UG’s “purpose built” Institute of Food and Nutrition Security offering degree from January

University of Guyana Vice Chancellor, Professor Ivelaw Griffith

Next year’s formal commencement of tuition by the University of Guyana’s Institute of Food and Nutrition Security (IFANS) is inextricably linked to his administration’s objective of fashioning a university that is directly responsive to the developmental needs of the country, University of Guyana Vice Chancellor, Professor Ivelaw Griffith has told the Stabroek Business.

On Tuesday during an interview at his Turkeyen Secretariat, Professor Griffith told the Stabroek Business that next year’s opening of its doors to students and researchers by IFANS is a microcosm of a broader objective of fashioning a university where academic and research pursuits are concerned with directly responding to the country’s food and nutrition security concerns. IFANS is being created with funding from the Food and Agriculture Organization. (FAO).

IFANS was due to be formally launched yesterday at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre with a symposium in which industry, students, researchers and small proprietors in the food and beverage sector were expected to participate. Yesterday’s launch was tagged as one of four “critical milestones” for the longer term success of IFANS, the other three being the January 2019 commencement of the Institute’s BSc Degree in Food Sciences, the recruitment of relevant staff to the Institute and the acquisition of land, facilities and equipment for research by 2021.

While Guyana is generally regarded as being food secure, data has shown that at the level of the household there are still pockets of food insecurity linked to poverty. At the same time the country’s nutrition security credentials are more questionable, with rising levels of non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) and other food and nutrition-related health conditions pointing to the need to address this aspect of the food system for large segments of the local population. It is against this backdrop that IFANS will be seeking to make a meaningful impact, the Vice Chancellor told the Stabroek Business.

Over the next five  to seven years IFANS will be partnering with the University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry and other relevant Faculties as well as with the Guyana School of Agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Public Health to establish itself as “the premier national institution focusing on food and nutrition security with world-class capacity to collect and analyze data, monitor trends and disseminate such information and serve as a repository and clearing house for up to date data and information in Guyana and the region,” a University of Guyana Paper on the creation of IFANS seen by this newspaper says. Additionally, the Institute will be seeking to “establish itself as a partner of choice for the Government of Guyana, private sector entities in Guyana, non-governmental entities focused on health, nutrition and wellness”, among other things.

The work of IFANS, Griffith says, will extend beyond Guyana, with the institution “serving as a centre of excellence for training, research and advocacy, and technical assistance and leadership in food and nutrition security in, for and by Guyana and by extension the Caribbean and elsewhere.”

And in keeping with what the Vice Chancellor has continually declared to be the focus of UG on working with other local stakeholders in pursuit of critical developmental goals, the IFANS, project proposal document says that the institution “will strategically partner with state and public agencies, the private sector and the civil society to build innovative farm to fork initiatives that will increase agricultural production, reduce post-harvest losses and realize increased profits to producers.” It is envisaged that “by bridging these knowledge gaps it will help to guarantee food and nutrition security for the citizens of Guyana by 2025.”

Structured around four functional areas -Programme Development and Delivery, Research and Innovation, Extension, Outreach and Entrepreneurship and Administrative Support, the push towards the creation of IFANS benefitted from a US$50,000 feasibility study grant from the FAO. Further FAO funding is forthcoming towards the longer-term work of the institution.   

Describing the institution as “purpose built,” Professor Griffith told the Stabroek Business that IFANS will be expected to respond to local challenges associated with the critical issue of food safety as a facet of food security. The Institute, the project proposal document says, will serve as “a centre of excellence for training, research and advocacy and technical assistance and leadership in food and nutrition security.”

IFANS, meanwhile, will also be aiming to develop short training programmes to support entrepreneurship and business development in the food and nutrition sector and establish a “fully accessible internet-based data base of information on food and nutrition security including research data, laws, policies, protocols and national, regional and international agreements”.

In circumstances where there has long been strong sectorial interest in raising the bar insofar as formal training in food safety as a facet of food security is concerned, the Vice Chancellor told Stabroek Business that the embracing of the private sector in this initiative was in keeping with the strategic focus of UG and that the course being offered from January next year was likely to be heavily subscribed by private sector entities.

Asked to respond to the disclosure that IFANS will be launched next year, food safety student and Chemistry graduate Chris Persaud, Chief Executive Officer of UMAMI, one of the country’s leading manufacturers in the agro-processing sector told Stabroek Business that he has been following the discourse on the launch of IFANS and that it was likely that he would seek training there for members of his staff,

IFANS is being fashioned with the backing of a support base that includes globally recognized institutions in the fields of food and nutrition and public health including the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) while initiatives are currently underway to bring on board the Caribbean Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States. Envisaged broader collaborative initiatives aimed at creating a strongly credentialed IFANS are being pursued through a broader network of institutional alliances including the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and the Centre for Food Security and Entrepreneurship at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill campus.  

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