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First we eat! Mobilising early childhood development centres to develop agency for growing, eating and sharing healthy food

In 2016, the South African Demographic and Health Survey reported that 27% of children under age 5 are stunted, 3% are wasted, and 6% are underweight. In the small city of Makhanda, these statistics may be even higher in the context of social-ecological-economic injustice. This collaborative research project sought to respond by supporting practitioners from 12 selected Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres across Makhanda to establish on-site food gardens.

The team wanted to research how (if at all) those ECD centres could be transformed into vibrant learning hubs that develop individual and collective agency for growing, eating and sharing healthy food. Partners included the Environmental Learning Research Centre, the Centre for Social Development, Umthathi Training Trust and the Makhanda Circle of Unity. Research participants included ECD practitioners, community educators and gardening facilitators from CSD and Umthathi, and any parents, caregivers or interested community members who interact with the food gardening and informal learning processes.

The project sought to generate data through participant observations (including photographs and videos), semi-structured interviews with selected parents and community members, and photo elicitation interviews with ECD practitioners and children at the ECD centres. The research project drew primarily on Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-ecological Systems approach to child development, social learning theory and post-Vygotskian accounts of agency to analyse and represent the data.

Key Themes:
Climate Action
Sustainable Cities and Communities
Location: south africa
Principal Investigator: Lausanne Olvitt (ELRC)
Co-Investigators: Nikki Green (CSD), Boniwe Msimang (CSD), Phumeza Mdingi (Umthathi), Avuyile Bika (Umthathi), Wongalethu Luguxa (Umthathi), Sisesakhe Ntlabezo (MCU)
Host Organisation: Rhodes University
Duration: 12 months