The Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Mr Buti Manamela, on Tuesday addressed the United Nations Week of Science and Peace Conference, a first for South Africa.

 

The UN's World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. Celebrated every year on 11 November, the day underlines the importance of science in our daily lives, and the role that scientists play in broadening our understanding of the remarkable, fragile planet we call home.

 

Attended by members of the public, government officials, captains of industry, civil society representatives and academics, the conference sought to bring these different sectors together in collaborations that harness science and technology to foster developmental stability.

 

Held under the theme "African innovative solutions for sustainable African peace and development", the conference was a collaboration between the University of Pretoria (UP), the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the DSI-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

 

Deputy Minister Manamela told the conference that sustainable peace on the continent had to be driven by initiatives that overcame poverty, unemployment and inequality. He said that science and technology had the potential to drive such change through strategic partnerships, which the conference aimed to initiate.

 

Stressing the importance of improved food security for achieving peace and development, the Deputy Minister noted that the Centre of Excellence in Food Security, with over 100 researchers across various disciplines, "focuses on identifying and developing science-based interventions and policy mechanisms to help South Africa overcome food insecurity while ensuring sound and sustainable nutrition for its citizens, in particular for poor, vulnerable and marginal communities."

 

It was also against this backdrop that the DSI had established the South African Research Chairs in Meat Sciences and in Poultry Health and Production, he added.  The former chair conducts research on the influence of environmental and other factors on the quality of fresh and processed meat products, while the latter focuses on South Africa's poultry industry, with an emphasis on diseases such as avian influenza, Newcastle disease, salmonellosis and mycoplasmosis.

 

Prof. Stephanie Burton, Vice-Principal for Research and Postgraduate Education at UP, said the university supported the objective of creating partnerships and sharing information on research using science and technology to influence peace and development.

 

"There has been, for decades, the approach of looking to science to create solutions and address the world's challenges, especially those relating to the physical world, such as water, energy, pollution and cleaning up the environment to make it a better place for everyone to live in, with the inference that having a better world will enable peace and development," Prof. Burton said.

 

She noted that UP houses the South African Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Hub, which enables the monitoring of national progress towards achieving the SDGs.  A recent survey by the university revealed that over 5 300 research articles related to the SDGs were published by UP researchers between 2017 and 2019.

 

"The university is also partnering with industries to develop new platforms that will bridge agri-bio and information technologies, to develop the smart agriculture that Africa needs," Prof. Burton said. "We are really at the point in our history where it has become imperative that we use science to transform our country, Africa and the rest of the world."

 

Also addressing the event, Mr Valentin Tapsoba, Regional Director for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said forced displacements in Africa, driven by war and underdevelopment, had seen 26,4 million people becoming refugees and asylum seekers.

 

"And the issue is more complex because of poverty, growing inequalities, climate issues, food insecurity and bad governance," Mr Tapsoba said, adding: "It cannot be business as usual. A multifaceted approach is what we need to expand innovative partnerships with government, donors, academic institutions and the private sector, because the UNHCR cannot do it alone."

 

Also present at the conference were a number of civil society groups that are working to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality. Among them was La Pieus Aqua (LPA), a company founded by Ms Rikalize Reinecke when she was 13 years old. The aquaponics farmer showcased her sustainable food production systems at the event.

 

The 17-year-old entrepreneur is the youngest commercial aquaponics farmer in South Africa, and is extending her footprint to other African countries through LPA and the Feeding Africa Unlimited initiative. LPA's systems are modelled on the concept of environmental responsibility through simplicity in design and ease of use for sustainable food production.

 

"Feeding Africa Unlimited is focused on providing alternative food production solutions to people worldwide using aquaponics, rooftop gardens, rehabilitation and recycling," said Ms Reinecke.