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UJ Conference explores Food Security and Safety for Sustainability in Africa

Climate change is considered a major threat to agriculture and food security in the 21st century, particularly in many of the poor, agriculture-based countries of sub-Saharan Africa. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in December 2015 issued a warning that about 6.3 million people in drought stricken southern Africa could face food shortages this year. The impacts of the drought are already being experienced in many parts of the country and this is expected to negatively impact food security in regions already experiencing food insecurity.

In answer to the mounting crisis THE University of Johannesburg (UJ), in partnership with the Human Science Research Council (HSRC); and Agricultural Research Council (ARC), will host the maiden edition of the 2016 International conference on Food Security and Safety (FSaS). The Conference, sponsored by the Republic of South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST), is supported by the Agricultural Research Council, and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF). The official opening of the conference will take place on the 15th May at the Johannesburg Country Club. The scientific proceedings and deliberations will take place from 16 to 18 May at UJ’s Resolution Circle under the theme: “Improving Food Security and Safety for Sustainability in Africa”.

Dr Patrick Njobeh from UJ’s Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology, the chairman of the Conference’s steering committee endorses the warning. He identified some of food security challenges to include; limited access to arable land and services, high post-harvest losses, limited processing and preservation technologies, inadequate access to markets and finance as well as low investment into food and agricultural research, training and extension services. He further emphasised that the effects from the strongest El Niño weather phenomenon in 18 years coupled with rising petrol prices necessitates that the topic of food safety and security is placed top on the agenda by policy makers and academics.

Furthermore, the South African Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES -1) compiled by HSRC and Medical Research Council revealed that 26% of households in the country experienced hunger while 28.6% were at the risk of being hungry in 2012. HSRC submitted that the activities of the stakeholders affect household food security both positively and negatively. They identified that lack of coordination among various players as one of the challenges limiting effective impact of existing food security policy in the country

During the conference an international audience of researchers, scientists, engineers, policy makers, professionals and students will gather at UJ to explore sustainable innovations in a bid to a more secure food future. Participants will be attending from United States, Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Belgium and Hungary. Some of the eminent key note speakers include: Prof Sarah De Saeger (Director: Laboratory of Food Analysis in the Department of Bioanalysis at Ghent University); Prof Peter J. Cotty (USDA/ARS, School of Plant Sciences at University of Arizona, USA); Prof Charles Stephen Whitehead (Professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Biotechnology, UJ), Dr Martin Lo (CEO & President: of Biointellipro LLC, USA) and Prof Gabriel O. Adegoke (Professor of Food Microbiology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria).

A wide range of sub-themes will explore the complex nature of food safety and security. These will include: Instrumentation for hazardous contaminants (e.g. pathogens, toxins, heavy metals, pesticide residues, etc.) detection and analyses along the value chain; Public policy on food safety, nutrition and security; Food processing, water purification, irrigation and technological challenges; Food and health risk assessment – Clinical implications of food contamination as well as the Impact of climate change on agriculture in developing countries.

Additional information can be found at the conference website: www.uj.ac.za/fsas2016

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