of the focus group discussions and the facilitator, Eunice Hlahla Nduwimana, local community development worker (next to Anne on the right side), in Thembalethu, George (photo: Siebert)
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Pumza Kumalo, a passionate gardener, coordinator of Food and Fynbos in Thembalethu, George, and one of Anne's interviewees (photo: Siebert)


Preliminary results show that efforts centred on the local level, such as building alternatives to an ever expanding food industry and bolstering local markets, practicing agroecology, and resuscitating local food cultures are growing. However, motivations of the members vary and do not always meet the idea of food sovereignty. While these kinds of initiatives in urban agriculture can address immediate needs and demonstrate tangible alternatives, they cannot replace more organised efforts and activism to turn the power of the state towards food sovereignty. I am thankful for the supervision of Prof Julian May at UWC, who also integrated my work in the project 'Low External Input Agriculture for Sustainable Food Production (LEISA)', part of the South African Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security and based at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in George. Being part of this project provided many opportunities to exchange knowledge with researchers working in a similar context.

Presenting intermediary results at international conferences

The EUSA_ID grant also provided a conference budget. Therefore, I took two opportunities to present my research at two high-level conferences. Firstly, while staying in Cape Town, I attended the World Nutrition Congress 'Knowledge, Policy, Action' in August. Topics highly relevant to my research, such as the 'rapid nutrition transition' and the 'double burden' of malnutrition in the Global South, were discussed extensively. Secondly, I was accepted for a talk in October at the Food Studies Conference at the University of Berkeley in California, USA. I travelled to San Francisco, exchanged ideas with scholars from various disciplines, and shared insights into the activities of food movements in South Africa.

Teaching and discovering community initiatives

Another part of my EUSA_ID stay was the teaching component at the University of the Western Cape. Together with DAAD representative, Stefan Buchholz, I lectured 'Social Science Perspectives on Development' in the MADM program. Furthermore, as most of the students were still new in Cape Town, we decided to spend some time together and visit two community initiatives in Khayelitsha, which is one of the biggest townships in South Africa.
EUSA-ID Anne3kleinFirst of all, we had the chance to meet the Iliso Care Society, gain insight into their work (youth development, soup kitchen etc.), and listen to their choir (picture on the right above: Listening to the Iliso Youth Choir at the Iliso Care Society with the MADM students in Khayelitsha, Cape Town; photo: Siebert).
Afterwards, we joined the event 'Dine with Khayelitsha' for some delicious local food at people's homes and thought-provoking chats with the founders of the project.

Outlook

Overall, the perceptions and information gathered during this field research period were highly valuable for my PhD project. After spending a year in South Africa, I have enhanced my intercultural experience and learned a lot about the country—different cultures, past and present social and economic situations—which helps greatly in placing my research in the broader picture of the country and understanding existing political dynamics. Many people I have met abroad contributed to these insightful and interesting experiences, for which I am very grateful.

SiebertDipl. Soz.-Wiss. Anne Siebert
Research Fellow
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