Co-owning the One Food principle with the South African government (One Food project)

The One Food project seeks to develop a Food Risk Tool to assess and mitigate multiple hazards across the entire food system and to transform the way actors (governments, researchers, industry, third sector) perceive and work on food production to ensure economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Since such a transition is impossible without full buy-in from partner country policymakers, the project worked to secure South African government co-ownership of the concept.

This was achieved by targeted engagement with government departments through a series of scoping, workshops, and follow-up engagements. The project also supported in-country research and capacity development to expand the research on tools to assess the hazards present across food systems, linking multiple food sectors (e.g., farming, fishing, aquaculture, hunting) and multiple hazards (e.g., food safety hazards, pollution hazards, biodiversity hazards, climate hazards). This was done through a South African research fellowship scheme designed to support 8 postdoctoral fellows and up to 14 MSc studentships.

Positive Impacts

The South African Government Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) have agreed to co-fund elements of the project. They are employing a coordinator and are considering allocating a full-time staff member to lead the project concept from the South African side. The departments are also championing the project in internal fora, leading upcoming workshops, and working with the UK project team to identify a second country to expand the concept to. DSI and ARCH have also fully endorsed the scheme and have agreed to ‘own’ and co-fund the fellowships. CSIR has agreed to oversee the scheme and to fund a scheme coordinator.


Since One Food is such a broad project, there were challenges with navigating South African government departments to identify the best suited agency to take a lead and then to ensure other government departments remained engaged with the project. These challenges are overcome by having a strong stakeholder strategy informed by local expertise, a dedicated project engagement workshop at the inception phase, and a dedicated UK engagement lead to manage the diverse stakeholders and their needs.

The research fellowship scheme required negotiation with government departments and research councils with different priorities and personnel rules. This presented challenges in gaining agreement on the details of the fellowships and the employment and inclusivity processes that should be applied. The project is overcoming these by drawing on advice from stakeholders familiar with the South African government landscape (particularly from Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) and by developing pragmatic solutions to meet the requirements of the different actors and to accommodate South African government priorities.

Lessons learnt and next steps

This intervention has demonstrated that these types of projects are best led by UK Government departments rather than academia or NGOs. This results in more traction within overseas Governments which, with support from the local FCDO’s Science Innovation Network and other global initiatives that are already linked to a government (e.g., United Nations Environment Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, etc.), leads to higher engagement and likelihood of successful delivery with partner countries.

The research fellowship scheme is an excellent way to support career development in collaborating countries and particularly to support under-represented groups. It is important to understand the scientific and research context to ensure fellowships are pitched at a useful level (undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral level) and understand how the fellowships might help future career opportunities. Diplomacy and compromise are key.