Enhancing food security for the urban poor is the focus of a new R24 million, five-year project led by the Department of Environmental and Geographical Studies (ENGEO), in partnership with Queen's University, Canada.
UCT and Queen's were one of only four successful applicants in the recent Canadian University Partners in Cooperation and Development (UPCD) competition, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.
The application was led by UCT's Professor Sue Parnell and Professor Jonathan Crush of the Southern African Research centre at Queen's University, an honorary professor at UCT.
The Canadian-funded project will establish the Programme in Urban Food Security (PUFS) in ENGEO, with links to other units such as the African Centre for Cities.
Food security is commonly defined as the ability to secure an adequate daily supply of food that is affordable, nutritious, hygienic and culturally-appropriate, and involves the reliable and sustainable production, procurement, distribution and consumption of goods.
"Dramatic urban growth, the 'feminisation' of poverty and the region's vulnerability to natural hazards mean that urban food security is no longer assured in many African countries," said Canadian project co-ordinator Dr Bruce Frayne.
"While urban food security is a growing challenge in the context of rapid urbanisation and rising poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has heightened food insecurity, created newly-vulnerable populations and reduced the capacity of poor households to secure sustainable livelihoods. The concentration of poverty and HIV/AIDS in the same vulnerable urban households underpins a vicious cycle of food insecurity."
The link to HIV/AIDS is significant, says Frayne. Southern Africa is home to 70% of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Of the 10 countries with HIV prevalence rates of over 20%, six are in Southern Africa.
Poverty, HIV/AIDS and food insecurity are all concentrated in informal and peri-urban sections of both primary and secondary cities of Southern Africa. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is consistently higher in urban than rural areas across the region.
Frayne says infection rates are now twice as high in the former, and young urban women are disproportionately affected by the disease.
"Within cities, the rates are considerably higher among poor, informal and mobile populations. The additional burden of HIV/AIDS in the cities has meant that the health and life expectancy of poor residents, especially women, is further compromised."
The project aims to enhance the ability of key institutions and agents to facilitate urban food security and its impact on HIV/AIDS-vulnerability in 11 cities across Southern Africa: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Windhoek, Maseru, Manzini, Gabarone, Lusaka, Harare, Blantyre and Maputo.
In addition to raising awareness of the issues among the population through a range of media products over the next five years, the project aims to enhance capacity through applied research and training at four levels: university faculty, postgraduate students, urban managers and other professionals, and civil society change agents.
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