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5 October 2021
Africa trade agreement, food security, the role of innovation during a pandemic - all explored
Food security, the innovative ways in which the Research and Innovation division responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the contribution of the Faculty of Law to the fight against the pandemic, were some of the topics explored as part of the University of the Western Cape’s Research Week programme yesterday.

UWC Research Week is held annually and is hosted by the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation.

During yesterday’s discussions, Prof Tinashe Kondo, a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, spoke about 'Sustainable African Investment Governance', along with the need to rethink sustainable investment governance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Phase II negotiations for the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) investment protocol. South Africa, which is a member of the African Union, has endorsed the negotiations along with 54 other African countries. 

Investment agreements like AfCFTA are aimed at increasing Foreign Direct Investment and will cover legal aspects regarding “investment, intellectual property (IP) rights and competition policy”. 

“Foreign Direct Investment involves inter alia mergers and acquisitions, building new facilities, reinvesting profits earned from overseas companies and intra company loans. Multinational companies have played a big role in ensuring the movement of FDI, however, there have been questions about the contribution of the companies, with many claiming that they do little to improve the communities they operate in and repatriate profits to their home countries.”

The expectation is that the AfCFTA will not only contribute to sustainability, as business practices, supply chains and pricing will come under scrutiny. In addition it can impact on Africa’s ability to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production.
While the introduction of the AfCFTA was scheduled for 1 July this year, the pandemic has caused many delays. 

“COVID-19 has increased inequality, as it hit those that were at the bottom of the barrel. It has also reduced economic growth in many countries as governments reprioritised spending and consumers became conservative in their spending,” he said. 

However, Dr Kondo said that it is believed that the agreement will also help the continent deal with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by stimulating economic growth, “reducing inequalities - in particular gender inequality by providing more opportunities to women” - and ensuring socially responsible production and trade.

Prof Julian May, the Director of the Centre of Excellence in Food Security at UWC, presented an overview of the centre’s objectives and how it aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The centre’s projects and research particularly focus on the SDGs related to eradicating poverty, no hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, good jobs and economic growth, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, and creating partnerships to reach the goals. 

According to Prof May, malnutrition remains an issue for many people, especially children and pregnant women in South Africa. 

“The cost of nutritious food is just not attainable for some people,” adds Prof May. 

“Malnutrition occurs due to a lack of access to nutritious food or by eating empty calories - in other words, food that is not rich in nutrients.”

Prof May’s presentation focused on food security and the constraints to ensure sustainable agricultural practices in the country. Urbanisation and poor soil, exacerbated by climate change, are some of the biggest challenges to overcome. 

“It is important to consider the transition to sustainable cities and communities, which will help us create secure employment and good economic growth.”

Ms Aisha Mahomed Ali from the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) presented a talk on the impact of innovation during the pandemic, focusing on new innovations developed by UWC scientists and researchers. Ms Ali explained that COVID-19 “was a gateway for innovation and creativity” because UWC “had to solve new problems at a rapid rate”.

This led to the fast development of new technology as well as new ways of doing things. Her presentation included brief overviews of three innovations developed at UWC in the last two years. The first is the Dental Aerosol Suction Device (DASD), which is a cost-effective solution to reduce aerosols in dental and oral health care facilities. It was developed by Dr Riaan Mulder and Dr Suné Mulder-Van Staden. This device is protected by a registered design in South Africa and in the United Kingdom. This innovation is licensed to a local company which is commercialising the product. Then there is the Baobab Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), which is a biobanking management software system for biological specimens and big data, developed by Dr Dominique Anderson and her team at UWC. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baobab team received an African CDC grant to expand the systems metadata capability to include infectious diseases and SARS-CoV-2 biospecimens.

Ms Ali also mentioned the cool box technology developed by Prof Bernard Bladergroen, which is a cost-effective cool box with Li battery technology to keep perishable food and medical supplies cooler for longer, specifically for use in rural areas.

These technologies have the potential to make a positive contribution to society, during the time of COVID-19 and beyond. For more information on any of these innovations, or if you need assistance with taking your innovation forward, contact the TTO at