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The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Durban University of Technology (DUT), Professor Thandwa Zizwe Mthembu and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Professor Suren Singh hosted the inaugural professorial lecture of Professor Eric Oscar Amonsou, on Thursday, 28 October 2021 on Microsoft Teams.

An inaugural lecture is a prestigious event which symbolises a milestone in an academic career where he or she progresses to full professorship. The DUT academics and the DUT community gathered online to celebrate the sterling milestone of full professorship which was achieved by Prof Amonsou, a Food Science Professor in the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science, Faculty of Applied Sciences.

Giving his welcome remarks on Prof Amonsou’s remarkable achievement was Prof Mthembu,

Vice-Chancellor and Principal, who said that Prof Amonsou’s inaugural lecture delved into the research focus area which is in food and nutrition security within the broad field of Food Science.

“The title of his inaugural address is: Foods for A Healthy Body and Sustainable Societies. At least three things about Prof Amonsou and his chosen field of research and innovation are phenomenal. Firstly, it is phenomenal that on a deep personal level, DUT’s two DNA strands run deep in his veins, innovative and entrepreneurial on the one hand and people-centred and engaged on the other hand. Secondly, it is phenomenal that his innovative and entrepreneurial acumen have seen him almost effortlessly move from basic laboratory scale research to developing products and commercialising some of the new foods produced from local products. This speaks to ENVISION 2030, our strategy, with the ultimate goal of contributing towards improving the lives and livelihoods of our people and of our broader society. Thirdly, his work is fully aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development goals on poverty, hunger, health and well-being,” he conveyed.

Prof Mthembu said that in radiating his knack for being people-centred and engaged, once Prof Amonsou’s innovations are fully commercialised they will help to create income streams for local farmers and suppliers, and through his supervision and mentorship DUT undergraduates and postgraduate students will not only be educated but will be like him.

Providing an introduction of the charismatic inaugurand was Prof Suren Singh, Executive Dean: Faculty of Applied Sciences. He gave a detailed account into Prof Amonsou’s in-depth academic career and his science contributions since joining DUT eight years ago.

“It is important to note that Prof Amonsou moved through his research career from Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, then SA -Pretoria then Durban, as student, researcher and academic and like a ROCKET, and I mean that literally ladies and gentlemen, A ROCKET IN FULL FLIGHT. The stats speak for themselves,” he said.

Prof Singh indicated that Prof Amonsou had completed his PhD at the University of Pretoria in 2011 under the supervision of the late Prof Amanda Minnaar, and Prof John Taylor and then joined DUT as a Senior Lecturer in 2013 and within 8 years he became a Full-Professor, one of the Faculty’s Formula 1 drivers of research.

“That’s a rare feat for many academics in a global context. His NRF Y2 rating in 2015 and then a C2 rating in 2020 shows his class as a top Food Scientist in South Africa,” he remarked.

Prof Singh conveyed that Prof Amonsou boasts an outstanding research track record of having graduated 10 Masters and 5 PhD students over this period as well and is currently supervising 3 masters and 5 PhD students.

“In addition his 2 book chapters and 40 publications in international journals since joining DUT in 2013 are truly exceptional. The metrics related to his research (web of science: h – index 13; Scopus: h – index 14; 55 publications;) as leader of the Food and Nutrition Security RFA at DUT, places him as one of the most esteemed and high achieving Professors of the Faculty and University, signifying the great strides he has made. In fact, we have also jointly supervised 2 PhD students,” said Prof Singh.

Prof Singh relayed that his multiple international collaborations with institutions in Canada, France, USA, China and Ghana with whom he has also created mobility for both staff and students to expand their research journeys is exemplary. He further added that on the national front he has linkages with UP, ARC, UFS, UKZN.

“Multiple research Awards have become second nature to this vibrant Professor.

The mark of an academic professing in food is the age old saying, practice what you preach because good food with a balanced diet and exercise is critical to show the world that you are what you eat right! So, in 2018 this man started running and chasing targets here as well, with best times of 21 minutes for 5km; 51 minutes for 10km and just over 2hrs for the half marathon, and these are excellent numbers for a Professor in his mid-40,” he relayed.

Prof Singh indicated that to further break barriers he lost a whopping 25kg over this period to become a lean machine, adding that he did say that his next goal is the comrades marathon before the BIG 50!

“The Faculty of Applied Sciences has its vision deeply embedded in ‘Educate, Engage and Innovate’ and to this end, I must state that Prof Amonsou is at the forefront as the Innovator in FAS with a soon to launch spinoff company through DUT.,” he said.

DUT’s Prof Amonsou then delved into his lecture explaining how society is faced with multiple challenges including climate change, obesity and the burden of lifestyle diseases such as heart diseases and diabetes.

“We all want to live a healthy life and my hope is that I will be able to convince you of those foods that are important to end hunger, alleviate poverty in our society and create sustainability. Our societies are transforming at a rapid rate, our communities, villages, cities, agriculture and food systems, whilst some changes are good, those technological changes, smart agriculture are necessary to adapt to our new way of life. Our constantly evolving societies are creating many problems, many challenge and poverty in our society,” he said.

He spoke on food and cooking methods that have transformed significantly which has shifted our focus from more natural products to refine and process foods.

“The way of early men, hunters/gatherers is almost in extinction. I know we cannot go back to become hunters/ gatherers, but we can learn from the foods they were eating since we all know that these have significant health benefits, as you can see most of the foods we are eating today are full of fat and protein,” he stressed.

He highlighted on the triple burden of malnutrition, saying that more than half of South Africa’s children live below the poverty line. He relayed that half of the childhood deaths in South Africa are due to chronic malnutrition, and that 1.5 million children (1 in 3) are stunted.

“This calls for concern and we have to do something, 30% of children live in households where no adults are employed and have little or no access to a healthy diet daily,” he added.

He then focused on the SDG challenges, indicating that steady progress has been made but in 2020 there was a decline which can be attributed to COVID-19.

He stressed there is another aspect to the problem and that the world is getting fatter.

“Obesity has become a global epidemic and the major risk factor for major metabolic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Imagine a place where over 70% of people and a third of men are classified as overweight and obese, it calls for concern, it cannot continue. Each year Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year which is equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally. Each year, 15 million people die from a NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years: over 85% of these ‘premature’ deaths occur in low and middle income countries. These four groups of diseases, (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes), account for over 80% of all premature, preventable NCD deaths. What is the situation in South Africa? NCDS are accounted for 51% of all deaths, we have to do something,” he indicated.

He articulated further that childhood obesity is on the rise in South Africa and about 13% of children are obese, he then elucidated on the dietary patterns during the nutrition transition which included decreases in staple foods rich in dietary fibre and decreases in plant protein sources such as legumes.

“There are increases in energy-dense snack foods, carbonated sweetened beverages, commercially available alcoholic. Increases in foods from animal origin rich in total fat and saturated fatty acids,” said Prof Amonsou.

He further conveyed that obesity can impact productivity and economic growth and asked the question on how can these challenges be addressed, especially on the burden of lifestyle diseases, saying that alternate food solutions are required.

He also spoke on what foods are better for a healthy body and societies, saying that he proposed three criterions to consider.

“These foods should be climate resilient and have abundant micronutrients and health promoting components, reduce the carbon food prints and limiting the processing impact,” he said.

He also spoke on looking at growing meat in the lab, the role of insect proteins, the research levels for traditional African food crops like Amadumbe and the evolution of the human diet.

“The role traditional crops can play in addressing our global challenges will be demonstrated through our cutting-edge research and ways to harness these benefits to improve our health and livelihood will be uncovered,” conveyed Prof Amonsou.

Prof Amonsou expressed his gratitude to various academic heads, DUT colleagues, family, students and friends who had attended his inaugural lecture and who had played a pivotal role in his journey as an academic to attaining full professorship.

Giving closing remarks and vote of thanks was Prof Moyo who thanked the Vice-Chancellor & Principal, Prof Mthembu, Council members present and all staff, students, Honorary and Adjunct Professors, friends of the University as well as Prof Amonsou’s family. She congratulated and thanked Prof Amonsou for delivering a very interesting and intriguing lecture on “Foods for a Healthy Body and Sustainable Societies”.

“The title of the talk is well aligned to the Four (4) Perspectives of ENVISION2030, that is, Stewardship, Systems and Processes, Sustainability and Society,” she said.

Prof Amonsou was also thanked for sharing the work that he had done so far on his journey as well, which led him to achieve his full professorship at DUT.

“At DUT we know that within this research focus area, food and nutrition security also contributes to our regional and global inputs to improve nutrition security, especially in rural areas,” she stressed.

Prof Moyo once again congratulated Prof Amonsou on his full professorship, his faculty and gave thanks to all the people who had contributed to making this event successful despite the challenges experienced like the power failure.

Pictured: Prof Amonsou, a Food Science Professor in the Department of Biotechnology and Food Technology, Faculty of Applied Sciences.

Waheeda Peters

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