Last week saw a multi-disciplinary research team active on the dump site in Potchefstroom. The team is busy with a research project examining food security and socio-economic conditions prevailing on landfill sites in South Africa where waste pickers carve out a living by gathering recyclables from the trash being dumped. Gathering recyclable waste has become a source of income for thousands of people in South Africa. There is no capital or start-up cost, no schooling or expertise needed and the waste picker has an assured buyer for the recyclable waste. The only real ability needed is the physical capacity to pick waste and to have access to waste and buy-back centres. Most informal waste pickers earn very low and uncertain levels of income and the socioeconomic and working conditions on the landfill sites remain unspeakable at times. Many face chronic poverty despite their attempts to generate a livelihood in the informal economy. This forms the background for the current project in terms of the food security and socio-economic conditions of these people. The project forms part of a bigger country-wide food security project, hosted within a number of academic institutions in South Africa.
The team and fieldworkers are from a number of institutions and disciplines. The team is headed by Prof Rinie Schenck from the Department of Social Work at the University of the Western Cape and Prof Rina Swart who is the Deputy Dean Faculty of Community and Health Sciences at the University of the Western Cape. The economic perspective is provided by Derick Blaauw and Dr Kotie Viljoen (School of Economics, North- West University, Potchefstroom Campus and Department of Economics and Econometrics, University of Johannesburg). Prof Nik Theodore from the University of Illinois at Chicago acts as an advisor on the project. Fieldworkers from various institutions help with the data collection.
The research takes place in Stellenbosch, Bloemfontein, Oudtshoorn, Vryburg, Potchefstroom and Pretoria. The waste pickers are measured and weighed and their BMI calculated as well. This is followed by an innovative approach to do a 24 hour recall i.t.o. the food intake of this vulnerable group in the informal economy. They are given the opportunity to show with spoons, plates, cups etc. exactly how much and what food they had. They can show the exact spoon size of maize eaten as well the portion size (using various size sponges etc.) of other food items. This is used to calculate their vulnerability in terms of food security. The economists complete the picture by looking at the socio-economic conditions faced by the waste pickers through the use of a survey instrument and semi-structured interviews.
The fieldwork is nearly done and then the data analysis can follow and the results disseminated. We will keep you posted.
Note: Prof Theodore will be speaking at the TRADE brown bag lunchtime seminar this Thursday the 17th of April at 12:00 in Room 138.