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ICSS 2016 Sustainability Science to meet Africa’s challenges

ICSS 2016: Sustainability Science to meet Africa’s challenges

Sub-Sahara Africa contains extensive areas of land that could accommodate significant food crop production, yet at the same time, it’s the region that experiences the highest incidents of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity globally. 

That’s partly why the University of the Western Cape was proud to be one of the universities attending the 6th International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS 2016) from 2–3 March at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies.

Researchers from a range of institutions, including the Universities of Stellenbosch, Cape Town and the Witwatersrand, University of Botswana, University of Tokyo, Stockholm University, United Nations University, met to address the question: “How can Sustainability Science help tackle some of the pressing sustainability challenges that Africa is facing?”

UWC’s Professor Frans Swanepoel, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, delivered an overview on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Sub- Saharan Africa.

“Africa is the world’s most food insecure continent, with relatively low levels of agricultural productivity, low rural incomes, high rates of malnutrition, and a deteriorating food trade balance,” noted Prof Swanepoel. 

“Ironically Africa has sufficient land, water and human resources to be a sustainable contributor to the world’s food balance sheet, and to continue to contribute to the growing demand for food staples, higher value-added food crops and energy crops.”

Despite many long-term efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa, poverty still remains endemic and multi-dimensional in several of its regions. Similarly, while abundant land is allocated across Africa for large-scale agricultural production as a means of economic development, the continent yet registers some of the highest levels of undernourishment.

The conference comes as another way to address Goal 2 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. Delegates tackled topics like agriculture and food security, biodiversity conservation, urban sustainability, resource management, with a focus on mining resources, transdisciplinary research in the African context and green economic transitions in the African context.

These are only some of the multifaceted and intertwined sustainability challenges that Africa is currently facing – and will be facing for decades to come if urgent solutions to these challenges are not implemented.

Sustainability Science through its inter- and transdisciplinary focus, solution-oriented approach and ability to link social and ecological systems is well-positioned to lead the research agenda and to offer key insights to address these challenges. But current Sustainability Science approaches need to include African voices and perspectives if these challenges are to be tackled effectively.

In addition ten UWC postgrad students from the faculty of EMS and Science will form part of a symposium looking into food, water and energy nexus in Africa.