Page 99 - University of Pretoria RESEARCH REVIEW 2016
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Food must be affordable, available, nutritious and safe for all – this
is a basic human right.
Professor Lise Korsten, Professor of Plant Pathology at UP, and Co-Director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, comments that food security and safety can only be addressed through
a structured approach that targets different operational levels in both the formal and informal sectors. The rapid and accurate identification and characterisation of foodborne pathogens throughout the supply chain, and the subsequent source-tracking in the water-plant-human nexus, form the core of her research programme. This is one of the flagship programmes at UP, and of the Centre of Excellence.
Despite global efforts to increase food production, and to reduce waste and losses, the UN Food
and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates
that approximately 795 million people still suffer from hunger, and more than two billion from micronutrient deficiencies or forms of over- nourishment. Most people will also experience, at least once in their lifetime, a foodborne disease, and one in 10 will fall seriously ill while 420 000 will die annually. The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about one-third of the 51 million deaths worldwide results from infectious and parasitic diseases. This, according to the WHO, is the global burden of foodborne diseases.
The risk of foodborne diseases is most severe in low- and middle-income countries and is directly linked to contaminated irrigation water; inadequate growing conditions or practices in food production, storage and distribution systems; the preparation of food with unsafe water; poor personal hygiene and lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or its implementation. Food safety, nutrition and food security are therefore inextricably linked and require multidisciplinary approaches to attain meaningful solutions.
Globally, the increase in antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms is one of the emerging ‘hot topics’ according to the WHO and has been included in
the Plant Health and Food Safety research programme of Professor Korsten. Her research, and that of her postgraduate students, has attracted significant external funding, notably from the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); and partnerships with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Water Research Commission (WRC) in South Africa.
Professor Korsten emphasises
that Africa’s agenda and the
global vision to make agriculture and food systems sustainable, as expressed in several recent global and regional frameworks, will require innovation and transformative changes in research and training, technology transfer, policy and governance.
One of the key focus areas in all these visions, frameworks and agendas is to develop the
policies, mechanisms and actions that will lead to
the assurance that food will be safe, despite the many challenges. In the commercial agriculture
and the formal food sector there is a plethora of legislation that relies too often on self-regulated food safety standards, while a major gap exists in the unregulated informal sector, especially in developing regions and rural areas.
The DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) is jointly hosted by the University of Pretoria and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). The Centre is a virtual organisation that brings together the expertise of numerous South African and international institutions, and over 100 researchers across several disciplines. Since its establishment in 2014, a targeted approach to food security research has been followed within six priority research areas. An integrated framework has also made possible a continued focus on the causes, contexts and consequences of food insecurity, especially for poor and vulnerable populations in a changing food system.
The CoE-FS is led by Professor Julian May (Director) who is based at UWC, and Professor Lise Korsten (Interim Co-Director) at UP.
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