Start main page content

The Hunger Games

- Zeblon Vilakazi

EDITORIAL: It is tragic that we live in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, yet we have millions of people who starve every day.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi. © Lauren Mulligan |

It is incongruous that we have more data than ever before, scientific research that can be used in smart decision-making to influence national policy, yet we hesitate to do what is best for the majority. It is ironic that it costs so much more to eat healthily and that the most vulnerable amongst us are often left malnourished or obese as it is too expensive to access healthy food. It is paradoxical that Africa is a resource-rich continent but, in the words of Wits Professor Ronald Wall, “Africa is a potential food basket for the world, but not for Africans themselves.” 

The Hunger Games are real and the threats to the sustainability of the African continent and the futures of African people are significant. The stories reflected in this issue of Curios.ty delve into the opportunities for a food sustainable future for Africa, the green revolution, and good governance in food production and supply. Some researchers (p. 12) argue that the right to food should be treated in the same way as the right to water in South Africa – as a basic human right – to benefit all in society. 

Wits Professor Vishwas Satgar and Jane Cherry advocate food sovereignty and believe that the solutions to food security lie in “community, ecological and people-based alternatives”. Read more about the Wits Food Sovereignty Centre on p. 16. 

Context matters and it is imperative for us to find African solutions to African problems, whilst drawing on the best ‘glocal’ research and practice available. For example, Professor Luke Chimuka has developed a Moringa Energy Drink with high nutritional value but without caffeine and significant amounts of sugar (p. 42), whilst many Wits researchers study entomophagy – the human practice of eating insects – a potential solution to food insecurity. 

There are dedicated inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary teams at Wits who research food, health and society. We should be worried when they describe parts of South Africa as “obesogenic environments”, in a country where about one-fifth of children are stunted. Professor Karen Hofman and her team in PRICELESS SA have successfully undertaken research and advocated for the introduction of a ‘sugar tax’ on sugar-sweetened beverages, which saw a major policy change in South Africa in 2018 (p. 27), but many challenges remain – especially on the food labelling front. 

Professor Shane Norris, leader of the Bt20+ study, explores the attitudes of young South Africans towards food, body image and eating disorders, in both rural and urban settings. Learn more about diets and exercise from experts in the Wits Sports Medicine and Exercise Science Centre on p. 30. 

We are fortunate to be in a research-intensive university like Wits, where we have the expertise and experience across disciplines and the relevant links to the public and private sectors to tackle the complex challenges of the 21st Century. Food security should be high on our list if we are to eliminate the Hunger Games and ensure a sustainable food future for Africa.