Newsletter August 2015
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | August 2015
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1 September 2015

We kicked this month off to a fantastic start with our 4th annual Friends of UKZN Agriculture Networking Function and it was a great success. It was really wonderful to see some familiar faces, meet some of you for the first time and come together to reinforce our collective commitment to making agriculture in KZN the best that it can be. We also had our second annual PMA Agri-Food Career Fair, so August has been a full month. We hope you enjoy reading about it all and keeping up with us as we charge ahead into even more exciting developments and events.

Featured Discipline

Hydrology title


The discipline of Hydrology was introduced as a degree programme at the former University of Natal, now UKZN, in 1981 by Professor Roland Schulze. Its introduction was spurred on by hydrological research which had been conducted at the University since 1974, originally under the leadership of Jack Burney. Under Schulze's leadership, the hydrological research group at the University was instituted as the Agricultural Catchments Research Unit (ACRU), while he also led the key Water Initiative research project at UKZN. ACRU is now the name given to the agrohydrological model developed and used by Hydrology and the CWRR in their research.

The introduction of Hydrology as a major at second year level was thanks in large part to support from the Water Research Commission, who contributed funding, as well as committing some of their researchers to give time to lecturing at the University.

The discipline has always had and maintains close links with the discipline of Agricultural Engineering, under which its research was originally housed.

The discipline historically benefited from the research of many staff members in the University, including Potgieter Meiring, who headed Agricultural Engineering before Peter Lyne's headship of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, later to become the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology.

After Prof Schulze's retirement in 2007, he was succeeded by Professor Graham Jewitt as the Chair in Hydrology.

Following more restructuring at the University in 2010, Bioresources Engineering and Hydrology were separated into different Schools falling under the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. Hydrology now resides in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, while Bioresources Engineering falls under the administration of the School of Engineering.

To maintain the links between Hydrology and Bioresources Engineering, the Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) was founded in 2012, and it continues in the legacy of producing nationally and internationally-recognised, interdisciplinary, applied hydrological research.

(Bill Guest's A Fine Band of Farmers Are We and the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science's 60 Yeas of Agriculture (where some of the information above came from) have lots more background on the history of the disciplines at SAEES.)

The Discipline at a Glance

The discipline of Hydrology currently has 6 full-time posts, along with honorary research associates who work with these staff members and are involved in some of Hydrology's activities. The professorship of the discipline is currently vacant following Graham Jewitt's appointment as Director of the CWRR.

According to current staff, Hydrology is a growing discipline with incredible numbers of students registering for its classes and majoring in Hydrology. Class numbers for 1st semester Hydrology 210 students have increased from 18 in 2008 to 107 in 2015.

This field of study has carved itself a nice in the professional world, and students leave the University with degrees that place them in high demand. They have no problem registering as professional scientists and are known to be good employees, with especially good scientific writing skills, thanks in a large part to the efforts of their lecturers to make sure this element is well-covered in their Honours tuition. The Honours class size is limited at this stage to allow for lecturers and supervisors to work intensively with the class.

The majority of students who go on to do Honours in Hydrology proceed to do a Masters degree as well, and the discipline's sterling reputation attracts Masters students from elsewhere on the continent and around the world.

The discipline and its related researchers form the largest Hydrology group at a university in South Africa, and also boast many international students. The discipline offers applied research on key specialised areas, and has as its key strength advanced hydrological modelling, particularly for land use change.

The discipline is also recognised for its contribution to research through its publications in 1997 and 2007 of the South African Atlas of Agrohydrology and Climatology. Another noteworthy publication in 2010 was the ‘Atlas of Climate Change and the South African Agricultural Sector: A 2010 Perspective’.

Students studying Hydrology are exposed to the field frequently, adding necessary hands-on learning to their qualification. Staff and students make use of the Two Streams and Cathedral Peak catchment "living laboratories" for their field work, and also have the opportunity to attend an annual Winter Field School, which was held for the first time in 2014. Students are also exposed to experts in their fields who guest lecture topics in the curriculum, exposing students to the latest available research and knowledge.

Honours students in the discipline also have the opportunity to attend the bi-annual South African National Committee for the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (SANCIAHS) Symposium, where postgraduate students are invited to present and participate. This gives students national exposure and is always an indication of the very high standard of work coming out of UKZN's Hydrology group.

Given the great need for skilled experts in Hydrology in a semi-arid country which faces a water crisis, a qualification in Hydrology from this discipline provides very necessary graduates for government and consultancies. The discipline aims to produce graduates that are all-rounders who have both technical and conceptual knowledge, and who have good decision-making capabilities, which are direly needed in the water sector.

Graduates go on to enjoy careers in a wide array of professions, from consultancy to private companies to government and research institutions. There are also past Hydrology students who have gone on to hold top academic positions overseas and nationally.

Hydrology postgraduate students have displayed their initiative in their studies by forming a Hydrology Club to raise student awareness about water resources and their management, as well as how to pursue Hydrology as a field of study. With staff from the CWWR, the group of enthusiastic postgraduate students are demonstrating their commitment to bettering the position of the discipline in SAEES and addressing issues of water resource management, climate change and water pollution in South Africa through education.
The Club’s activities include displays for National Water Week and National Science Week, and their interaction with students and scholars at career fairs and open days to encourage them towards studies in Hydrology.  They have also participated in UKZN displays at the Royal Show. The members hope to improve access to water, tackle issues of water quality and promote awareness and education of water-related issues in their future careers as water scientists.

Staff in Hydrology are well-known for their commitment to their students and dedication to their teaching and research, as well as their leadership internally when it comes to showing enthusiasm in assisting with events and activities that fall outside of their core day-to-day job descriptions.

In terms of research, the Water Research Commission has initiated and funded three research projects on biofuel feedstock water use spanning 2007 to 2020, which has provided the opportunity for the Hydrology discipline to gain expert knowledge in this field.

Other disciplines and research groups in SAEES, Engineering and Life Sciences also benefit from a good working relationship with Hydrology, with students majoring in Hydrology and other sciences and research being done in partnership.

The discipline enjoys a positive relationship with the larger sector and industry that it feeds into. Graduates are taken up into the sector that they are trained for, and products of research undertaken by Hydrology staff at UKZN are adopted for use in organisations, companies and institutions. There is, however, more room for support in the form of internships for completing students, bursaries for deserving students who would like to study but cannot afford to, and research funding for work that will benefit the sector at large. Support from industry in the form of sponsorship of equipment is also incredibly beneficial to the training and research done by the discipline.

Challenges for the discipline include demands on space, equipment and resources for ever-increasing class sizes. The discipline hopes to find ways to creatively work around these challenges, while also advancing the discipline through continuously improving its research and capacity for training at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The discipline's staff continue to work to ensure that the quality of their research and training is excellent, and focus on their strengths in transmitting hydrological modelling and scientific writing skills.


Roland Schulze
Professor Roland Schulze is an alumnus of the former University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he completed a BSc in Geography and Chemistry and an Honours and MSc in Geography, with specific focus on land use planning. He obtained his PhD in Hydrology in 1975, while he was a junior lecturer in Geography at the institution.

Intrigued by Hydrology textbooks he read at the time, Schulze, who has been a staff member of the University since 1969, Schulze pursued research in this area. Schulze retired in 2007 and continues to work as an Honorary Research Fellow with SAEES and the CWRR. 
Schulze is one of the top water experts in the country, and the Handbook on Adaptive Management Strategies and Options for the Water Sector in South Africa under Climate Change, compiled together with Sabine Stuart-Hill and John Colvin, is one of the achievements of the discipline that benefited from his expertise.

Schulze still leads a number of research projects and presents guest lectures to students from time to time. He continues to be known for his prolific writing in publications and reports on the state of Hydrology in the country.
Mark Horan
Mr Mark Horan is a dedicated lecturer who has been part of the staff in Hydrology at UKZN since 1996, and his expertise lies in the fields of GIS and hydrological modelling. His current research involves using the sequence of soil types on hill slopes to determine more detailed soil properties for increased confidence in hydrological modelling of South African water 
management areas. Horan is very enthusiastic about promoting the education of young people in issues connected with water and the environment, and is a familiar face at many university open days.
Sabine Stuart-Hill
Dr Sabine Stuart-Hill 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. She graduated with her PhD in Hydrology in April 2015, with her thesis entitled 'Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change into Decision Making in the Water Sector: Concepts and Case Studies from South Africa'.

Stuart-Hill 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.

Her interests lie in sustainability and environmental science, and she completed her undergraduate and Masters in Germany. Her Masters research was focused on flood mapping in the Rhine catchment area after floods devastated the area in the country.

Stuart-Hill was interested in working in areas where she could have an impact on the uptake of science into policy and visible, daily actions, and so she spent time 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.

For her PhD research, Stuart-Hill was interested in looking at 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.

Stuart-Hill has been invited to work on a number of interesting projects to suit her research focus, for example two projects with the Water Research Commission (WRC) as part of their Water Governance Think Tank, and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

Stuart-Hill is also 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 6 FETwater Phase III themes, which is Planning & Implementation.

Stuart-Hill aims to build a research group around developing a decision-making process in water governance that is informed by processing and projections. She hopes this will contribute to water security and allow a water-scarce South Africa to not simply live on the boundary of exceeding bio-physical thresholds, but steer itself towards optimum management of its water resources.
Ms Tinisha Chetty is a lecturer and researcher in the discipline of Hydrology, and has been part of the discipline for 17 years. She joined the then-School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology as a research assistant in 1998, going on to a lecturer position in 2005, also acting as academic coordinator at one stage. Her research interests are in hydrological modelling, the design of hydrological and water quality studies, with her focus currently on the use of satellite-based and earth observation data to estimate rainfall.

Chetty is very involved in teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and takes an interest in her students' lives and
studies. She is also well known for her community focus, giving extra Maths lessons to high school students and acting as a 'face' for the discipline thanks to her enthusiasm and involvement with university activities.
Having studied her undergraduate BSc in Hydrology and Chemistry at the University of Natal, Chetty went on to do her Honours and Masters at the institution as well. She is currently pursuing her PhD, in which she is linking remotely sensed (satellite based) fluxes in the hydrological cycle (rainfall and ET) to hydrological models.
Michele Warburton
Dr Michele Warburton is a lecturer in Hydrology, and also completed her studies at the then-University of Natal, having majored in Hydrology and Geography and going on to pursue postgraduate studies in Hydrology.

Her research interests include understanding the dynamics between land use change, climate change and hydrological responses; use of hydrological modelling in impacts studies; detection and attribution of changes in climate and hydrological variables; and land use change mapping.
Warburton is also very invested in the professional development of her students; she has been involved in taking postgraduate students to the SANCIAHS Symposium. She is also involved in the postgraduate Hydrology club to assist and support the students who lead it.
Richard Kunz
Mr Richard Kunz is a lecturer in the discipline and studied at UKZN, completing his BSc with majors in Hydrology and Chemistry. He went on to complete his Masters in Hydrology in 1994, choosing UKZN because of the outstanding reputation of the Hydrology discipline.
After completing his Masters, Kunz worked for 10 years at the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR). He joined Hydrology in September 2007 working on a project that studied the impacts of climate change on water resources and agriculture.
Since 2009, Kunz’s specific focus has been
to estimate the water use of biofuel feedstocks and to gain a better understanding of how changes in land use may affect available water resources.

Centre for Water Resources Research

Closely linked to the discipline of Hydrology is the Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR), which is being led by Professor Graham Jewitt. The centre was instituted in 2012 in response to the need for more training, education and technological advances in the area of water resources management. The centre, with its capacity for interdisciplinary collaboration, is intended to provide innovative solutions to advance water resources research in South Africa.

Each member of the academic staff in UKZN's discipline of Hydrology is a member of the CWRR, and its members also include a few staff from the discipline of Agricultural (Bioresources) Engineering. Being externally-funded, the centre also employs contact staff for its research projects, which also allow for postgraduate students to be brought onto projects and trained in hydrological research.

The CWRR is distinct from SAEES and Bioresources Engineering as it has its own administration team, but operates closely with staff in those divisions. The centre provides a brand for its research that goes beyond simply one discipline, but pulls together all of UKZN's hydrological research into a cohesive, strong entity.

Having worked on a number of projects in its mere three years of existence, the CWRR is poised to take on bigger, long-term projects. The CWRR also crosses borders in its research, giving it relevance across the continent and overseas.
Professor Graham Jewitt is Director of the CWRR and the Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Management. He has been at UKZN for 17 years, during which time he was also Chair of the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology. Jewitt studied his undergraduate, Honours and Masters degrees at the then-University of
Natal, and went on to do his PhD at Stellenbosch University before returning to UKZN, where he has been for 17 years.
He leads several water and earth system science related initiatives, both in South Africa and abroad with the relationship between land and water a key research thrust. He is the South African contact point for the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS), is on the editorial board of the journal, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS) co-leader of the water theme In The Applied Centre For Climate And Earth System Science (ACCESS) and is active in several other national and international fora. Recent work has been focused on the effective use of science in management systems and to better inform and land and water resources policy development, especially in developing countries.

Jewitt is also actively involved in curriculum development in Hydrology at UKZN, and contributes to teaching and supervision in both SAEES and Bioresources Engineering.
Dr Michael Mengistu is a Research Fellow in the CWRR, and has a four year BSc degree in soil and water conservation. He has worked as an irrigation and soil and water conservation supervisor on the Northern Red Sea Zone in Eritrea. He then worked as a researcher in the Hydro-Sciences group at the CSIR from 2008 to 2010. His research interests include Micrometeorology, Agrometeorology, Land Use Hydrology, Remote Sensing applications for water resources management and Climate Change.
There are a number of other academic staff associated with the CWRR, who play a vital role in the success of its research projects.


"A is for Agriculture: Education Meets Agriculture in KZN"

Networking Function
On the 6th of August, the Friends of UKZN Agriculture alumnus association held its fourth annual Networking Function themed ‘A is for Agriculture: Education Meets Agriculture in KZN’. The keynote speakers on the night were Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UKZN Dr Albert van Jaarsveld and provincial MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development Mr Cyril Xaba.

The event was intended to bring together representatives from industry and academia in the agricultural sector. This was achieved, with a wide range of representatives in attendance at the function, from agricultural banking advisors to company CEOs to representatives from government and NGOs. This met the objectives of the Friends of UKZN Agriculture association, which aims to see alumni, agribusiness and UKZN in partnership.

The evening’s programme included a welcome from Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) Professor Albert Modi, who is involved on the committee of the association. Networking Facilitator for the association Ms Christine Cuénod gave a report on the association’s activities in the past year, and Acting Registrar of UKZN and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Deo Jaganyi, introduced both speakers.

Dr van Jaarsveld’s address emphasised UKZN’s continued commitment to excellence and transformation, and he congratulated the Friends of UKZN Agriculture on their initiative and encouraged continued interaction between industry and the University.

‘The University is looking forward to developing more partnerships that will change the agricultural landscape in the province, the country and the continent,’ said van Jaarsveld. ‘And this event is a great step forward in these relationships.’

Xaba responded to van Jaarsveld’s address by saying that he was encouraged by the University’s commitment to agriculture in the province.

‘We should drop the ‘U’ and make it Friends of KZN Agriculture,’ Xaba quipped, generating supportive applause from the audience.

Xaba also alluded to the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which will see strong emphasis on both formal and informal education with an emphasis on programmes to upskill and build capacity within the farming sector.

Xaba quoted from Bill Guest’s book on the history of agricultural studies in Pietermaritzburg, entitled, ‘A Fine Band of Farmers Are We,’ in which former principal at Cedara College, John Fisher, said, ‘Anyone who lays claim to being considered a skilled farmer should be professionally as well-equipped as a professional engineer;’ demonstrating the importance of scientific training in combination with practical skills.

‘Dr Van Jaarsveld, as I said at the outset, your address has been uplifting,’ said Xaba, ‘You have assured us that UKZN is in good hands and that agricultural research and teaching is fully supported and has clear direction. With our partnerships and commitment to collaboration within the sector we can only move forward and from strength to strength.’

Chairman of the Friends of UKZN Agriculture committee, Mr Duncan Stewart of Lima Rural Development, gave the vote of thanks wherein he acknowledged the success of the association thanks to the support of UKZN, alumni and agribusiness, and encouraged fellow alumni to continue to support the association.

You can see more photos from the night here.
©Mbuyiselo Ndlovu
©Mbuyiselo Ndlovu
©Mbuyiselo Ndlovu
©Mbuyiselo Ndlovu

PMA Agri-Food Career Fair

UKZN stand
Marianne & teachers
Seedling Growers

Photos from the day

The PMA Agri-Food Career Fair was held on campus on the 26th of August and was a great success. The Fair provided a unique opportunity for high school learners and University students to get a look into what a career in agriculture will actually entail, from production of food and agricultural products to supply chain management and marketing.

This Fair is one of only three held annually at universities in South Africa, and included a Teachers' Lunch where high school teachers were encouraged to promote careers in agriculture to their students. At the Lunch, Ms Tracey Campbell of Subtrop and Ms Rechi Dlamini of the Agribusiness Development agency gave insightful presentations about the options in agriculture to high school teachers. The Lunch also included the showing of a very useful video made by the PMA Foundation in South Africa with support from AgriSETA about careers in the agri-food supply chain.

More than 300 high school learners attended the Fair, with schools like Silver Heights Secondary, Northbury Park Secondary, Siyanda High School, Phayiphini High School, Nyonithwele High School, Emzamweni High School, Makholwa High School and Willowfontein High School represented. We also had teachers from Maritzburg College, Pietermaritzburg Girls' High School and Epworth School join us.

A number of companies, institutions and organisations lent their support to ensure that the Fair was a success. The Fair included displays by Fruit South Africa, SANSOR, Cedara College of Agriculture, ZZ2, the South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers (SAIAE), RCL Foods, Syngenta, South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI), Potatoes SA, the Seedling Growers' Association of South Africa, the Agricultural Research Council and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

We thank everyone who was involved in making this event such a lovely success, and for their support in making sure that the next generation of bright minds are streamlined into careers that they will be suited for and that industry needs. We also appeal to companies to begin thinking about joining in with the Fair next year.

Professor Mafongoya Presents Inaugral Lecture

There is no beauty in hunger, there is no creativity in hunger, there is only shame.  And the shame of hunger is that something can be done about it.
These sobering words by Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wisiel, were quoted by Professor Paramu Mafongoya at his Inaugural Lecture held recently on the Pietermaritzburg campus.
In his address, Mafongoya - who holds the South African National Research Foundation Research Chair in Agronomy and Rural Development and is based at UKZN - tackled the challenge of food and nutrition security in sub-Saharan Africa.
He quoted the following shock statistics: 805 million people are chronically hungry in the developing world, 165 million are stunted and carry that burden, while two billion people suffer from vitamin and micro-nutrient deficiency.  For a billion people, food and nutrition insecurity is due to poverty and lack of access to food.  Food and nutrition security is a meta-challenge.
‘Making sure there is enough food for the world’s growing human population is one of the most important humanitarian challenges of our time,’ he said.  ‘The world will need to feed nine billion people by 2050, which means that food production needs to increase by 60 to110 percent.’
Mafongoya explained that people who did not have enough food to meet their nutritional requirement for a healthy and active life were said to be food insecure. ‘The largest group of food insecure people is in sub-Saharan Africa (24% of the population).’
Mafongoya expounded on factors that influenced food security, including food availability, access, utilisation and stability. ‘Challenges to food availability are infertile soils, low productivity and climate shocks and variability. Access is influenced by climate change and food price spikes, while stability is affected by political stability, markets and climate change.  Utilisation of food is affected by household infrastructure, education and nutrition, water and sanitation as well as climate change.’
Mafongoya’s research contribution to food security and future directions has been significant.  With a PhD in Forestry and Natural Resources Management (Agro-forestry) from the University of Florida in the United State, he has over 30 years’ experience working with various international organisations and universities in the areas of agricultural research, development, education, and integrated natural resources management.
Mafongoya comes with impressive credentials - to date he has published 70Anchor refereed journal articles, 25 refereed book chapters and edited a book.  He has an H index of 30+.
As a reviewer of several Elsevier journals and other international journals, he has been instrumental in ensuring and maintaining the quality of scientific literature by determining merits, novelty and originality of work submitted for publication.
Mafongoya has supervised many undergraduate and post graduate students at various universities and in various disciplines such as agroforestry, agronomy, soil science, crop sciences and integrated natural resource management. He is a member of several professional societies and is a Fellow of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences.
He has been invited to present keynote papers at various international, regional and national forums and he has served on several boards.
Mafongoya ended his inaugural UKZN lecture on a positive note:  ‘The good news is that after many years of neglect, agriculture and food security are back on the development and political agenda,’ he said.  He believes this is essential if we are to beat the scourge of food and nutrition insecurity in Africa.

By Dr Sally Frost

Mike Watkeys
Geology Professor Mike Watkeys of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) is the second author of a notable study which was published in the prestigious Nature Communications open access journal on the 28th of July.

The study is entitled ‘Antiquity of the South Atlantic Anomaly: evidence for top-down control on the geodynamo’. In it, the eight authors make use of geological and archaeological techniques to examine a weakening in the Earth’s magnetic field that has been recorded over the South Atlantic and South Africa over the past 160 years.

This weakening, explains Watkeys, follows a pattern one would expect before a reversal of the Earth’s South and North magnetic poles, a phenomenon which occurs roughly every 100 000 years. The group’s data suggest that an area of Earth’s core beneath southern Africa may be a trigger for past and future magnetic pole reversals, previously thought to have started at random locations. Interestingly, Watkeys added that the present weakening has resulted in satellites passing over this region being damaged by solar particles, so that they are now shut down for the duration of the passage.

There has been a lot of speculation about an imminent reversal of this kind, but there is a lack of rocks in South Africa that preserve a record of the Earth’s magnetic field. This led Watkeys and pre-eminent Iron Age archaeologist in southern Africa, Professor Emeritus Tom Huffman of the University of the Witwatersrand, to explore using archaeological material instead.

Watkeys explained how the team analysed baked pottery and the mud floors of huts and grain bins that were baked as a result of burning.  During the baking process, the grains of magnetic minerals in the clay and mud were heated to the point where they lost their magnetism, and then cooled and regained their magnetism, recording the intensity and orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field at that position at that time.

‘It is certainly the first time that a mechanism has been proposed for magnetic reversals being caused, not by processes within the liquid outer core, but by the outer core circulation being affected by a slab on the core-mantle interface,’ said Watkeys.

All the analyses were undertaken at Professor John Tarduno’s labs at the University of Rochester in the USA. Tarduno and Watkeys have been studying the Earth’s magnetic field for about 10 years to establish the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field during the early history of the Earth about 3.5 billion years ago. About 5 years ago, they turned their attention to using similar techniques to study the weakening of the Earth’s magnetic field over the South Atlantic and South Africa in the historical past.

Watkeys and the team took archaeological samples from sites in the northern areas of South Africa and southern Zimbabwe, most notably around Mapungubwe which is just south of the triple junction between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Watkeys said that there is room for further investigation, since their study revealed that two periods of weakening have taken place in the past 700 years, necessitating going further back in time to establish whether there were older pulses.  This is constrained by a lack of archaeological evidence, with Iron Age farmers having only arrived in South Africa around about AD250, with some data only available from fireplaces of hunter-gatherers.

The study has generated a buzz in the science community, with its release being covered by the New Scientist magazine and a German radio station.

UKZN Masters Student Receives WWF Prince Bernhard Award

UKZN Masters student Ms Kholosa Magudu was recently awarded the prestigious World Wildlife Fund’s Prince Bernhard Scholarship for Nature Conservation, one of only two South Africans to receive the international honour.

Magudu is currently working as a water health scientist with Dusi uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), and was encouraged to apply for the scholarship earlier this year by colleagues. Magudu was surprised at her selection, given the sheer number of applications from all over the world that the WWF receives every year.

The scholarships are intended to support individuals from developing countries in the pursuit of formal studies or professional training in conservation. Since the award’s inception in 1991, over 330 scholarships have been awarded to individuals from more than 60 countries. In addition to covering part of Magudu’s Masters tuition, the scholarship will enable her to attend conservation conferences.

‘Winning this award is a huge achievement for me because it means my work is recognised at international level,’ said Magudu.

Magudu’s Masters research in Environmental Sciences is on the topic of ‘The role of naturally functioning ecosystems in improving in-stream water quality in urban areas’. According to Magudu, her project highlights the important role that naturally functioning riparian habitats play in cleaning water, and provides evidence-based results for restoring degraded rivers in urban areas.

Magudu, who is from Matatiele in the Eastern Cape, studied a BSc in Environmental Sciences with Honours in Ecological Sciences at UKZN in Pietermaritzburg. She credits her Honours supervisor Professor Colleen Downs with being a source of inspiration and support during her studies. Her Master’s research is being supervised by Professor Mathieu Rouget of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who Magudu says has done a sterling job with academic guidance, creating more opportunities and offering financial and moral support when it’s most needed. Her co-supervisor is Dr Mark Graham of GroundTruth.

An internship with DUCT fuelled Magudu’s passion for aquatic ecology and freshwater science, inspiring her to pursue postgraduate studies in this area. She hopes that her study, which is being conducted for use by the eThekwini Municipality, will contribute to decision-making and inform riparian ecosystem management practices and the restoration of riparian ecosystems in urban areas.

After she completes her Masters, Magudu plans to continue with her research to PhD level, especially so that she can produce more in-depth research on water health to inform policy and practice.

Food Security PhD Student Presents Poster at International Conference

Ms Feyisayo Odunitan-Wayas, a PhD candidate in the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) recently travelled to the United States to present her work done on the literature review of her PhD at the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association’s (IFAMA) annual World Conference.

Odunitan-Wayas is completing her PhD on the topic of the influence of bio-fortified pro-vitamin A on indigenous chickens to improve food security and nutrition. Her poster presented at the Conference was entitled ‘Interventions for Curbing Vitamin A Deficiency in Sub-Saharan Africa – A Review‘ and is based on the literature review for her PhD research.

In her research, Odunitan-Wayas is interested in collecting data about perceptions of rural and small-holder farmers when it comes to biofortified maize. Since the maize is a different colour from what they are used to, people are reluctant to consume the maize themselves, despite its nutritional benefits. Odunitan-Wayas is examining how these benefits may be transferred to humans through first feeding the maize to chickens raised for consumption.

Attending the Conference was a useful experience for Odunitan-Wayas, who says that seeing people from other countries working in the same field spurred on ideas and provided a standard against which to measure her work. She also met with other South Africans working in this field from institutions like the University of Pretoria, the University of Fort Hare and the Agricultural Research Council.

Presentations at the Conference emphasised that small-holder farmers are the future, that it is vital to understand people and come down to their level, and make science comprehensible for those it is meant for.

Odunitan-Wayas, who is from Nigeria and obtained her undergraduate and Master’s degrees at the University of Ilorin, heard of UKZN’s strong academic reputation from friends who had studied at the institution and elected to pursue her PhD there. Dr Unathi Kolanisi, Dr Muthulisi Siwela and Professor Michael Chimonyo of the disciplines of Food Security, Dietetics and Human Nutrition, and Animal Science in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) are supervising Odunitan-Wayas’ research.

When asked what it was that she enjoyed about studying in the field of Food Security, Odunitan-Wayas responded by saying, ‘What’s not to like about Food Security? If people are not hungry, they can be happy. It allows me to be part of the solution to a problem the world is facing.’

Odunitan-Wayas was drawn into Food Security because she finds it an interesting and diverse field, which also looks at perceptions and solutions, as in her research. She hopes to continue research beyond her PhD one day.

‘No knowledge is ever wasted,” said Odunitan-Wayas. ‘I never want to stop learning.’

Odunitan-Wayas expressed her gratitude to her supervisors for their support and commitment to her as a student, and thanked her family, husband and children for their invaluable support. Her attendance at the Conference was made possible by funding from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science and her supervisors.

Cedara Students Start Group for Youth in Agriculture

Students at the Cedara College of Agriculture and the University of KwaZulu-Natal have mobilised to form a student-led group called Agri-Groomers, which aims to equip youth for careers in agriculture.

The group of fifteen students operates by connecting youth to the agricultural sector in a variety of ways, and furthering young people’s understanding of the agricultural market. Agri-Groomers was officially launched in May 2015, after developing the concept of the group for a period of about two years.

The idea originated from students' concern as far as their exposure to and readiness for the market place went, inspiring them to start a group that would be focused on creating a platform for opportunities for learning, networking and participating in various aspects of agri-sector. This, they hope, will motivate students and close the gap between students and the marketplace. They would also like the group to enable the implementation of research and the delivery of agricultural services to communities.

Agri-Groomers participants also aim to continuously develop, improve and implement strategies that provide participants with relevant tools and training to assist create opportunities for themselves and others.

Chief Executive Officer for the group, Nkosinathi Nkosi, said that response to the group has defied expectations, with students initially being hesitant but warming up to the idea and adding to the group’s numbers after the official launch. The launch also linked Agri-Groomers with many organisations, companies and governmental agencies. Staff members at Cedara and UKZN have lent much-needed moral and logistical support, especially in accessing their networks to enable the students to create the linkages they need to establish their presence.

Agri-Groomers’ activities are structured into three main areas: ‘Agricultural Learning and Skills Development’, ‘Personal Development and Character Building’, and ‘Connect’, which comprises the ‘3D’, ‘AgriGames’ and ‘GreenActions’ programmes. ‘Agricultural Learning and Skills Development’ focuses on the building of technical skills through hands-on experience and in-service training with relevant stakeholders; the ‘Personal Development and Character Building’ aspect focuses on the honing of soft skills like leadership and self-awareness to improve employability.

The ‘Connect’ part of the Agri-Groomers programme includes ‘Discussions, Debate and Dialogues (3D)’, which are interactions set up to engage youth in research and public speaking so that their messages can reach decision makers. The ‘AgriGames’ component promotes participatory learning in a relaxed environment and also serves as a catalyst for team building. Finally, the ‘GreenActions’  feature is online-based software under construction which the group intends to be used by stakeholders across the agricultural sector, from NGOs to extension workers to governmental agencies who require access to research and information to inform their activities.

The group has already had the opportunity to become involved in notable events in the agricultural sector. A group of Agri-Groomers students volunteered at the recent Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) Youth in Agriculture Summit, where they were commended for their cheerful, willing attitude and hard work. They will also collaborate with the South African Youth Climate Change Coalition (SAYCCC) group in September 2015 when they lend their services to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation’s World Forestry Congress in Durban.

Agri-Groomers intends to partner with Agricultural Colleges and Universities, agriculturists, agricultural associations, government sectors, NGOs and the private sector. Anyone between the age of 18 and 35 years who is motivated to change the lives of others through Agri-Groomers’ work and who will volunteer their skills, talents and knowledge in advancement of youth development in agriculture is welcome to be a member.

In Memoriam

Professor Rob Preston-Whyte

Rob Preston-Whyte
It is with deep sadness that we inform the University and the broader geography community of the death, after a short illness, of Emeritus Professor of the previous School of Environmental Sciences, Professor Robert Preston-Whyte. Born in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, it is fitting that Rob lived out his life, after his retirement from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, on his small holding in Nottingham Road. Here he and his wife, Merle Holden were able to explore their many interests and find peace and happiness.

Rob was a true product of the former University of Natal, completing all his formal studies on the Pietermaritzburg campus and spending most of his working life in the Geography and Environmental Science Department on the Howard College campus, except for a brief stint at the CSIR in Pretoria.

Rob was a true scholar and intellectual. He was widely read, being equally comfortable discussing English literature as he was meteorological theory. His greatest scientific contribution was to our understanding of the local circulations of KwaZulu-Natal. He gathered his data the hard way – many days and nights spent tracking pilot balloons with a theodolite – but was ultimately able to establish the characteristics and mechanisms of the land and sea breezes and topographically-induced winds in KZN. This knowledge has contributed to our understanding of local pollution transport, occurrence of coastal rainfall, the initiation and passage of thunderstorms across KZN, amongst other meteorological patterns.

Geographers of the time will remember his vision, prescience and astute academic management when, as Professor, and Head of Department in the 1970’s and eighties, he successfully shifted the ethos of his department. It moved from one of dry, antiquated academia to that of a teaching and research institution that not only created the intellectual challenges of theory and debate, but engaged in strong teaching and research into elements of Physical and Human Geography that had immediate impact on the daily life of communities.

During the eighties and nineties he became convinced that the discipline of geography, through its inclusiveness and its strong natural and social science foundations, should become a scientific and academic leader in the wave of environmental of concern sweeping the world. He soon recognised that accurate maps and global scale environmental monitoring would be essential to successful environmental management,  and brought in the skills necessary for developing a strong teaching and research programme in burgeoning Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing industry.

These monumental shifts in approach increased the stature and reputation of Geography in a spectacular way, and built student demand for the subject hugely, especially at the post-graduate level.  The department was now producing not only academics, but also young professionals who would find their place in career positions in commerce and industry in South Africa and beyond.   

In the latter years of his academic career, Rob shifted his interests to tourism geography, writing creatively about liminal spaces on the Durban coastline. This reflected his exceptional ability to work on internationally recognised research both within the physical and social sciences. As such, he was a true geographer. However, it was his early work in climatology that made its mark and that led to a landmark text book that was prescribed reading for climatology students across South Africa.

In the broader University community Rob will be remembered for his 10 years spent as Dean of Social Sciences. During his period of office he brought the faculty to a position of leadership within the university – at one point its publication to staff ratio was the best in the whole institution, this notwithstanding his constant battles with higher administration for a fairer division of resources and his intense dislike of the political machinations at that stage current in University politics in general.

It is typical of the man that after his retirement in 2004 he was able to re-invent himself. He returned to his roots in the Natal Midlands. His almost endless, inspirational energy was expended not on academic battles any longer, but in developing his small holding in an environmentally consistent manner. His horses, golf, and clay pigeon shooting intertwined with creative writing and before his death he had already published four novels.           

Rob was in his element on geography field trips, when he was able to enthusiastically impart his wide general knowledge about the fauna and flora, stratigraphy, local climate and local community, to students. Generations of students will recall trying to keep up with him as he strode up mountains at a pace that few could match. Always young and fit for his age, his untimely and sudden death from melanoma cancer is a shock to all of us. Rob was a visionary, an exceptional leader, an inspiring intellectual and a true friend. What a privilege it was to know, work with and be taught by such a passionate, inspirational and committed individual.
Compiled by Professor Roseanne Diab, Professor Gerry Garland and Catherine Sutherland          

We hope you had a wonderful first day of Spring, and thank you again for your support over this past month.

Kind regards,

Christine Cuénod

Networking Facilitator

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on behalf of

Duncan Stewart

Committee Chairman

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