Academic Presents Research at eThekwini Research Symposium
Research findings on stakeholders’ perspectives on the social acceptability of effluent in agriculture were presented at an eThekwini Research Symposium.
The presentation was made by Dr Andrew Okem, a Senior Researcher with the South African Research Chair Initiative in Applied Poverty Reduction Assessment in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies (BEDS),
The Symposium is an annual event that aims to provide a common platform for city practitioners and their academic partners to network and identify opportunities for strategic and collaborative research outputs that advance municipal service delivery.
This year’s event revolved around the theme of “Durban, A City in Transformation: Towards an Effective, Inclusive and Sustainable Socioeconomic Outcome”.
Okem’s presentation was part of a large interdisciplinary research titled “Integrating Agriculture in Designing Low-Cost Sanitation Technologies in Social Housing Schemes”, which is led by Dr Alfred Odindo. The study was informed by the need to simultaneously address the challenges of sanitation backlogs, food security, lack of access to safe water, and environmental pollution.
In his presentation, Okem noted that ‘increasing population density in the urban and peri-urban areas of the eThekwini Municipality, coupled with water constraints, has necessitated the need to explore innovative ways to manage the provision of water and sanitation services. One of the innovative options being explored is closing the water-sanitation-food security loop by integrating sanitation systems with agriculture in social housing schemes’.
He pointed out that ‘despite the potential of this approach in addressing challenges of water, sanitation, food security and pollution, questions around the social acceptability of food grown using domestic effluent remains unanswered’. The study was grounded on the qualitative paradigm with samples drawn from local communities, municipal officials and academics.
The study finds that although literature identifies culture, religion, odour and health concerns as barriers to reusing human excreta in agriculture, findings from the focus groups demonstrate openness towards growing and consuming food using domestic effluent.
‘Importantly, the study demonstrates that there is potential in simultaneously addressing issues of food insecurity and sanitation that characterise many peri-urban and rural areas in South Africa. Critically, we recommend that existing government policies restricting the use of human excreta in agriculture be revisited in order to permit the exploitation of a potentially valuable resource,’ he said.
Okem noted that although there were mixed responses with regard to whether food grown using domestic effluent should be labelled, the prevalent finding was that participants had no problem purchasing labelled food.
Interviews with technocrats and academics had shown that food grown with effluent could be labelled as organic.
Okem recommended further research to explore the ethical and policy implications of labelling food grown using effluent.