Izindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food)

Naudé Malan / Development Studies / Urban Ag / Angus Donald Campbell / Situated Technology / Human Centred Design

iZindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food)

iZindaba Zokudla (an isiZulu phrase for ‘Conversations about food’) is a research project that draws on Multi-Stakeholder engagement and Action Research methods to create opportunities for urban agriculture in a sustainable food system. It links the university, researchers, students, communities, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the development of service-learning and applied research projects and enterprises that can contribute to a socially equitable, economically productive and ecologically sound food system. iZindaba Zokudla has pioneered innovative methods for agricultural development. This has relevance for the development of new institutions for agricultural development, and the development of technology, markets and distribution systems for agricultural produce, amongst others, relevant to the development of emergent small- and other farmers. iZindaba Zokudla has assisted a high number of emerging enterprises, has developed appropriate technology relevant for emergent and small farmers and has integrated farmers, stakeholders and others into social events that show the benefits of systemic change to the food system. iZindaba Zokudla draws on the broad history of participatory agricultural development, social innovation theory, systemic action research, actor-network theory and methodologies for multi-stakeholder engagement to achieve its aims.

iZindaba Zokudla utilises multi-stakeholder engagement methods and events to structure the interaction amongst stakeholders to enable them to independently embark as a group on change projects. iZindaba Zokudla organises a series of public and specialised engagement events amongst stakeholders in order to establish an Action Research cycle wherein research projects and community action-plans can be developed, implemented and reflected upon. It establishes an important democratic base and opportunity for participation by the public and communities who would benefit from a sustainable food system. It does so by creating specialised Action Research methodologies to complete such projects, and these integrate enterprises, civil society organisations, state actors with students, researchers and academics from the University of Johannesburg. It enables the university to directly assist in addressing pressing social problems, and enables needy communities to benefit from the knowledge and expertise in the university. This opportunity for multi-disciplinary research and knowledge and technology co-creation is unprecedented. Since 2013 iZindaba Zokudla has mobilised more than 150 stakeholders to each of its events, and has reached out to more than 1000 emergent farmers and food processors to date. This enables the project to innovate significantly in technology development, service creation, applied research and systemic change and evaluation. iZindaba Zokudla has influenced numerous local and international research projects in the Social Sciences, Engineering and Industrial Design, has led to the creation of new service learning courses that focus on community participation, and has led to a significant number of publications. iZindaba Zokudla has been active since 2013 and currently organises the Farmers’ School and Innovation Lab (the Farmers’ Lab) iZindaba iLanga (technology transfer with PEETS) and the iZindaba Zokudla Stakeholders Forum at the University of Johannesburg wherein much of these activities take place.

iZindaba Zokudla aims at concrete changes in the food system. It is active in a number of projects and activities at the moment and these include:

– The Farmers’ School and Innovations Lab: The Farmers’ School and Innovation Lab grew out of a series of Strategic Planning workshops in 2013 that laid the foundation for iZindaba Zokudla’s Farmers School and Innovation Lab. The Lab started as a farmer-to-farmer learning event that rapidly attracted the attention of experts. The events is facilitated and organised around a series of themes relevant to urban agricultural enterprise development and other issues important in food system change. These themes have been developed in participatory sessions with urban farmers and entrepreneurs and these themes have directly contributed to the development and emergence of the programmes outlined below. Notable examples include: “Design and manufacture your own irrigation system”; “How to Start a Seed Library”; “How to build your own Bio-Gas digester”; “Complete your own Business Canvas Model”. The event enables emergent farmers and entrepreneurs to deliberate on new opportunities in the food system. It enables emergent farmer entrepreneurs to make informed decisions on their enterprises. This event facilitates the announcement of new products, land, community events, business opportunities and policy changes relevant to urban agricultural enterprise development. It has also facilitated the development of immediate and concrete action plans like the creation of seed libraries, business plans, irrigation system design and manufacture, to name a few.

The Lab constitutes the initial context and engagement opportunity wherein Action Research plans can be developed. Here academics, students and stakeholders start to engage in the co-creation of innovation projects in the food system. This public space wherein this is done affords certain advantages and opportunities for sustainability. The Lab in many respects experiments with the institutional design needed for sustainable food system governance and change and sustainable urban agricultural development. The use of Multi-Stakeholder and Action Research methods contribute to the understanding iZindaba Zokudla has generated on how to create and direct change processes in society. These experiences have relevant to the design of institutions, organisations, policy and processes of social innovation in the urban food system. iZindaba Zokudla has enabled researchers to reflect and write about these activities and please see the list of publications.

The Farmers Lab is an important event that grounds iZindaba Zokudla in the community it intends to serve. It enables the democratisation of the knowledge and activities that take place between the university and the community. This includes not only farmers but all stakeholders to sustainable food system change. The event itself has enabled the community to influence the project and it has established a clear and active link between numerous departments in the university with communities and community organisations. These encounters take place in a facilitated arena or space where community members learn first-hand from university researchers and academics, and also from experts from business and civil society about a series of themes they themselves developed. These themes, as does the 2013 Strategic Plan have structured the trajectory of engagement between the university and the community.

– The Stakeholders’ Meeting is a meeting organised to conduct strategic planning for the programmes of iZindaba Zokudla. It includes representation from UJ academic departments, UJ Management Divisions, Non-Governmental and civil society Organisations, Enterprises, Activists and Civil Servants. It plans some of the activities in the Lab, and prepares stakeholders to enter into partnerships with urban farmers and entrepreneurs in the Lab

The programmes below emerged from the engagement events described above. These programmes fluctuate as new stakeholders emerge and participate. They themselves emerge once a group that could include students, entrepreneurs, farmers, community members, funders, non-governmental organisations, or civil servants decide to embark on an actionable project. These projects find a ‘friendly home’ in the events described above and benefit from engagement in a public sphere by multiple stakeholders. These projects are also given individual attention as per the makeup of stakeholders represented therein. The inclusion of academics, researchers or students enables the creation of multi-disciplinary and applied co-created knowledge. This also enables a comprehensive response to pressing social needs and enables broad engaged learning and interaction. Here innovative approaches emerge from the interaction of the disciplines with organic intellectuals and social knowledge and creates grounds for the social embeddedness of scientific endeavour.

– Technology Development: iZindaba Zokudla aims to develop intermediate and appropriate technology that contributes to a sustainable food systems, and better use of energy and water. In this regard we host iZindaba iLanga with the Process Energy, Environment and Technology Station (PEETS). This is also linked to the Department of Industrial Design at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, The Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, and specialist academics and post-graduate students that have been assisted in this programme to develop not only appropriate and intermediate technology, but also bespoke Action Research methodologies for specific technologies, systems, enterprises or services. Examples include: 2013 The Household Farming Kit (Kyle Brand), 2014 Food Cooler (Natalia Tofas); 2014 Seedling Growing System (Jomari Budricks), 2017 The Khula! App, 2017 Human Powered Shredder (Peter Harrison); 2018 Beegin Beehives (Ivan Brown) and others. Due to the wide range of stakeholders that this programme can draw on, we are able to design, develop and manufacture and link this with entrepreneurial development through the PEETS facility.

– Entrepreneurship: This includes a few sub-programmes. These are:

– With the Dept. of Business Management and the ENACTUS student organisation iZindaba Zokudla has facilitated aspects of their Entrepreneurship programmes in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
– The Young Agriculture Initiative with the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment: This eventually led to the Tshepo 500 000 programme of the Gauteng Province. iZindaba Zokudla could use this opportunity to stimulate the development of the Khula! App by the Money Tree Group which is currently active in creating mainstream distribution opportunities for urban farmers. This has led to new opportunities with the PEETS of the UJ.
– The South African chef’s Association Entrepreneurship programme. iZindaba Zokudla facilitated the training of four emergent catering enterprises as a partnership activity with the SA Chef’s Association and Slow Food and Slow Meat.
– Digital storytelling – stories of urban farmers in Soweto in the public sphere. A research project under Dr Mariekie Burger, School of Communicative Studies.

– Graphic design for Social Change. The Department of Graphic Design has assisted Farmer Cooperatives since 2014 with logo, branding, and art and graphics work that has been instrumental in the commercial success of many emergent enterprises. Notable examples include the Region D Farmers Forum, Pheko Moringa Oil, The ChengaKasi Cooperative and others. This programme may expand and include the development of a new product “Rainbow Maize” in 2018 with the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

– The Soweto Eat-In. The UJ Slow Food Soweto Eat-In is an event that shows it is possible to eat well and sustainably and thereby achieve social, economic and environmental goals. The Eat-In integrates a chef’s competition, local and sustainable food, food activism and learning. It is a public event that celebrates food as it educates us. It has become an important event in the social calendar and an opportunity for public education and deliberation about food. In 2017 the event was planned around the “Skaftini” challenge with details to follow in the press.

– Development Facilitation: Development Studies 4th year students (DEV 8X08) complete a course in Multi-Stakeholder Facilitation. This course is open to community members and is integrated with the activities of the Farmers’ School and Innovation Lab. This course enables community members and students to engage successfully with multiple stakeholders and integrate this into actionable plans. This course has enabled community members to create their own change processes and is an important part of the succession strategy of iZindaba Zokudla.

– Agroecology training: iZindaba Zokudla facilitates the recruitment of farmers for Agroecology training. Partners include 17 Shaft and Legwetla Farming and Training. 3 farmers were recruited through iZindaba Zokudla for training in 2017.

– The Process, Energy, Environment and Technology Station PEETS. iZindaba Zokudla will expand its operations by creating an engagement methodology to assist food, energy and water related projects and enterprises of the PEETS facility achieve sustainability. This will draw on and enrich the Farmers School and Innovation Lab and create an additional process at the PEETS facility focusing on Technology solutions for emergent enterprises.

– Research, Monitoring and Evaluation. iZindaba Zokudla aims to make available bursaries and running expenses for PG students to develop applied research projects in all the disciplines to participate in any of the above programmes, including the monitoring and evaluation of iZindaba Zokudla itself.

For more info please contact: Dr. Naudé Malan, Convener of iZindaba Zokudla
+27 82 214 5792

Please see:


On the Soweto Eat-In: