Food Security Initiative welcomes first postdoc

The Food Security Initiative based in Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of AgriSciences has welcomed its first postdoctoral researcher. Dr Sandra Boatemaa will be researching matters related to food systems governance in Southern Africa.

It is a challenge that Dr Boatemaa is looking forward to. She previously worked as a field supervisor in the University of Ghana’s Department of Nutrition and was a graduate assistant of its Regional Institute for Population Studies, is looking forward to the new challenge. Earlier this year, Dr Boatemaa received her PhD in Population Studies from the University of Ghana. Her thesis focused on the food beliefs and food habits of members of an urban community in Accra in Ghana, and how it relates to their risk of contracting and managing non-communicable diseases. The MPhil in Population Studies that she received in 2012 at the University of Ghana delved into the perceptions and practices around food of the same community (see below more about her studies and research).

In her new role, Dr Boatemaa will be building on a National Research Foundation (NRF) funded project on Food System Governance in Southern Africa. It is facilitated by the Southern Africa Food Lab and one of Stellenbosch University’s flagship programmes, the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (CST). Stellenbosch University is a partner in this multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to understand innovative institutional arrangements to govern an increasingly complex food system.

“I want to examine how this sustainable approach impacts on farmers’ health and livelihood,” Dr Boatemaa elaborates on the practical look that she will be taking on food system governance. In the process, she will draw on experiences and case studies from across the continent. Her work will be completed under guidance of Dr Laura Pereira of the CST and Dr Scott Drimie of the South Africa Food Lab.

She will build on existing proposal that considers the governance arrangements required in southern Africa to underpin a sustainable food system linking countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. It also extends relationships with the Universities of Cape Town, Oxford, Wageningen and Newcastle and various universities in southern Africa.

“Dr Boatemaa’s appointment is of great value to the food systems work being done at Stellenbosch University and elsewhere,” explains Dr Scott Drimie, director of the Southern Africa Food Lab, which straddles both the Food Security Initiative and CST. “One of her priorities will be to consider the practicalities and modalities of such a research project that will be participatory and inter-disciplinary in nature.”

Although based in Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of AgriSciences and CST, Dr Boatemaa’s position ties into work being done at the NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security in South Africa, based at the University of the Western Cape.

“This important partnership across institutions enables several schools of thought and discipline to come together both within Stellenbosch University and wider fields,” explains Dr Drimie. “This is of utmost importance to better understand how to drive change in the food system.”

More about Dr Boatemaa
Although Stellenbosch and the Western Cape are completely new to her, Dr Boatemaa has visited South Africa on two previous occasions to present papers at conferences. Thanks to a travel award from the American Institute for International Education she was also able to present a poster about her masters degree research at the Sixth African Population Studies Conference in Burkina Faso. Upon completing her masters degree, Dr Boatemaa spent ten months as a visiting scholar at Pennsylvania State University’s Population Research Institute. She also worked in Ghana in assisting various research projects, among others for the University College London, the University of Boston and New York University.

Key experiences have shaped her academic interests, and have helped her to get perspective on life.

“After I completed school, I worked for a year in one of my aunts’ shop in the city of Accra. I noticed how prevalent crime was in her area, and to what lengths people had to go to secure their property,” remembers Dr Boatemaa, who hails from the eastern parts of Ghana.

When she subsequently started her BA degree with Sociology and Psychology as majors, she did so with a career in criminology in mind. A project or two followed in which she delved into police data.

During her masters degree years, she worked in a poor community called Jamestown in the city of Accra, which relied heavily on fishing as a source of income. She noticed that many of the community members suffered from diet related non-communicable diseases such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and that they did not have easy access to clean drinking water at home. They were also not eating the fish they caught, but relied on chicken off-cuts as a source of protein.

“I saw the mismatch between what they were eating and what they were producing, and how the people were struggling with hypertension and diabetes,” remembers Dr Boatemaa.

This experience shaped her interest in matters related to food security, and how the beliefs, perceptions and habits that some communities have about food also influences their health.

For her doctoral studies, she subsequently returned to the Jamestown community. She among others discovered that most of the fish being caught in the community is sold rather than eaten, because the income made from the catch needs to fund all other living expenses. The community’s poor diet subsequently then leads to many experiencing health problems.

She also collaborated in a study which focused on the prevalence of anaemia among young children, and how it is tied to poor hygiene practices and keeping chickens.

“Everything ties in together,” believes this member of the Union of African Population Scientists (UAPS), the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) and the Population Association of America (PAA). She was mentored by Professor Ama de-Graft Akins and funded by the Hewlett Foundation through Professor Francis Nii Amoo Dodoo.

Background information about the Food Security Initiative:

  • The Food Security Initiative has been based at Stellenbosch University since 2010. It is helping to build a resilient, sustainable food system for Southern Africa. It is closely aligned with the South African government’s priority to address the issue of food security, particularly in the light of a changing climate and to address issues of human dignity. This is done by reconceptualising the food security challenge and creating new models of practice in the food system. Findings from in depth research on key issues in the food value chain is used. Collaboration across disciplinary boundaries, capacity building and systematic impact assessment are essential in this process.
  • The initiative focuses on
    • sustainable production for safe and nutritious food
    • utilisation of safe and nutritious food
    • post-harvest optimization.
  • For more information, visit