Development of a framewok for managing food security programme : an analysis of student food insecurity and the interventions at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Sabi, Stella Chewe.
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Food insecurity is a critical challenge affecting many households in post-apartheid South Africa. The 2017 report by Statistics South Africa indicated that food poverty had increased by 2,8 million in headcount, from 11 million in 2011 to 13,8 million in 2015. The most vulnerable were low-income households. The literature indicates that, in response to high levels of food and nutrition insecurity among poor population groups that have persisted from the apartheid era, the post-Apartheid South African government has made great strides in addressing the problem. For example, the serious problem of food and nutrition insecurity among children of school-age is being addressed through the National School Nutritional Programme, which has resulted in the enhancement of the capacity of the children to learn actively and the reduction of learner absenteeism and dropping out of school. On the other hand, recent literature indicates that food insecurity is an emerging and alarming problem among students at Institutions of Higher Learning (IHLs) in South Africa. The problem affects particularly students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is likely to be no exception to experiencing student food insecurity, given that nearly 50% of the students are from low-income households. The literature suggests that food insecurity and its impact on the health, well-being and academic performance is often underestimated in South African IHLs. This under-estimation seems to have resulted in the absence of a distinct government programme focussed on addressing food and nutrition insecurity among students at South African IHLs. In the current study, a preliminary review of the recent literature indicated that, due to failure or neglect by the government to address the problem and challenges of food and nutrition insecurity among students at South African IHLs, institutions like UKZN have resorted to developing and implementing a food security project and/or programme. The literature shows that UKZN has been running a Food Security Programme (FSP) since 2012 to address the problem of food and nutrition insecurity among the students. The form of assistance provided by the UKZN FSP includes meal vouchers and food hampers to students in need. Despite the implementation of the FSP at UKZN since 2012 as described above, pertinent data and information on student food security status are not available. While few studies have been conducted to analyse the food security status of students at South African IHLs (including UKZN), the studies were of limited in scope and in particular, the studies conducted at UKZN were not university-wide and therefore generated very limited data and information. In addition, it seems that no studies have been conducted to analyse: the perceptions of UKZN key stakeholders regarding student food insecurity; the awareness level of the key stakeholders (including students), regarding the existence of the FSP at their institution; and in examining the management of the FSP. The data and information that is lacking are essential, as they would guide decision-making with respect to policies and strategies aimed at developing and/or enhancing sustainable programmes and projects that address food insecurity among students at IHLs in South Africa. Thus, the objectives of this study were to: assess the prevalence of food insecurity among students; analyse the perceptions of UKZN key stakeholders (including students) regarding student food insecurity; assess the awareness level of the key stakeholders regarding the existence of the FSP at the institution; analyse the management of the FSP; and make recommendations, if necessary, for the improvement of programme management to achieve its objectives and impact on student academic potential. The study was conducted at UKZN’s five campuses, which are located in Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa. This empirical study used a mixed methods approach that lies in both the qualitative and quantitative paradigms. Quantitative data were collected through survey questionnaires that were delivered to the participants (N=500 students; N=100 academic staff). Qualitative data were collected through key informant face-to-face interviews and focus group discussions with various key stakeholders at UKZN. Data obtained from the surveys were analysed by IBM SPSS version 24 software, while most of the qualitative data were subjected to thematic content analysis. Results from the surveys suggest that food insecurity remains a serious challenge among university students. Some 53% of the students were vulnerable to the phenomenon, of whom 9% were highly vulnerable. The highest prevalence of food insecurity was in students relying on a financial aid scheme, undergraduates and males. It appears that students who suffer food insecurity will additionally experience psychological and emotional stress as a factor that can negatively affect their health, motivation and academic potential; some 67% of the students reported that hunger reduced their concentration and vigour such that, 28% of them had missed classes. Social stigma was linked to food insecurity as students preferred anonymity about their food insecurity status. Despite that the FSP had been implemented four years earlier, an overwhelming majority of the UKZN stakeholders among them 90% of the targeted beneficiaries, expressed ignorance regarding the existence of the programme at UKZN. In addition, 37% of the students showed reluctance to utilising or recommending the FSP to anyone. To evaluate the FSP at UKZN, a qualitative research using an explorative research design, generated data from key informants using face-to-face interviews. The study findings showed that as an institution, the UKZN lacked a sustainable blueprint for addressing the increasing prevalence of FI among students. The FSP currently run at UKZN was not formalised but introduced as a self-help initiative linked to a social responsibility of the University. ‘Ignorance’, and ‘denialism’ were the main identified descriptors for the lack of the programme prioritisation and mainstreaming, resulting in lack of resources including sustainable funding, personnel, and infrastructure. As perceived from the student views, social stigma was associated with negative attitude and beliefs about food aid. The study recommends that the FSP could overcome such negative connotations through programme awareness among the UKZN stakeholders. Further, managing of the FSP was compromised by lack of a monitoring and evaluation system in place, resulting in lack of publicity of the programme to the wider UKZN community. The study concludes by developing a framework as a toolkit for managing a FSP at an IHL like UKZN.