UKZN supports KWANALU in Improving Water Stewardship
A recent session held on the topic of Improving Water Stewardship posed the question: "How do we better look after our water resources?" This challenge was addressed by a group of agricultural and commercial forestry leaders, conservationists and researchers who met in the KZN Midlands for the day-long session hosted and led by KWANALU, the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union.
The session was supported by UKZN, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the International Water Security Network and the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP). The catalyst for this ‘meeting-of-minds’ was the recognition that the availability of good quality water in the uMngeni, Mooi and upper-Umvoti River catchments – which sustain 5 million people - is under pressure. After several years of above average rainfall, this situation is exacerbated by the drought currently being experienced.
In his introductory comments, Mike Black, President of KWANALU
, emphasised that the conservation of both water and land resources was central to good agricultural practice so farmers were conservationists at heart. That said, it was recognised that agriculture and commercial forestry are the dominant land-users in these catchments and inevitably impact on water resources. The challenge of individually and collectively acting as better stewards of this resource was laid out for consideration at the meeting.
Pieter van Zyl of Potatoes SA, John Scotcher of Forestry SA, Edsel Hols of the KZN Milk Producers’ Organisation, Graham Armstrong of the Mpofana Irrigation Project, Marilyn Govender of the South African Sugar Association and Anthony Edmonds of the Midlands North Sugar Environmental Committee all made presentations illustrating the progress that their various sectors were making and also the challenges that they faced. Angus Williamson and Leon Craig also provided informal inputs on the beef and pork sectors respectively.
A number of key points emerged from the presentations and working sessions. One was that the agricultural and forestry sectors, and their sub-sectors, have made considerable strides in improving water-use efficiency in their operations. This has been spurred on by environmental concerns, increasing costs of irrigation (especially the energy cost) and more accurate measurements of water usage (what one can’t measure one can’t manage).
It was also noted that both the commercial forestry and agriculture sectors are highly regulated in terms of water use – the Water Act, Biodiversity Acts and Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act all play a role. However, opportunities to self-regulate and self-govern for collective benefit remain and should be encouraged.
It was also recognised that the key to success in this area is effective sector leadership, technological improvement and innovation, improved collaboration with other sectors (municipalities, industry, communal areas) and along sector supply chains, improved communication and education, and external facilitation.
The workshop concluded that conservancies, irrigation boards, water user associations and catchment management fora all have a role to play in supporting efforts, and that KWANALU had the necessary structures (farmers’ associations and others) to engage, but would require external support from organisations like WWF to facilitate various processes. It was also agreed that SUSFarms (a sustainable farming standard developed for the cane sector) could be applied in other sectors and that inter-sectoral collaboration could assist in this process. Finally, Dr Bimo Nkhata of the International Water Security Network identified the research areas that might support improved water stewardship by the various sectors and sub-sectors. These included improving understanding of the nature of interactions between stakeholders, identifying the incentives that can play a role in addressing water risk and understanding the institutional arrangements and enabling environment for self-regulation.
Healthy New Crop of PhDs for ACCI
The African Centre for Crop Improvement
(ACCI) at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN saw eight of its PhD students graduate with their Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Breeding at this year’s graduation ceremonies.
Each of the students who graduated, all from countries around Africa, focused on developing new varieties of the crops they each studied, and through the ACCI’s PhD training programme, were equipped with the skills they needed to investigate their crops and improve on their resilience in their home countries. This focus of the ACCI allows students to improve crops for an African environment in order to contribute towards improved Food Security in their home countries.
The graduates all spoke highly of the ACCI training programme, describing how the initial coursework element, undertaken at UKZN before they began fieldwork in the field in their home countries, enabled them to approach their research with the necessary tools to successfully complete their PhD. Many of the graduates are mid-career professionals, and spoke highly of the ACCI administrative support as well as their supervisors, who they said followed up with them diligently and visited them in the field to ensure that they had the assistance they needed to finish their degrees on time.
Dr Demissew Ababulgu, a plant breeder from the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), completed his research on Genetic Diversity and Combining Ability of Selected Quality Protein Maize (QPM) Inbred Lines Adapted to the Highland Agro-Ecology of Ethiopia. His work has resulted in the publication of three papers, which he says was facilitated by the push the students received from the ACCI to have their work published.
Dr Asnakech Beyene, a plant pathologist researcher from the EIAR, completed her research on the topic of Genetic Analysis and Characterization of Faba Bean (Vicia faba) for Chocolate Spot (Botrytis fabae) Disease Resistance and Yield in the Ethiopian Highlands. Her research, which she hopes will contribute to the body of knowledge on this disease affecting a crop that it vital for Food Security in Ethiopia, provided information about the inheritance of diseases and yielded three publications, with seven more in the pipeline.
Dr Netsanet Hei, also a plant pathologist with the EIAR, completed her PhD on the topic of Genetic Analysis of Stem Rust Resistance among Ethiopian Grown Wheat Lines. The wheat crop is a vital crop in Ethiopia, and it is vital for the crop that varieties are developed that will ensure increased food security in the country. Hei has had one paper from her research published already, and hopes to work on releasing a disease-resistant cultivar as she continues in her plant breeding work.
Dr Geofrey Lubadde, a plant pathologist from the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Uganda, sought to diversify his qualifications and improve the crops he was working with in his home country. His research focused on Genetic Analysis and Improvement of Pearl Millet for Rust Resistance and Grain Yield in Uganda. Lubadde has produced one publication from his research so far, with another two accepted for publication, two that have yet to be submitted for publication and one book published, which focuses on the socio-economic aspect of growing pearl millet.
Dr Macpherson Matewele, a plant pathologist at the National Research Council of Malawi, focused his work on Diversity Analysis and Breeding for Maize Weevil (Sitophilus zeamais Motschulsky) and Larger Grain Borer (Prostephanus truncatus Horn) Resistance in Productive Maize Germplasm in Malawi, research aimed at breeding maize for resistance to pests. According to Matewele, there are not enough plant breeders in Malawi, a problem he aims to contribute to solving through acquiring this qualification. Matewele has been working on ten varieties, which are in their early stages but which he believes have potential to be adopted as cultivars in the future. He is planning to submit seven papers from his research, and spoke of the benefit the ACCI programme had been to him, particularly in teaching him to use tools for analysis, such as Biometry, an area in which he had some experience but had never fully explored.
Dr Jane Mbugua, an agronomist and research officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), completed her thesis on the topic of Development of High Yielding Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) Genotypes with Resistance to Bacterial Wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) for the Kenyan Highlands. Mbugua’s research produced a remarkable twelve published papers and a book chapter, and has contributed to what she sees as her career progression as a scientist, where a PhD degree is almost a necessity. She pursued plant breeding due to the lack of breeders in Kenya, and expressed gratitude to her former director and centre director at KARI for their support. Mbugua, who has been breeding for heat-tolerance and increased yield, has 100 clones in advanced trials looking at the chipping, crisping and high yield qualities of the potato clones.
Dr Lameck Nyaligwa, a senior crop research officer at the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Tanzania conducted his research on Genetic Analysis, Combining Ability and Yield Stability of Maize Genotypes Under Maize Streak Virus Prone Environments. He aims to breed cultivars for disease resistance, drought tolerance, Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and low-N qualities. Nyaligwa has prepared four papers for publication, and undertook his PhD to add capacity to his work. He mentioned his choice of the ACCI because of its efficient output of researchers when compared to other institutes offering plant breeding in Africa.
The only graduate of the eight who unfortunately was not able to attend the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Pietermaritzburg graduation ceremony in person, was Dr Jean-Baptiste Muhinyuza from Rwanda. He completed his research on Breeding Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) for High Yield and Resistance to Late Blight in Rwanda, and aims to work on new cultivars which are resistant to disease in Rwanda.
All the graduates made special mention of the ACCI’s programme and thanked their supervisors, Professor Mark Laing, Professor Hussein Shimelis, Professor Rob Melis, Professor John Derera and Dr Julia Sibiya for their invaluable support. Many emphasised that they hoped that the programme would continue to produce the capable and highly-skilled graduates it has been able to send into Africa in its more than ten years of existence. Each graduate also looked forward to spending more time with their families now that their PhDs are behind them, and were excited at the prospect of continuing their work in their home countries to contribute to the prosperity of the continent.
Human Nutrition PhD Research Focuses on the Role of Nutrition in Preventing Disease
Dr Keiron Audain of Trinidad has been awarded his PhD in Human Nutrition after completing his thesis on the topic: A Comparative Analysis of the Nutrition Status, Nutrition Knowledge and Food Frequency of Adolescents Attending an Urban Versus a Peri-Urban School in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal.
Audain’s academic background prepared him for the topic he selected, having completed his BSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Queen Mary University Of London and then doing his first Masters degree in Molecular Biology and Pathology of Viruses at the Imperial College London, followed by a second Masters at UKZN in Medical Biochemistry.
Audain was intrigued by the role played by nutrition in alleviating some of the major health concerns impacting Africa and other developing countries, especially chronic and infectious diseases and malnutrition.
‘My interest in nutrition stemmed from my interest in its relationship with the onset of disease, particularly HIV,’ explained Audain. ‘I believe that poor nutrition plays an underlying role in many of the diseases that affect both the developed and developing world today, and improving nutrition can be an important preventative strategy.’
The research conducted by Audain, which has so far produced two published peer-reviewed papers, yielded interesting results on the nutrition status of learners in both high and low income brackets.
Poor nutrition overall was observed in adolescents from both schools studied, with Audain finding that obesity was more prevalent among male learners from the high income school and among female scholars in the low-income school. The obesity in each group, however, stemmed from different causes; the high-income students reportedly ate more fatty red meat and the lower-income students consumed more fatty snacks, such as vetkoek and samosas. The subjects’ choice of food contributing to obesity reflects their contrasting socio-economic backgrounds, nonetheless, poor habits were observed in both groups.
Audain also recorded that stunted growth was apparent in the low-income learners, indicating a double-burden of obesity and stunting which, literature suggests, can play a role in increased disease risk in adulthood.
Audain was able to present his research in the form of a poster presentation at the African Nutrition and Epidemiology Conference (ANEC) VI in July 2014, as well as at the National Nutrition Congress held in Johannesburg in September 2014. Interest in his work demonstrates the increasing concern around adolescent obesity and the factors contributing to the condition.
An additional motivator behind Audain’s work was his first-hand experience of the negative impact poor eating habits in adolescence had on his health later in life. Audain’s hope is that studies like this one can illuminate the crucial issue of adolescent nutrition and contribute to the introduction of a nutrition intervention strategy.
Audain aims to continue his research in this field now that he has his PhD, and is exploring post-doctorate research opportunities in South Africa and around the world.
His time at UKZN has provided Audain with a beneficial, multidisciplinary outlook on his work, having been a part of both the Medical Biochemistry and the Dietetics and Human Nutrition disciplines at the University.
‘I think that the close proximity and interaction between the Human Nutrition and Food Security departments here at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) is a great thing, as these two research areas are inextricably linked,’ said Audain.
Audain credited Professor Anil Chuturgoon from UKZN’s discipline of Medical Biochemistry for his part in assisting him to come to South Africa and embark on research. Audain also thanked his colleague and friend Dr Francis Zotor at the University of Health and Allied Sciences for his mentorship, academically and personally. He acknowledged the influence of Dr Paul Amuna at the University of Greenwich for inspiring him as an African academic championing nutrition and health issues on a global stage. Audain’s former supervisor at the Imperial College London, Dr Simon Jeffs, also played a role in supporting Audain in his work over the years.
He expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support of his mother, friends and family both in his home country and in South Africa.
In the discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, Audain’s supervisors, Professor Frederick Veldman and Mrs Suna Kaisser had been ‘infectiously passionate’ about his project and assisted every step of the way.
Kassier said that the study provided a snapshot of the nutritional status of future South African adults, as weight status was known to track into adulthood. This, she said, would form an indicator of adult onset lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which are linked to body mass index (BMI). Audain’s revelations of the complicated relationship between obesity and socio-economic factors also could provide important insight into the discussion around obesity in South Africa.
Audain said he applauded the efforts South African researchers are making in improving nutrition outcomes in the country and throughout Africa, and said he would like to see more South Africans from communities most affected by nutrition-related illnesses join the dialogue and become part of the solution.
PhD Thesis Emphasises Vital Water Resource Management
A seven-year journey reached a successful conclusion for Dr Sabine Stuart-Hill when she graduated with a PhD in Hydrology in this year's graduation ceremony in Pietermaritzburg.
Supervised by Professor Roland Schulze and Professor Claudia Pahl-Wostl, her thesis was titled: “Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change into Decision Making in the Water Sector: Concepts and Case Studies from South Africa.”
Stuart-Hill, who has been a part of the Discipline of Hydrology as a lecturer in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science (SAEES) since beginning her PhD in 2008, spent much of her life in Germany and studied her undergraduate degree at the University of Bonn, where she also went on to complete her masters.
Initially, Stuart-Hill, whose interests lie in sustainability and environmental science, wanted to do her undergraduate degree in the early 1990s in South Africa, a country where she also has roots. However, at the time, there were few opportunities to study in those fields in South Africa and no exchange programmes were on offer to enable her to work in both countries.
Stuart-Hill completed her undergraduate and masters degrees in Germany, with her masters focusing on flood mapping in the Rhine catchment area after floods devastated the area in a country which, while known for its systems and planning, is unused to natural disasters.
After completing her masters, Stuart-Hill chose to delay beginning a PhD as the experience of doing research with real-world results had stimulated her interest in working where she could have an impact on the uptake of science into policy and visible, daily actions. She spent a short while in the consulting field, before moving on to work for the German government where she ran a unit working on a European Union-funded programme focused on preventive flood management.
Stuart-Hill’s experience of how various countries in Europe approached issues of flood management sparked ideas for her PhD, which she describes as a journey of discovering issues pertinent to her research and devising ways to research those issues most fully.
Stuart-Hill had made contact with her supervisor Professor Schulze of UKZN through her work in Europe and through her co-supervisor, Professor Claudia Pahl-Wostl of the Institute for Environmental Systems Research in Osnabrück, Germany.
The supervision and co-supervision of Schulze and Pahl-Wostl provided Stuart-Hill with a spread in discussions and contacts, which enriched her work. She cited Schulze particularly as a knowledge broker in her work, and expressed gratitude to her supervisors for their crucial input and support.
For her PhD research, Stuart-Hill examined issues of climate change adaptive water management and water governance in South Africa, where changes in the catchment areas and subsequently in communities need to be investigated to modify how water is managed. She described how a sensitive hydrological cycle and responses in the country provide uncertainties which traditional modeling and projection practices cannot fully accommodate, and where there is insufficient data to base hydrological models and projections on.
Stuart-Hill was interested in basing her PhD on her foundations of interacting with governments and the people they serve, and exploring how to adapt to climate change and mainstream issues of water governance and changes in hydrological systems via participatory processes. Her background in project management, workshop facilitation, negotiations and communications greatly influenced and informed her work, giving her a different set of skills to apply to her research.
‘There is a need to be creative and innovative when dealing with these issues,’ said Stuart-Hill, ‘since water issues feed into every area of all of our lives.’
Her research has a transdisciplinary theme, presenting a challenge as most publishers still stick to traditional categories for the publication of papers. She has, however, worked on a number of papers to be published from her work and has also been invited to work on other projects as a result of her work, including two projects with the Water Research Commission (WRC) as part of their Water Governance Think Tank, and the National Research Foundation (NRF), the latter enabling her to send two UKZN masters students to Germany for part of their research.
She is a member of the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) Management and Institutional Affairs Division committee championing the governance theme and since March 2013, a member of the Interim Steering Committee for the re-establishment of the South African Country Water Partnership. She is also coordinator for one of the six FETwater Phase III themes - Planning & Implementation.
FETwater is a training programme for the water sector financed and supported by the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA), WRC, the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).
Involvement with other projects, the trans-disciplinary nature of her work and the fact that Stuart-Hill married and had two children while completing her PhD contributed to the time it took to finish the degree.
She found, however, that this gave her time to mature around her work, reading up on other disciplines’ forays into the field and ultimately being able to produce a cutting-edge dissertation.
‘This kind of work has really opened up a new theme in Hydrology; one which is people-based and is involved in bringing scientific results and hydrological maps to the people that they affect.’
She has enjoyed the support of her colleagues in SAEES during the completion of her PhD, who she says have understood the process of completing this work and have given her the space to do so.
Going forward, Stuart-Hill aims to build a research group around developing a decision-making process in water governance that is informed by processing and projections, that will contribute to water security and allow a water-scarce South Africa not simply to live on the boundary of exceeding bio-physical thresholds, but steer itself towards optimum management of its water resources.
Students Honoured by Industry at College Awards
On Friday evening the 17th of April, the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science held its annual College Awards Ceremony where deserving students who have achieved excellent results in their studies were honoured with awards.
Last year, Friends of UKZN Agriculture organised a number of new awards for deserving students who were not being recognised in their disciplines because of a lack of sponsorship, so we would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the companies who continued their sponsorship and thereby made it possible to acknowledge very deserving students. These companies are Lima Rural Development Foundation
, who sponsored an award for Food Security,Pannar Seed
who sponsored an award for Crop Science, Jeffares and Green
who sponsored an award for Geography, theCitrus Growers' Association
who sponsored an award for Agricultural Economics,Kwanalu
who sponsored an award for Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management, Campbell Scientific
who sponsored an award for Agrometeorology andStandard Bank
who sponsored an award for Agricultural Economics.
In addition to all of these sponsors, there are also sponsors who have been sponsoring awards in the School for many years, including the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute
, Mrs Yvonne Fletcher (daughter of the late Professor Behrmann), the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa
, theSouth African Society for Animal Science
, the Valley Trust
, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa
, Professor Roland Schulze, Inqaba Biotec
, sponsors of the Vanderplank award,Link Seed
and Professor Rijkenberg.
The event was thoroughly enjoyed by all, with many proud family members able to enjoy their children / siblings / grandchildren's achievements and celebrate with them. It also gave sponsors the chance to enjoy an evening with staff from the College and top students who will one day enter their fields.
Masters Programme in Plant Breeding Launched
On Thursday the 23rd
of April, the newMaster’s Programme in Plant Breeding
in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Science (SAEES) was officially launched in the presence of representatives from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) and staff members of SAEES.
UKZN’s SAEES was selected to pioneer this programme to train plant breeders for Africa because of its high concentration of plant breeders, and because of the success it has seen in the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI), a centre in the School supported by AGRA which has been training PhD students in plant breeding on a similar model for almost thirteen years.
Professor Albert Modi, Dean and Head of SAEES, where the programme is situated, opened the launch and congratulated the students for making it into the programme and spoke about the significance of plant breeding in Africa. He thanked AGRA for its work into ensuring food security in Africa in the context of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which it achieves by funding initiatives such as the Master’s Plant Breeding Programme with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
“Africa must lead the charge in changing its own situation,” emphasised Modi.
He also welcomed Dr Rufaro Madakadze, the Program Officer for Education and Training at AGRA, and her two colleagues, Associate Programme Officers Ms Caroline Adala-Oremo and Ms Judith Naibei-Kembe. He thanked representatives from the College of AES for attending, and remarked that the Masters programme falls in line with the University’s business plan in terms of colleagues in Schools and Colleges supporting one another.
Madakadze expressed confidence in UKZN, and highlighted the programme as being a response to the need for an approach in Africa that is intentional about problem-solving. She spoke about Africa’s varied agro-ecology and the need to produce unique solutions to challenges in each area, and mentioned that, despite AGRA having trained and funded 800 people throughout the continent already, there is still a need for more skilled individuals whose impact on plant breeding in their countries can be measured. She expressed hope that programmes like this will increase capacity and train Africans in Africa to contribute to the public and private sectors.
Professor John Derera, the project manager for the programme, outlined the project and its aims of training a total of 30 industry-ready, modern plant breeders from at least 6 Southern African countries. According to the programme’s directives, the new breeders will impact positively on delivering the technology needs of the smallholder farming sector, which dominates agricultural production in Africa.
The programme is a collaboration between UKZN, AGRA, Makerere University in Uganda, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and Iowa State University in the USA, with teaching staff coming from SAEES, the United States of America and other institutions in the region. According to Derera, the teaching on the course will emphasise technical subjects as well as soft skills and teaching the students to work with people. Emphasis in the programme is placed on collaboration between the private sector and public sector, with representatives from each involved in the students’ training. Public entities such as the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) are involved in training the students and private companies like Pannar, Pioneer Seeds, Monsanto, Capstone Seeds and United Seeds will accept the students for the 6 month internship portion of their programme.
Derera drew attention to the transdiciplinary nature of the programme, pointing out that staff from disciplines like Food Security, Plant Pathology and Nutrition would be involved in lecturing the students.
The curriculum was developed in partnership with Iowa State University in the USA and includes application of modern teaching technologies and applied research to improve crop varieties.
Professor Theresa Coetzer, Acting Dean of Research for CAES and Professor Bala Pillay, Dean of Teaching and Learning, spoke at the event. Coetzer emphasised the standard that had been set by SAEES in its work on food security and sustainable development that led to its being selected by funders as the leading African university to pioneer this programme, and reiterated the College’s support for the initiative. She mentioned the programmes that the students would be involved in to contribute to their studies, including the Mastering Masters workshops if needed and trials at Cedara, Ukulinga Research Farm and Jozini.
Pillay added that the initiative fits into the University’s objective of being a leading university for African scholarship and highlighted the institution’s commitment to teaching and learning and holistic approach to teaching the programme. He gave a vote of thanks to all involved and wished the students luck with their endeavours, also saying that he hoped the programme would contribute to understanding of and interest in plant breeding in Africa.
The event was attended by the ten students enrolled in the Master’s programme, who began their training three months ago. The students, who come from Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, had a class representative, Ms Mwila Chibanda, speak at the launch. Chibanda described some of the training the group had already benefited from, emphasising how vital this training is to supply them with the skills they need to contribute to the production of more food in their countries to decrease malnutrition and increase income in the sector.
“We are so fortunate to be at the receiving end of knowledge being passed on by professionals here,” said Chibanda.
Chibanda, on behalf of her classmates, thanked AGRA for their support as well as UKZN for its facilities and staff, and promised to uphold the values of the institution in return for its hospitality and generosity.
Crop Science Masters Investigates Water Efficiency of Underutilised Crop
Ms Tendai Chibarabada was awarded her Masters of Science degree in Agriculture (Crop Science) at a graduation ceremony in Pietermaritzburg with her thesis titled: Seed Quality and Water Use Characteristics of a Bambara Groundnut (Vigna subterranea L) Landrace Differing in Seed Coat Colour.
Her research focused on the bambara groundnut, an underutilised legume crop which is indigenous to Africa, having originated in Mali. The water-efficient crop is a useful food source and can be used in a variety of ways, from being a source of vegetable milk and flour to being used to produce a paste which is used to prepare akara - a traditional African food. Additionally, fermented bambara groundnut flour has high nutritional quality and is recommended for use in weaning food formulation.
Chibarabada’s study examined the seed quality of selected seed coat colours of bambara groundnut, and determined water use efficiency during seedling establishment as well as the effect of water stress on maternal plants and the subsequent seed quality of the bambara groundnut.
Her thesis also highlighted the fact that the bambara groundnut seed contained sufficient quantities of protein, carbohydrates and fat as well as appreciable amounts of micro nutrients, to meet nutritional recommendations set forward by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Water from the boiled grain has also been used by the Luo tribe in Kenya to treat diarrhoea, indicating possible medicinal properties.
In addition to all of these benefits, the bambara groundnut does not need nitrogen fertiliser application, meaning that even resource-constrained households can participate in its production.
The crop, also known as jugo beans, izindlubu, round beans and nyimo in South Africa, is widely cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to Chibarabada, the bambara groundnut is the third most important legume after groundnut and cowpea, despite slowly being replaced by exotic species of groundnuts.
Chibarabada’s research was part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project her supervisor, Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), Professor Albert Modi is heading up.
Her research concluded that the colour of the seed coat has an effect on the seed quality, and that bambara groundnut seedlings improved water use efficiency under decreasing water supply. Despite the resilience of the crop, particularly in a water-scarce country like South Africa, the research also established that sub-optimum growing conditions (rainfed) resulted in progeny of inferior seed viability, suggesting that optimum conditions are needed for bambara groundnut seed production. In the absence of this, explained Chibarabada, farmers may risk recycling seed with inferior seed quality, which may negatively affect yields in the short to medium term.
Modi, who has supervised one PhD student and four Masters students working on this crop, commented on the excellence of Chibarabada’s work and commended her as a student.
‘Tendai completed her Masters in record time, finishing it within 12 months with two publications to boot,’ he said. ‘She also worked independently and wrote her work up very well.’
Chibarabada is pleased with the results of her study, which she hopes will contribute to the growing body of knowledge on an underutilised, resilient crop which has potential to contribute to reducing food insecurity. Her work has resulted in the publication of two articles, one with the South African Journal of Plant and Soil, based on the first chapter of her thesis, and a second one with the Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica journal in its Soil and Plant Science section. A third article is under review for publication.
She hopes the results of these kinds of studies will contribute to the realisation of the crop’s potential in terms of crop improvement, which would increase its yields and enable it to be a commercially-available, promoted seed crop.
Having studied for her undergraduate degree in Horticulture at the Africa University in Zimbabwe, Chibarabada chose to pursue her Honours and Masters degrees at UKZN because of the institution’s reputation being strong in agricultural disciplines.
She thanked Modi, and Crop Science researcher Dr Tafadzwanashe Mabhaudhi for their vital support during her studies.
Chibarabada conducted her research at the University’s Ukulinga Research Farm as well as with rural communities in Swayimani.
‘I was very grateful for the opportunity to work with communities and in PR at UKZN, because that’s not a chance everybody gets and it contributed a lot to my work,’ said Chibarabada.
She plans to pursue her PhD at UKZN, also in water-related projects on underutilised crops.
Agrometeorology Graduate Investigates Relationship between Atmospheric Dynamics and Wildfires
Agrometeorology student, Mr Sheldon Strydom, graduated with his Master's in Science cum laude - a remarkable feat for a student who completed his undergraduate degree in the Social Sciences before moving onto postgraduate studies in the Sciences.
Strydom, supervised by Professor Michael Savage, completed his Bachelor of Social Sciences in the discipline of Geography, and then chose to follow his passion for atmospheric science and climatology to a postgraduate career in Agrometeorology, after taking the discipline’s second-year courses during his undergraduate studies.
‘He is the first student in the history of UKZN, and possibly the country, with a BSocSci undergraduate degree to complete a Master's in Agrometeorology,’ said Savage. ‘He also obtained his BSc Honours cum laude and his honours project, which I also supervised, was based on the Agrometeorology Instrumentation Mast (AIM) data and information system for the agro-environmental sciences.’
Strydom’s Master's research was focused in the area of fire meteorology, specifically investigating the relationship between atmospheric dynamics and wildfires. His work included the analysis of 11 years’ of spatial and temporal variations in South African fires, using satellite-derived fire hotspots and applying geographic information system (GIS) analyses to link to changes in climate and vegetation.
His masters research also included a fuzzy logic system for determining periods of Berg winds (warm, dry winds descending the escarpment which have a notable influence on fire danger). The effects of Berg winds on the microclimate were also studied and two near real-time fire danger index measurement systems were developed – the South African Lowveld fire danger index and the Australian McArthur fire danger meters.
The two fire danger indices developed in Strydom’s study were modified to allow them to be programmed into an Automatic Weather Station (AWS) data-logger to provide hourly and sub-hourly fire danger information. These systems are currently in use as part of the UKZN Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) system and provide valuable data regarding fire danger in the region.
‘One examiner found that his Masters dissertation conveyed a complex research idea, methodology and findings in a manner easy to read and understand,’ said Savage. ‘This examiner also noted that the findings, if implemented and practised nationally, would be indispensable and an invaluable tool not only to the agricultural and forest community but also to the country’s economic sector in general. The second examiner found that the study is timely as it re-examined research by previously contracted research institutions in South Africa, which had lost momentum, on the potential of different fire danger rating systems suitable for South Africa.’
Having come from a Social Sciences background, Strydom was able to bring a unique set of skills to his research.
‘While there are a few challenges, having a background in Social Science has never held me back,’ said Strydom. ‘Effective writing is essential to the Social Sciences and I think this has been the biggest contribution of my Social Science background, which has also equipped me with the tools to understand phenomena from multiple perspectives. In my opinion, a big problem with the science and research sector is understanding multiple perspectives and effectively communicating research findings to stakeholders and impacted parties. For example, there is some great climate change research being done around the country but there is a problem in communicating the implications of the research to lay persons, and that is where some training in social science can be invaluable. Science shouldn’t be done for the sake of science; it should be done to contribute towards a positive change for all.’
‘We all assist in each other’s research by helping to set up equipment or by providing assistance in data collection,’ said Strydm. ‘I would never be where I am today without the support from the other Agromet postgrads and the support and guidance from Professor Savage.’
Strydom said that the first step to becoming a motivated, hardworking student who achieved a Masters cum laude degree was recognising how privileged he was. ‘It took a while for me to realise this,’ said Strydom. ‘Most students don’t realise how fortunate they are to be at university. There are a lot of people who wish to be here and who could be here if it wasn't for one or two barriers. Understanding the magnitude of this opportunity drives me every day. I have been blessed with these opportunities and I will do my best not to waste them.’
Strydom is currently working on his PhD in Agrometeorology with Savage as his supervisor. He aims to submit articles based on his masters research to international journals to review for publication. He has also been lecturing atmospheric science to second year Geography students as a relief lecturer, pointing towards a career in academia for Strydom.
Strydom expressed gratitude to God and his family for unfailing support and for showing him the value of hard work. He thanked the Agrometeorology and Geography disciplines for their support and assistance.
PhD Study Contributes to Food Security Policy
The important topic of policy implications arising from strategies for the eradication of poverty and food insecurity was central to the theme of the thesis of Dr Richard Kajombo who graduated from UKZN with his PhD in Food Security.
Kajombo completed a BSc in Agricultural Economics at the Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi and undertook his Masters in Development and Resource Economics at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB). Having identified what he describes as a number of gaps in the emerging academic field of Food Security, he chose to conduct his PhD in that field, where he felt his background in economics, econometrics and impact assessments would enable him to contribute to the body of knowledge.
His research comprised an investigation of the poverty and food insecurity status of households, scrutinising their underlying causes, viable livelihood options and policy implications in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. It also showed the importance of understanding the heterogeneity of households, their interaction with resources and the role of policies in improving households’ welfare.
According to Kajombo, it was the high incidence of household food insecurity, poverty and vulnerability among rural households in KZN that stimulated his interest in this topic.
‘I wanted to provide some options to policy makers to address poverty and food insecurity among resource-poor households,’ said Kajombo.
Key findings of the study indicate that household welfare could be achieved through provisions of combinations of basic services including access to water and agricultural extension, improved household resource endowment, consumption and market policy interventions.
Kajombo believes that these results could provide policy makers with appropriate policy areas for intervention to improve rural livelihoods, welfare and quality of life, contribute to existing literature on household food security and guide policy and programme implementation in South Africa.
He said UKZN and its staff members provided him with an environment conducive to his research.
Co-supervisor Dr Joyce Chitja of the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) said she encouraged Kajombo to pursue his PhD with UKZN after observing his contributions and dedication to his work with the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC), a structure that monitors and implements food security and vulnerability programmes in Malawi and all SADC countries.
‘Throughout his studies, Richard was involved in research projects in the ACFS that supported his stay and completion,’ said Chitja. ‘His study formed a key part of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Food Security Research commissioned to the ACFS and is significant in that strategies for poverty and food insecurity eradication remain a challenge among policy makers in both developed and developing countries, including South Africa,’ she said. ‘His study contributes to the wider policy context in the promotion of rural household food security.’
Having completed his PhD, Kajombo hopes to have more time to spend with his family, particularly his son and daughter.
He says he will continue with as much research as he can. ‘Once a researcher, always a researcher.'
Kajombo thanked his wife, Eunice, for her love, support and patience throughout his PhD research process, and his supervisors, Professor Ayalneh Bogale and Dr Joyce Chitja, as well as Professor Albert Modi, for their academic support. He also thanked members of staff at the ACFS, the congregation at Cornerstone Assembly and everyone who contributed to the success of his work.