The reasons for the persistence of hunger and malnutrition are complex and interrelated, spanning environmental, health, economic, socio-political and agro-food issues, including unemployment, food price volatility, HIV and AIDS, drought conditions, a decrease in government support for agriculture and high poverty levels.
Different stakeholders in the food system have widely different perspectives and interests and challenging structural issues such as power differentials among them remain largely unexamined. These challenges make rational discourse among stakeholders from different disciplines, sectors and levels difficult, and prevent them from working together effectively to find innovative ways to respond to
food security challenges. The Food Lab argues that a lack of engagement between civil society, government and the private sector has exacerbated a fragmented food system that is vulnerable to current and emergent risks. We seek to mitigate these risks by increasing engagement amongst these sectors and creating an effective platform for authentic communication and innovation.
The initiative brings together diverse, influential stakeholders in southern African food systems in order to respond to systemic issues in creative ways and to inspire change in how we think and act on complex social challenges. The purpose of the Food Lab is to facilitate the interaction, communication, and collaboration between different stakeholders, including those with conflicting interests, to highlight the need for and to design and implement coherent, systemic responses to the food system through collaborative learning and experimental action.
The Food Lab uses innovative collaborative learning and facilitation approaches to support multi-stakeholder teams to develop a systemic understanding of food security issues and design innovations to shift the system towards a more sustainable and equitable path.
An important example is that of Reos Partners, which is a social innovation consultancy that addresses complex, high-stakes challenges around the world. Reos helps teams of stakeholders work together on their toughest challenges in an approach that is systemic, creative and participative. Reos were one of the founders of the Food Lab and, as such, have played a key role in developing the approach.
The Food Lab is housed under the umbrella of the Food Security Initiative at Stellenbosch University. The Faculty of AgriSciences lends administrative and logistical support to Food Lab to realise its activities. Grassroots orientated projects are increasingly facilitated by the Seriti Insitute. The Food Lab is steered by an Advisory Board and a secretariat consisting of all project managers to provide collective leadership and direction.