Newsletter April 2017
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | Newsletter 1 2017
View this email in your browser

Friends logo
24 April 2017

Hello friends and alumni

We hope 2017 is proceeding well for you, and thank you for your continued support of our association. We hope that stories of graduating students proceeding onto careers will inspire you as you read this, and that you enjoy hearing about activities and achievements of staff and students in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES). If you have news or stories of your own to contribute as alumni, please do get in touch with us, and keep up with us on social media for regular updates.

We look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium and the attached annual Networking Function on the 23rd of May (details to follow).

Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium

An invitation is extended to all interested parties to attend the second Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium on the theme of:
“More than Just Food.”

DATE: 23-24 May 2017
VENUE: Ukulinga Research Farm, UKZN, Pietermaritzburg

The theme of FOOD SECURITY: WHERE TO FROM HERE? is intended to impress upon our collective conscience the role of agriculture and its related disciplines in the sustainability of food production and security in Africa. Is Food Security more than just food?

If you are interested in current dilemmas for innovative socio-economic development, including health, gender, biotechnology, land issues, postharvest technology, production practices, GIS technology, extension services and more, we encourage you to participate.

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Howard Davis Farm Trust in their endeavour to see communities benefit from knowledge integration between higher education institutions and agricultural stakeholders.

Keynote Speakers:
Professor Dickson Despommier, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology and Public Health, Columbia University, USA
Professor Ben Cousins, SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape

RVSP by 28 April to Mrs Christine Cuénod on, +27 33 260 6557

The influence of climate change on fire activity in South Africa

- Sheldon Strydom (Researcher, Agrometeorology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of KwaZulu-Natal)
Michael John Savage (Senior Professor, Agrometeorology, University of KwaZulu-Natal)

(This article originally appeared in The Conversation )

Fires are often seen as destructive. But when used properly it can be a force for good. For example, the floral biodiversity of savanna ecosystems is largely driven by fire activity. South Africa’s fynbos region – a floral region with plants unique to South Africa – is also highly dependent on fires to manage water and nutrient resources.

Of course, fire can also have a negative effect on the environment. Air quality can be damaged by the release of carbon monoxide and ozone and the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases during the burning of biomass (organic matter) has been linked to climate change.

Scientists have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to understand fire activity and how it relates to vegetation communities, topography and – of great concern in recent years – climate change.

Traditionally, research has been limited mainly to smaller geographical areas of interest and short observation periods. But recent developments in satellite based remote sensing have created the opportunity to study fire actively over large regions. For example, past research in South Africa has focused largely on national parks. With remote sensing technology, scientists can now gain insights into the fire dynamics of rural areas.

This technological advancement helped us investigate fire dynamics over larger areas of South Africa. We combined the data with an investigation into the years which experienced abnormal air temperature and rainfall characteristics to gain a meaningful insight into the relationship between climate change and fire activity.

Climate change and fire activity

The relationship between climate change and fire activity can be quite complex. But two simplified scenarios have been established by the International Panel on Climate Change and associated climate scientists.

  1. When air temperatures are above the global mean of 14 ℃, heat waves and drought conditions may be more severe. This may cause vegetation to desiccate at higher rates. That leads to drier fuel loads, the amount of vegetation that can potentially be ignited, and ultimately, more fires.

  2. Under a warming climate, rainfall may be significantly higher. This leads to heavier fuel loads, which causes more available fuel to burn and also increased rates of spread when fires occur.

There’s also a feedback mechanism between climate change and fire activity. Increased fire activity will release greater concentrations of greenhouse gases. This can result in an enhanced greenhouse effect, which in turn can cause further increases in fire activity.

A recent study found an increase in the length and severity of fire seasons across the globe. The study revealed that contemporary changes in the global climate has resulted in increased periods of fire danger. These changes indicate that fire activity is likely to increase in a warming climate. The study also pointed to the dangers of increased fire in South Africa.

Persistent fire weather season length increases in ecosystems such as South Africa’s Mediterranean fynbos could lead to more frequent severe burning conditions and more area burned, shortening fire return intervals and threatening these biodiversity-rich shrublands.

For example, climate change and short-term climate variability such as La Niña – which is characterised by colder ocean temperatures – could lead to increased fire activity in South Africa.

The threat in South Africa

Fires are already a regular feature of the South African landscape, as they are across Africa, which is nicknamed the “Fire Continent”.

Between 2003 and 2014, the greatest number of fires in South Africa occurred in 2005, 2007 and 2010.

2005 and 2010 have been cited as two of the warmest years on record in the southern hemisphere compared to a global average. We can assume that South Africa’s annual average air temperatures would be similar to those in the southern hemisphere as a whole. This therefore suggests that there’s a relationship between a spike in the number of fires in 2005 and 2010 and the above-average air temperature measured in those years.

The increase in fires in 2007 may be linked to the fact that in 2006 the most recent La Niña led to increased rainfall over the eastern half of South Africa. In turn this may have led to increased vegetation growth during the 2007 winter. This is also the eastern region’s fire season, hence an increase in the number of fires.

But caution should be exercised when linking climate change to regional phenomena, particularly given that rainfall, vegetation and even topography can vary widely.

Recent years do support the hypothesised effects of climate change on South African fires. But further long-term statistical analyses need to be done to develop a deeper understanding of the effects of climate change on fire activity on a regional and local level.

Graduation Stories 2017

Powerhouse of PhDs Graduate from UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science

UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) once again made a significant contribution to South Africa’s much-needed brain pool of highly-qualified Science, Technology and Engineering specialists, awarding an impressive 128 PhDs out of a university total of 350 during this year’s Graduation ceremonies.


Sky’s the Limit for Cum Laude Graduate

Being an orphan and often not having money for food were some of the serious challenges Mr Nhlakanipho Mbambo had to overcome on the road to completing his BSc degree in Crop and Horticultural Sciences, which was awarded cum laude


Doctorate for Ethiopian Plant Breeder

A plant breeder from Ethiopia, Dr Mizan Tesfay Abraha, has been awarded a PhD for her research on Tef (Eragrostis Tef) – a crop of vital importance to food security in Ethiopia, yet one which is notoriously challenging to breed via traditional crossing techniques.


Rural Roots Spur Graduate’s Academic Growth

Mr Khayelihle Ncama, whose journey to academic success started in rural Ezinqoleni in southern KwaZulu-Natal, completed his MSc degree in Agriculture cum laude in minimum time and has published his research in the high impact Journal of Food Engineering


Dietetics Graduate Promotes the Value of Education

There is a wealth of opportunities in the field of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, says Ms Lulama Gumbi, who was awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics from UKZN. 


Bumper Crop of PhDs Promise African Food Security for the Future

UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) produced a bumper crop of doctoral candidates at this year’s Graduation ceremony, with 14 students from nine different African countries receiving PhDs for their Plant Breeding research. 


“Mandela Day Student” Fulfils his Family’s Dreams

Mr Khayelihle Mkhize, who received a bursary through a Mandela Day 67 Minutes Campaign, has graduated with a Bachelor of Agricultural Management degree. 


Feisty Lecturer Secures PhD in Agricultural Engineering

UKZN lecturer Dr Alaika Kassim, who graduated with a PhD in Agricultural Engineering, is extremely passionate about her research, and is the first female agricultural engineer to be appointed a lecturer in the Discipline of Bioresources Engineering at UKZN.


Exiled Senior DRC Army Officer Turns to Community Nutrition

Mr George Ilangila, formerly a Senior Army Officer in the conflict-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), received his Postgraduate Diploma in Community Nutrition more than 27 years after completing his first degree in the country of his birth. 


Food Security Documentary Film Created for MA Degree

Mr Mzwandile Makhanya graduated with a Masters of Arts cum laude for research in which he used the participatory mode of documentary film-making for knowledge exchange and empowerment, focusing on household food security in the uMgungundlovu district of KwaZulu-Natal.



Professor Albert Modi Recipient of International Alumni Award

Professor Albert Modi, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science at UKZN received the International Alumni Award from the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University this year. This award is presented to outstanding international agriculture alumni representing, supporting, and promoting the college and The Ohio State University around the globe.

Modi is a crop scientist, championing sustainable agriculture and the value of indigenous knowledge in informing scientific research. A graduate of the University of Fort Hare, he received his Master’s from the then-University of Natal and studied under a US Government Fulbright scholarship at Ohio State University (OSU) in the United States for his PhD in 1999.

“OSU is a great University. I am proud to say that in me it produced an excellent academic to serve the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa, Africa and the world,” Prof Modi said.

CWRR Hosts Sudanese Study Tours on Integrated Water Resource Management

The Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) and its collaborators recently played host to two delegations of North Sudanese water resources managers and decision-makers as part of a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) small project agreement. These visits aimed at contributing to the strengthened capacity of North Darfur institutions to support, scale up and replicate successful approaches to catchment management, specifically for the Wadi El Ku Catchment in North Darfur.
The weeklong visits, held in September 2016 and February 2017, benefited from UKZN’s expertise and experience in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), as well as its ability to facilitate training in this field. The CWRR’s range of expertise includes topics from climate change to water quality monitoring, waste management, water governance, hydrologic modeling, and more. UKZN contributors to the visit came from various disciplines within the Schools of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Engineering, and Built Environment and Development Studies.
Delegates comprised technical staff and managers, and high-level decision-makers respectively, who aimed to learn from South Africa’s two decades of experience in implementing IWRM.
Involved staff tailored the tours and the first delegation, including municipal managers and members of forums, participated in a series of lectures and field trips facilitated by the CWRR. Delegates had the opportunity to visit a number of sites and witness aspects of IWRM in action. Sites visited included the Pollution Research Group (PRG) Newlands-Mashu site, where Decentralised Wastewater Treatment Systems (DEWATS) are utilised for research. Delegates also visited Mpophomeni where they encountered a citizen science initiative in the form of the use of a MiniSASS assessment conducted by local Envirochamps. Delegates from land-locked Sudan also visited the uShaka Marine World aquarium.
This first visit had the support of various local groups, including the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Umgeni Water, the Pongola-Umzimkulu Proto Catchment Management Agency (CMA), the Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP), the Msunduzi Catchment Management Forum (CMF), the Inanda CMF and the Lower Umgeni CMF, the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) and the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT).
The second delegation visited the Western Cape, and comprised high-level decision-makers, including Sudan’s Federal Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, various state ministers and commissioners from North Darfur, as well as advisors. This visit focused on organisational and governance structures and included site visits. The Breede Gouritz Catchment Management Agency (BGCMA) hosted much of the visit and brought in experts on water governance from various sectors. Other collaborators included regional and provincial stakeholders of DWS and engineers from the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation division. Representatives from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) were also involved.
‘The CWRR was very happy to host the study tours and to share its collective skills and experiences gained in southern Africa with others on the continent,’ said CWRR Director, Professor Graham Jewitt.
Because of these study tours, there is interest from the Wadi El Ku Catchment Management Project to collaborate further on research and training in support of development of their water management strategies.

SAEES Scoops Three Awards at the Combined Congress

Albert Slindile
Ndumiso Pardon
Karin Hannweg
Pardon Muchaonyerwa
At the annual Combined Crops, Soils, Horticulture and Weeds Congress held at the beginning of 2017, staff and students from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) were honoured for their work in a number of categories. The Congress theme was ‘Adaptability of agriculture in a changing world’.
The award for the best presentation by a Crop Science student went to PhD candidate Ms Slindile Miya, supervised by Professor Albert Modi, and Masters graduate Ms Nondumiso Sosibo, supervised by Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa, received the award for the best presentation by a Soil Science student.
Miya’s presentation was ‘Overcoming the challenge of physical seed dormancy in Bambara Groundnut by scarification - a seed quality study’, and Sosibo spoke about ‘Investigating available soil nutrient levels in irrigated wheat fields in South Africa’.
Miya’s presentation honed in on a neglected African legume crop with potential to play a significant role as a staple and industrial crop, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, given its drought-tolerance and climate change resilience. A challenge to its successful production is poor crop establishment due to physical seed dormancy. Miya’s study investigated the effect of scarification on overcoming seed dormancy, and practical implications of the study are that producers can use scarification to improve bambara groundnut germination, with some further study needed.
Sosibo, who finished her Masters in a record one year unusual for agricultural degrees, explained that South Africa is facing a wheat production crisis making it reliant on imported wheat. Strategies to ameliorate this crisis include closing yield gaps affected by factors like poor soil fertility. Sosibo aimed to provide information to guide the formulation of research and development interventions for resuscitating the ailing wheat industry by determining the availability and variability of essential plant nutrients in soils across geographical regions.
In addition, PhD graduate Ms Karin Hannweg received the award for the best paper published in 2016 in an ISI journal. Her paper, co-authored with G. Visser, K. de Jager and supervisor Professor Isa Bertling was entitled ‘In vitro-induced polyploidy and its effect on horticultural characteristics, essential oil composition and bioactivity of Tetradenia riparia’ in the South African Journal of Botany.
Hannweg’s paper concerned a polyploidisation study to assess the Livingstone potato, an edible tuberous vegetable indigenous to Africa, in order to improve the cultivation and utilisation of the crop. Hannweg works at the Agricultural Research Council’s Tropical and Subtropical Crops Division (ARC-ITSC) on polyploidy effects in horticultural crops.
At the conference, staff were honoured with awards and appointments; Muchaonyerwa was a co-author on the best paper published in the South African Journal of Plant and Soil (SAJPS), and Professor Albert Modi and Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi were recognized for their paper being the most cited in the SAJPS. Bertling was elected as the President of the Southern African Society for Horticultural Science.

Plant Breeding e-Learning in Africa

ISU Visitors
Recently, the Masters Plant Breeding programme at SAEES hosted Professional Learning Community specialists Dr Judith Levings and Ms Courtney Clawson from Iowa State University in the US as they network with educators and observe teaching using Plant Breeding E-Learning in Africa (PBEA) modules at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

Their visit followed on from the establishment of PBEA, a 3-year project involving the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), with ISU developing modules in collaboration with Makerere University in Uganda, UKZN in South Africa, and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana. The e-modules hone essential capabilities with real-world challenges of cultivar development in Africa using Applied Learning Activities.

The programme is designed to increase the capacity of Plant Breeding professors and educators in Africa by providing Africa with resources for sustainable education practices that encourage Africans to remain (rather than studying at overseas universities) and contribute their skills to their countries, thereby improving Africa's capacity to grow her own food.

The pilot was begun with a baseline survey to assess perceptions of teaching and learning; ISU worked with students from Africa in the USA to assess their needs and their experience of learning, as well as transition issues.

ISU is working with pilot universities to ensure that the content is kept up to date. Part of this involves work with the professional learning communities in assessing how content is delivered by educators, and observing how the e-modules provided are used.. This is Levings and Clawson's job; they assess the use of the e-modules by talking to students and observing classes, and giving possible options for improvement based on their assessment.

This fact-finding visit, which also involved a stop at KNUST in Ghana, is the first one of its kind, since PBEA began officially in 2016. The programme will also see educators visiting ISU in August for a Symposium on the topic of teaching and learning in Plant Breeding.

The professional learning community includes a website and a monthly newsletter, and is centred around two-way exchanges and learning from one another.

Fulbright Scholar Visits Animal Science

ANSI guests February

The discipline of Animal and Poultry Science recently hosted a visit and guest lecture from visitors from the United States of America. Dr Mike Lacy, the retired head of Department of Poultry Science at the University of Georgia and Fulbright Scholar, spoke to students about the history of the modern chicken and ventilation of broilers in hot weather. He was accompanied by Mr Richard Fritz, Managing Director of the World Poultry Foundation (WPF).

The duo were visiting as part of the US Department of State's Fulbright Specialist Programme, which saw Lacy working with the WPF and the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute (KZNPI) "to provide assistance to historically disadvantaged poultry producers who have faced significant production constraints due to high feed costs, absence of disease control and a severe lack of educational resources."

The visit involved Lacy assisting the KZNPI with the training of extension agents to address the needs of small and disadvantaged producers in the country. He also helped to teach government extension agents, poultry and egg farmers attending the KZNPI, and visited farmers to provide hands-on instruction and training in the areas of biosecurity, poultry housing, feed quality and conversion rates, disease prevention and egg quality.

He assisted the KZNPI in evaluating their curricula and teaching programmes.

An overarching goal of the project is to help South African small farmers increase egg and poultry meat production, which will help address protein malnutrition issues in their families and communities.

Lacy's guest lecture involved the tracing of some of the history of poultry across the world, and particularly in Dr Lacy's home state of Georgia, while considering contrasts and similarities in South African poultry production. Discussion included topics like the spread of disease and techniques for cooling housing.

Lacy covered the history of the domestication of chickens, which initially happened for sport, and how they were consulted for auguries in the Roman Empire. Students also heard about how "hen fever" gripped Europe and the USA in the mid-nineteenth century, leading to increased ownership and breeding of chickens.

Lacy and Fritz also noted the University of KawZulu-Natal's fame for its innovations and research into poultry nutrition and housing.

Staff Changes

Dr Annette van Onselen, from the discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrititon left us after 6 years to join Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.

We look forward to a continued relationship with her in the field of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and wish her well in her new position.
Marion Young
Dr Marion Young (right) departed the University of KwaZulu-Natal at the end of 2016 after more than 14 years at the university. We know her passion for her field will continue producing fruitful work, however she will be greatly missed at SAEES.

AEASA Conference 2017 | Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

The 2017 Annual Conference of the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA) will be hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal Branch from the 19th -21st September 2017 at the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani Hotel on Durban’s famous Golden Mile - the spectacular 6km long sandy beach and promenade that is amongst Durban’s main tourist attractions. The Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani is one of Durban’s landmark hotels and amongst its premier conferencing venues. Besides its extraordinary views of the Indian Ocean and fantastic beach access, it is also located in close proximity to other tourist attractions including Africa’s largest marine theme park, uShaka Marine World, as well the Suncoast Casino and the iconic Moses Mabida Stadium.

This theme of this year’s Conference is “ADDRESSING CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY”. It invites us to explore the contributions of agricultural economists to addressing contemporary challenges in the sector. The Conference programme contains a stimulating mix of invited papers, contributed papers, panel discussions, mini-symposia, and a poster session. It is designed to appeal beyond academia to agricultural economists in the public and private sectors, farm managers and agribusiness practitioners. The social functions, including a cocktail party, a braai and a gala dinner, will provide ample opportunity for renewing old acquaintances, making new friends and networking.


Hygrotech Technical Sales Representative

Hygrotech is seeking a Technical Sales Representative in Gauteng.

Hygrotech was founded in 1984 and originated from a company called Roode Lyon which was well known in the vegetable seed and agricultural industries of South Africa. Hygrotech pioneered the development of F1 hybrids in the South African vegetable industry.

Hygrotech offers Vegetable, Grass and Pasture seeds, adjuvants, growth stimulants, seedling systems (seed trays, growing medium and sowing machines), fertilisers, foliar feeds, biological products, plant manipulators and mechanical implements – in short many of the necessities for the modern vegetable farmer, and agriculture in Southern Africa.

Hygrotech a “one stop” service to more than 4 000 clients throughout South Africa.

• 3 years sales experience
• Tertiary Qualification
• AVCASA qualification will be an advantage
• BASOS qualification will be an advantage
• Fully computer literate, MS Office, etc
• Must be self-motivated and able to work under pressure
• Must be goal driven, and able to set & achieve targets
• Must be fully bi-lingual (English & Afrikaans)
• Must have a valid driver’s license
• No criminal record

Hygrotech will offer the successful candidate a market-related package.

Please send your CV to or contact their HR department at +27 (0)12 545 8012

Applications will close on 30 April 2017.

Kind regards,
Christine Cuénod
Networking Facilitator
(w) +27 33 260 6557
(c) +27 83 314 3317
on behalf of
Duncan Stewart
Committee Chairman
(c) +27 82 491 1912


Copyright © 2017 Friends of UKZN Agriculture, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list

Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp

Contact Webmaster | View the Promotion of Access to Information Act | View our Privacy Policy
© University of KwaZulu-Natal: All Rights Reserved