17 October 2019

Zero Hunger Series: Flocking, the foundations of African prosperity

World Food Day, celebrated every year on 16 October, marks the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945 as an organization that deals with global food and agricultural issues. The number of people going hungry has increased since 2014 and the prevalence of undernourishment has remained virtually unchanged in the past 3 years. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030. 

A profound change of the global food and agricultural system is needed to nourish today's 800 million hungry and the additional 2 billion increase in global population expected by 2030. The University of Pretoria (South Africa), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) SDG Hub for Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, recognizes the importance of research and innovation in food and agriculture in contributing to this movement of change. In celebration of the 2019 World Food Day, UNAI is collaborating with the university on a series of articles focusing on food security in Africa. In this third article, the University of Pretoria explores the African tradition of flocking to address malnutrition and improve quality of life. 

Nomonde Ntsundwana, a teacher at a Nelson Mandela Metropol primary school, has taken her role of educator beyond the classroom. As a champion of nutrition and school gardens, she leads a strong school-community team of teachers, students and community members, that supports the production of nutritious food not only for the students but for the broader community. Food, flowers and herbs are grown. Some of the plants are used to make essential oils, which they sell. The school garden provides food as well as income for the whole community. Regardless of the adversities they face, including crime, they come together to overcome hunger and poverty.

Nomonde’s story narrates the resilience of African communities. When Africans experience challenges, they do not run; they flock. Flocking is the processes of people coming together to share social and economic resources, including information, time, money or food. In her book “Flocking Together: An Indigenous Psychology Theory of Resilience in Southern Africa”, Professor Liesel Ebersöhn, Director of the Centre for the Study of Resilience of the University of Pretoria, describes how this tradition of flocking is one cornerstone of African survival and possibly prosperity.

Over ten years, a research team, including graduate students, was involved in a school-based intervention focused on well-being. Using participatory reflection and action for group discussions, 12 schools in three South African provinces participated. Seventy-four teachers were included in this decade long effort.

School-feeding programmes are central to the national development agenda and are often included as a government priority intervention to address food insecurity and malnutrition. School-feeding programmes have reduced the number of hungry teachers, students and families. However, some of these programmes are managed independent of government. Prof Ebersöhn book explains how teachers are driving initiatives to mobilise food through vegetable gardens, providing food for children and the surrounding communities.

These gardens are a source of nourishment and improved quality of life. Community members are invited to provide labour in the gardens. For those who are unemployed, working in these gardens gives them a purpose in life. Whatever produce remains after the children are fed is shared and sold. While the school receives food donations from retailers, some vegetable gardens produce enough to sell to supermarkets.

“They like going to school – even though their classrooms don’t have doors, the paint is peeling and they do not have chairs and tables. They see friends and learn from teachers. What they like especially is that they can count on a hot meal every day.” These independently run school-feeding gardens support positive educational outcomes with communities flocking to respond to emerging challenges including transport to school, school attendance, especially of girls and hunger. 

Democratic approaches to managing these gardens have been the most successful. In one case, the school principal would meet with the parents to develop a management plan for the year. These gardens give communities and individuals a sense of pride, which boosts their self-esteem. They also strengthen relationships between the community members, improving physical and mental health. Through these gardens, children can have functional and happy childhoods. All these elements brought together are the foundations for improving the community and individual health and well-being.

The school has become central to driving community cohesion. Some of these schools are no longer run by the teachers and principals but have become community-owned. These communities tell a different story for development. Communities have values and capacities which they use to survive and prosper.

“It’s not about what they must do, but what we must do. How can we propagate that space?” writes Prof. Liesel Ebersöhn.

Very often, communities have solutions to challenges that they face. Development efforts should draw on existing capacities to support communities to improve their well-being.

By Elizabeth Mkandawire, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow and Coordinator: UN Academic Impact Hub for SDG2 at the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being.

Other articles in the series: