Stakeholder Engagement Workshop 

Shakila Dada | University of Pretoria

On the 23rd of May, stakeholders representing academia, industry, and small-scale farming participated in InnoFoodAfrica’s Stakeholder Workshop with the EU consortium members participating virtually. Around 40 stakeholders participated in the workshop joined by the work package leaders and 14 postgraduate students whose research is directly related to the project. This was a parallel event to Africa Week, a scientific leadership summit held biennially. The objectives of the workshop reflected this year’s theme ‘Open Africa, Open Science,’ with the view of encouraging the scientific community to deliberate solutions for the challenges faced in the real world. The workshop was hosted at the Future Africa campus at the University of Pretoria; a fitting location to bring together forward-thinking stakeholders from a range of disciplines to pose solutions to address challenges facing consumers, food scientists, farmers, and the food production and marketing industries.

Topics on the agenda included the outcomes of InnoFood Africa’s Consumer and Nutritional studies, Famers’ Participatory Research, and Food products and packaging technological innovations. The nutritional studies, led by Dr. Mariette Hoffman and students, focus on understanding the profiles (weight, stunting, wasting and malnutrition, and obesity) of the South African population with a special focus on vulnerable populations such as women and children. Consumer studies, led by Professor Riette De Kock and students, focus on unpacking the drivers of food choices in South Africans in current times. An outcome of the work includes the publication of new and updated Food Neophobia scales for use with African populations. This is a new development as available tools were limited to Western use. This aspect of the project has also investigated cultural and attitudinal perspectives of indigenous crops.

Work continues to focus on consumer testing of nutrient-dense food innovations including higher protein and fibre-rich sorghum and cowpea snacks from work by Professor Naushad Emmambux and students. Professor Naushad Emmabux’s work also developed innovative microwave and infrared drying techniques for better retention of micronutrients (β-carotene) from orange flesh sweet potatoes, and nutrient-dense pasta as well as faster cooking, more convenient cooking of indigenous crops (Bambara and Sorghum). Raw materials for the food and ingredient innovation were locally grown. Stakeholders identified the commercial potential of OFSP powder and expanded fibre-rich sorghum.

Work from the Farmer’s Participatory Research, led by Professor Quenton Kritzinger, Dr. Danie Jordaan, Dr. Diana Marais, and student Ms. Peggy Chikwaza, focused on seed-to-produce small-scale farming of indigenous crops (Bambara ground nut, Cowpea, and Orange fleshed sweet potato) in Mzinti in the Nkomazi district and Makoko in the Ehlanzeni district of Mpumalanga. A highlight was having the lead farmers from the two communities, Nonhlanhla Nogmane and Alfred Tshangase gave their feedback on the project and joined discussions. They were pleased to form part of the project but stated that they need assistance to get their agricultural produce to reach the market. In Nonhlanhla Ngomane’s words,

“We learned a lot… By planting the crops… we have been successful but we’ve got a challenge. We are not able to get into the market. In terms of knowledge, we’ve learned a lot. We were planting sweet potatoes for ourselves. We were planting cow pea for ourselves and even Bambara. We are even making a lot of money. It’s easy to sell Bamabara in our location. People can take it very easily. But it is very difficult to support the sweet potatoe business. We end up harvesting big piles like that of sweet potatoe… and it’s a challenge to sell them. We cannot eat them all. Can you please, one of you here, can you…help the Mpumalanga team to get access to market? It was just research, yes but we have ended up using it. It’s working for the Mpumalanga teams.”

The impact, or the real-world benefits of the research, was the focus of the stakeholder workshop. Stimulating discussions brought forward both challenges and possible solutions on each of the topics. The engagement was high as the stakeholders tackled challenging questions relevant to South African consumers, the food industry, and farmers. Much of the discussion related to the ultimate challenge of how stakeholders can work towards making affordable, nutrient-dense produce and foods commercially available to South Africans.

The primary focus of the discussions was on consumer understanding, cultural perceptions of and attitudes toward indigenous crops, and the importance of promoting the profile of these crops. The potential economic impact of the project outcomes was highlighted in terms of potential income generation for farmers and the importance of promoting household farming to sustain families and promote plant-based diets and how finances drive consumer food choices for vulnerable populations like women and children, especially in lower-income settings. Limitations linked with the challenges of load shedding on production and on cooking times for the indigenous crops were discussed. Education and awareness were highlighted as key drivers of nutrient-focused food sources and generating demand for indigenous crops at market. A challenge was put forward to the students to assist in raising the profile of these crops through social media. Collaboration across stakeholders to encourage the Government’s awareness of the impact of VAT exemption on climate-smart indigenous crops is central to promoting large-scale production of the food ingredient and food innovations. The cost of large-scale commercial production of food innovations from indigenous crops would be unaffordable for industry and consumers without governmental support. The InnoFood Africa project, while ongoing, brings forward exciting innovations for our local population

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