Food insecurity highlighted at Siyaphumelela Conference 2018

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The fourth annual Siyaphumelela Conference took place in Johannesburg earlier this month and all the presentations and discussions were made available on YouTube this week‏. This year’s theme focused on basic needs, leadership and design for student success.

Opening the conference, Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor said she was optimistic that the government’s new full-cost bursary scheme for students whose family income was under R350,000 a year would improve student outcomes.

“Students who are inadequately funded experience great challenges in regard to food security, suitable accommodation, and ability to obtain textbooks and other resources. These tend to be poor black working-class students. We need to develop models of funding and support that address their needs,” Pandor said.

Student input is an intergral part of the conference and one big issue for students around the country was not having enough food or the funds to feed themselves properly. Final-year food and nutrition student Sboniso Ngcobo presented the findings of a study conducted by the Food Intervention Programme at the Durban University of Technology which found that students in his class were either over- or underweight. “This clearly demonstrated to me that students have unhealthy eating habits. When I further enquired about the reasons for this, most students said they eat what is readily and cheaply available such as Amagwinya (vetkoek) while some said they had no money to buy food at all so went hungry most of the time,” he said.

To tackle this pervasive issue, lecturers, SRCs, civil society organisations, students and initiatives like Siyaphumelela have had to step in with food security interventions at institutions of higher learning. In response, The South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) the coordinating body of Siyaphumelela, said it would further investigate the call for a food security/sovereignty forum made at the conference as other universities such as Wits and DUT are now harvesting fruits and vegetables on campuses as a food security measure.

In her presentation, guest speaker Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, from Temple University in Philadelphia said that students in both South Africa and the US were struggling to meet basic needs. She also noted that similar programmes to the ‘No Student Hungry Programme’ at the University of the Free State which gives a modest food allowance and access to one daily meal on campus, were being evaluated in Boston and Houston.

You can watch more videos from the conference here.

– The Siyaphumelela initiative was awarded funding from the  Kresge Foundation in 2014 to promote student success through improved data analysis. It is the only conference focusing on the use of analytics for student success in Sub-Saharan Africa. Grants went to Wits, University of Pretoria, Nelson Mandela University, University of the Free State with the South African Institute for Distance Education in the role of overseer and support.