The team is led by the University of Pretoria (UP) is one of Africa’s top universities and the largest contact university in South Africa. UP produces socially impactful research to find solutions for the world’s most pressing issues. The team’s main areas of interest have been in ecosystem services, social-ecological systems, sustainable development indicators, food systems and nexuses, and ecological economics.
Transforming food and land-use systems in South Africa
Renowned for its abundant and diverse wildlife, South Africa boasts a remarkable array of plateaus, plains, bushes, and deserts that provide habitats for countless animal species and thousands of plant varieties, many of which are exclusive to the region. South Africa’s land cover is dominated by 10% cropland, 69% grassland, 8% forest, 1% urban, and 12% other natural land. Agricultural areas overlap with most natural areas and remain a major source of biodiversity loss, with land clearing for croplands being a key driver alongside human settlements, plantation forestry, mining, and infrastructure development.
South Africa experiences a range of relatively moderate climates, making it conducive to widespread agricultural activities. Agricultural production is diverse and economically significant, including crops like maize, wheat, citrus fruits, and livestock such as cattle and poultry. This makes South Africa stand as a leading exporter of horticultural products within the region.
South Africa encounters several challenges in its food and land-use systems that impact biodiversity, agricultural production, and food consumption. The country possesses remarkable biodiversity but faces the risk of loss due to habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change. The agricultural sector contends with water scarcity, land degradation, and the effects of climate change. Unpredictable weather patterns and droughts pose risks to crop yields and livestock health.
Food consumption patterns reflect a blend of traditional diets and a growing demand for processed foods. South Africa faces the challenge of both undernutrition and overweight/obesity, creating a dual burden of malnutrition. Despite its status as one of Africa's wealthiest nations, almost 23,6% of South Africans in 2020 were affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, while almost 14,9% experienced severe food insecurity. Approximately 27% of children suffer from stunted growth, while 28.3% of adults battle obesity.
Key national objectives and targets
In its updated NDC of 2021, South Africa commits to absolute emissions target levels in the range of 350–420 MtCO2e, including LULUCF, for 2030.
The network of protected areas and conservation areas includes a representative sample of ecosystems and species and is coherent and effectively managed: By 2028, in protected areas: 10.8m land-based hectares, 353km inshore, 210 000km2 marine offshore in SA’s EEZ plus 93 300km2 marine offshore in Prince Edward Islands EEZ.
In the forestry sector, South Africa aims to reduce GHG emissions through afforesting 100,000 hectares of land in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal as well as strengthening and expanding current initiatives including forest rehabilitation, working for woodlands and the Subtropical Thicket Ecosystem Project (STEP).
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