Newsletter August/September 2016

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30th September 2016
To our loyal Friends and alumni

Thanks for your ongoing support and interest in your alma mater; here's a recap of some of the activity at Agric in the past month and a bit.

Despite country-wide student protests, campus life has continued and lectures and practical are underway as we make our way to the end of another year, with final year students preparing for their entry into industry.

Rural Does Not Have to Equal Poor

The feature below, written by Professor Albert Modi, was published in the Sunday Times on the 25th of September 2016.
Sunday Times feature

Why abandon the resources of the country for urban squatter camps, asks Albert Thembinkosi Modi.

FOR the past two decades or so, I have witnessed what I believe is a deterioration in the quality of life of rural people in South Africa. I observed this particularly in the Eastern Cape, where I was born and bred, and KwaZulu-Natal, where I was later "bred" through tertiary education and very close interaction with rural communities.

As an academic, I decided to do some research on what I had observed, albeit informal research. I started by tracing my personal background, using what I remembered and information gathered from my folks in the rural area of Centane, in the Eastern Cape.

I was raised in an agrarian family and community where my mother and other women were more powerful than men.

Almost all the women of my mother's age could not read and write. They had no formal education, but they were highly skilled in building families and communities. They were highly knowledgeable about providing food security and building homes for their families.

Their mission was to make the next generation a better one than theirs. Hence, while they instilled moral values in their children, they also took responsibility to ensure that their children got an education. That is why many people who were raised by those women are among the highly educated people of South Africa — yet my mother does not understand what I mean when I tell her that I am a professor!

These women who lived in bantustan states had a reasonably decent life because they had a positive attitude about who they were. They did not get government grants. Theirs was a largely agrarian and sustainable livelihood in which husbands were mostly absent, working in the towns and big cities of "South Africa". I had three meals a day from food that was produced at the homestead, where my mother kept chickens, goats and pigs. She would also frequently harvest seafood from the Indian Ocean on weekends.

I went to government schools until I completed matric, after which I went to Johannesburg and stayed in a hostel near Jeppestown and worked as a labourer. I was arrested in 1987 for being in South Africa illegally. After two days, I was released and had to return home.

Fortunately, I had applied for a Transkei government bursary to study at university and it was successful. That was a huge step to my personal freedom, thanks to my excellent matric results and the efforts of my teachers. So, it never occurred to me that my family and community were "poor".

Currently, poverty and hunger are associated with rural communities. I argue that this can change. It is due to an inculcation of a mindset that makes our country dependent on a few taxpayers through government "support". Rural people have largely stopped following a sustainable agrarian livelihood and depend on government grants. Many have migrated to the cities in search of a "better life".

The information I have about the migration of people shows that the Western Cape and Gauteng receive the majority of people from other provinces such as the Eastern Cape. People believe that life is better in the cities. The rural population is about 36%, down from 53% in 1960.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that of the 580 million farms in the world, 500 million are family farms, but in South Africa there is a rapid decline in the number of farms.

The question is why rural people who have no skills and education to work in the cities leave the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, where homesteads are available for sustainable agrarian livelihoods. Rural people have land and other resources that can contribute to agriculture and ecotourism. Township people live in squatter camps where there are greater health and safety risks and fewer self-employment opportunities.

We need a rural economic development strategy to empower rural women and youth. At the centre of that strategy should be "agripreneurship". We can improve the economic livelihood of the so-called rural poor within the targets of the National Development Plan.

Agriculture contributes about 2% of GDP.

However, through backward and forward linkages with industry and services it has great potential to provide opportunities for economic growth. The government, business sector, traditional leaders and the education sector need to collaborate in producing and implementing a strategic leadership that will make people believe in themselves.

It is said that in soccer "a goal is scored when all of the ball passes the line between the goalposts". It does not always have to hit the back of the net.


UKZN and Biowatch Hold Round-Table Discussion

UKZN-Biowatch meeting
Staff in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) and Biowatch recently hosted a round-table discussion on the topic of ‘Strategies to support resilient farmer-led seed systems through the conservation and sustainable management of agrobiodiversity’.
A Crop Science research group in SAEES has been working with Biowatch on research related to farmer-selected landrace seeds of neglected and underutilised crops.
Dean and Head of SAEES, Professor Albert Modi, welcomed delegates, and facilitated introductions of the group of about 26 participants. Modi is recognised for his championing of sustainable agriculture and the value of indigenous knowledge in informing scientific research.
‘We are honoured that our research group is hosting different organisations, including UKZN Ecological Sciences, the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS), the Farmer Support Group (FSG),’ said Modi. ‘We also give a special welcome to Ms Rose Williams and Mr Lawrence Mkhaliphi from Biowatch, Mr Kudzai Kusena from the Zimbabwe Gene Bank, Ms Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss from the Seed and Knowledge Initiative (SKI), Dr Ragassa Feyissa from Ethio-Organic Seed Action (EOSA) in Ethiopia, NGO representatives from Durban, and Mr John Wilson, a seed saver who started the permaculture movement in Zimbabwe.’
Modi described the importance of seed science to him since he began his career as an agronomist for a seed company and interacted frequently with small-holder farmers, realising that their approaches could be more sustainable than commercial activities. He added that an important role for small-holders to have is in the establishment of a gene bank to demonstrate how much ethno-science they possess, which includes acknowledging the extent to which their confidence has been undermined.
The day’s discussions were facilitated by Wilson. Presenters included Pschorn-Strauss, Dr Maxwell Mudhara from the FSG, Dr Regassa Feyissa from EOSA, and Mkhaliphi from Biowatch. Topics discussed included introductions of seed sovereignty frameworks, the need for gene banks, farmer situations, constraints and participation, agroecological approaches for sustainable agricultural development, and climate change.
The programme included a discussion session; points raised included the role of traditional tribal leaders in food sovereignty, how to encourage academic institutions to lead in this arena and contribute to knowledge generation, the recognition of indigenous knowledge systems, and the role of researchers and NGOs in community engagement and knowledge transfer.
Moving forward, Modi emphasised that silos between basic sciences should be broken down and other kinds of knowledge should be included to increase the system’s resilience, achieved through collaboration between farmer and ‘formal’ systems of knowledge in an environment where both parties have more confidence. The purpose of this collaboration would be to challenge food insecurity and making a resilient seed system part of rural economic development.
In closing, Pschorn-Strauss thanked participants, saying that seed is a gift from nature that multiplies with use, almost a magical thing, and emphasising the importance of diversity on farms.

Haughton Award Presented to a UKZN Geology Student for the Second Year Running

For the second consecutive year, a Geological Sciences Honours graduate from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN has been awarded the prestigious Haughton Award from the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA).

The award was this year conferred on Mr Kreesan Palan in recognition of his 2015 Honours thesis, deemed to be of exceptional merit by adjudicators from the Fellows Committee and the Council of the GSSA.

Palan’s thesis was entitled ‘Beachrock facies and carbonate cement variability at Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu-Natal’, in which he aimed to account for the variability of beachrock units at a locality in Umhlanga, and to examine the controls that exist on beachrock formation, destruction and preservation.

According to Palan, results from this study assist in the understanding of the relationship of beachrocks to sea level, through detailing sedimentological observations of beachrocks at the bed-set scale, combined with microscopic and geochemical analyses.

He said he feels honoured to have received the award, joining a long list of UKZN Geology graduates before him.

Palan, who is now pursuing his Masters degree in Geology at UKZN under the supervision of Professor Andrew Green, says his choice of subject was inspired by a lifelong spirit of curiosity about the natural world and a love of the outdoors. He hopes to pursue a career in Geology after completing his Masters, using the skills UKZN has furnished him with.

Palan says he feels privileged to have studied under the guidance of Professors like Mike Watkeys and Steve McCourt, saying his education has left him well-prepared for life as a geologist. He thanked Professor Green for his encouragement to think outside the box.

Seed Science Class Take Lessons from Industry

The 2016 class of Advanced Seed Science and Technology took their practical lessons to ProSeed and Advance Seed on Thursday the 29th of September. The module is taken by 4th year and Honours students to learn about the biology, biotechnology and regulations related to seed science. Students are required to have a good background in plant science and they learn about the theory and practice of seed science.
Professor Rob Melis, director of ProSeed who is also a plant breeder, shared with them some knowledge about plant breeding, seed production and seed treatment. The students also went to Advance Seed where Mr Simon Hodgson, who is the manager of the company, expanded on seed certification, marketing and the importance of the seed industry in food security. Both Prof Melis and Mr Hodgson are UKZN alumni.
During the visit, the students were exposed to the phytosanitary regulations that govern seed production, certification and marketing. They learned about the role of the South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR) and other international seed organisations. Many students were excited about the visit and expressed their interest in working for the seed industry and even starting their own seed companies in future.
Professor Albert Modi thanked the two seed companies and indicated to the students that there will be some exam questions based on the field trip during the next test and final exam. He said that it is always a pleasure to relate what is taught in the classroom to the practical realities of the industry.

Award-Winning Researcher Investigates Grazing Management Systems

Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, Ms Sindiso Chamane, received the best poster award for her poster based on her PhD research under the supervision of Professor Kevin Kirkman, Mr Craig Morris and Professor Tim O’Connor at the 2016 International Rangeland Congress (IRC), held in Saskatoon, Canada.
Chamane is from Pietermaritzburg and completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN); her Masters in Grassland Science was a collaborative project with Yale University.
Chamane’s PhD research is concerned with the effects of short duration, high intensity grazing management on grasslands. Her research has been conducted on an experimental design at Ukulinga Research Farm and Wakefield Farm, in Cedarville in the Eastern Cape, on a fence-line contrast on two farms in Kokstad, and at the Michaelhouse Nature Reserve.
Her poster at the IRC was focused on the fence-line study, which demonstrates two neighbouring farmers’ contrasting use of high density grazing (HDG) with zero burning and a low density grazing (LDG) with a burning frequency of two to four years. The farmers have been using these management practices for 20 years.
Chamane focused her study on a mesic habitat in what is emerging as a baseline study of contrasting management styles in KwaZulu-Natal, as not many researchers have investigated this.
‘HDG is being recommended as a management style, but there’s concern at the lack of scientific evidence behind it,’ explained Chamane. ‘By concentrating grazing animals into camps, HDG is purported to reduce selective grazing, make space for seedling reproduction, break the soil crust to increase soil infiltration and reduce erosion, increase nutrients, improve plant diversity, and preserve moisture by retaining litter that would be burnt on a LDG site.’
Chamane looked at species composition and soils, and found that in a mesic system the LDG site actually had better forage species diversity and a nice variation of forbs, and that there was no difference in soil nutrient composition. HDG sites also showed increased presence of alien species, and a dominance of species that can withstand heavy grazing.
The poster generated considerable attention, with these management systems highly contested amongst grassland and animal scientists and researchers. Chamane fielded interest from academics in Australia and Argentina in particular, where similar issues are faced, and many expressed interest in seeing her research published.
Winning the award for best poster will enable Chamane to attend the Australian Rangeland Society’s Biennial Conference in Australia in 2017.

Dietetics Student Takes Part in Miss Cameroon SA Pageant

Postgraduate Diploma student in Dietetics in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) Ms Joan Akob is participating in the Miss Cameroon South Africa pageant, demonstrating her strong sense of national pride, patriotism and appreciation for her home country of Cameroon.
The pageant was initiated in 2015 by Tswelopele Rural Community Outreach, seeking to promote, celebrate, educate and seek global advancement, cultural exchange and social cohesion for integration in South Africa in the aftermath of xenophobic attacks in the country. Two winners are crowned: Miss Cameroon South Africa (a Cameroonian living in South Africa) and Miss South Africa Cameroon (a South African motivated by promoting social cohesion and unity).
After the crowning on the 30th of September 2016, the winner of Miss Cameroon SA will become a finalist in the Miss Cameroon 2017 pageant, and Miss South Africa Cameroon will travel to Cameroon as a VIP queen in the Miss Cameroon competition, thereby strengthening SA-Cameroon relations.
Akob believes the event will spark dialogue amongst Cameroonians in South Africa about culture, their nation and how they can use the skills to make a difference in communities in both countries.
Akob, originally from Bamenda in Cameroon, has lived in South Africa for nine years, moving with her parents and two sisters.
Having enjoyed watching pageants as a child, Akob seized this opportunity to display her confidence, intelligence and eloquence, and hopes it will accelerate her growth as a leader, role model and ambassador.
Akob is currently completing her food service internship as part of her studies. This career path, she says, is one that chose her, and her early dreams of going into the medical field led her to Dietetics.
‘What we eat greatly impacts our health. In addition, following the correct diet can control and even heal lifestyle conditions,’ said Akob. ‘Diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and stroke are among the top 10 causes of death in Cameroon. These are all conditions that can be treated, prevented or controlled with the right nutrition.’
Akob, with her parents and older sister Faith, is a co-founder of a nutrition centre in Bamenda, Cameroon called Nutrition and Wellness Associates (NAWA); an initiative towards bringing good nutritional practices to their home communities.
‘I intend to give back to my nation, Africa and if possible, the wider world the knowledge I have gained,’ said Akob.
Akob said her Christian faith and values are a constant inspiration, and her family’s successes spur her on. In June, her sister Elma Akob attended the Global Young leaders Conference (GYLC) in Washington and is the first black chairwoman of the United Nations GYLC, and sister Faith is lecturing and running NAWA in Cameroon.
Akob acknowledged Miss Cameroon SA founders Mckevin Ayaba and Beatrice Acheleke for pioneering such an excellent initiative, embodying the ancient African philosophy: ‘I am what I am because of who we all are – Ubuntu’.

Horticulture PhD Candidate Wins Best Poster at All Africa Horticultural Congress

Ola Olarewaju
PhD candidate in the discipline of Horticultural Science in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) Mr Ola Olarewaju recently travelled to the All Africa Horticultural Congress in Nigeria, where his poster received the best poster award.

Olarewaju, undertaking his PhD under the supervision of Dr Lembe Magwaza and Dr Samson Tesfay, is working on the identification of pre-symptomatic bio-markers and non-destructive prediction of physiological rind disorders of citrus fruit. According to Olarewaju, this research could assist the citrus industry in the management of postharvest losses by sending fruit with longer threshold of rind disorder to international markets and fruit with shorter threshold of rind disorder to local markets.

In the long run, this will increase the amount of produce available to consumers and increase financial gain for growers.

Taken from this research, Olarewaju’s poster at the Congress was entitled ‘A comparative analysis of postharvest rind colour and antioxidant composition of ‘Marsh’ grapefruit harvested from different canopy position of the tree’. Of attending the Congress, Olarewaju said it was an opportunity to meet with like-minded scientists discuss issues surrounding Horticulture for improved livelihoods.

As a result of his poster’s selection as the winning poster, Olarewaju received an award from the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), including the publication of his profile in the prestigious ISHS Chronica Horticulturae magazine with a readership of 7000.

‘Winning the award is a wake-up call for me to work more diligently, smartly and intelligently as the citrus industry needs more applicable scientific results,’ said Olarewaju.

Staff Changes

This month, SAEES said goodbye to a number of staff members, who will be familiar to many alumni and partners.
Alet Botha
Nontobeko Magwaza
Clockwise from top: Alet Botha, Irene Ntuli, Nontobeko Magwaza, Antoinette (Toni), and Jayshree Singh.

Alet worked in the discipline of Animal & Poultry Sciences, where she had been adding valued support for many years. Together with her family she has moved to the Western Cape. Jayshree, Irene and Toni are applying their administrative and technical skills that they contributed so meaningfully in Plant Breeding to SeedCo in Potchefstroom, and Nontobeko, who worked with us as a technician in Soil Science this year, is pursuing exciting new opportunities in Pretoria.

We will greatly miss them all and look forward to keeping up with their future achievements!


Here's a little blast from the past from the Animal Husbandry class of 1962, who last got together again in 2012 and who still regularly keep in contact.
Animal Husbandry 1962
Class of 1962 - 2012
Back row: John Baxter, Eric Hulbert and Paul Goodwin.
Second row: Jerry Grant, Iona Stewart (nee Wise) and Barend Poortenar
Front row: Malcolm Bennett and Stan Parsons.

Job Opportunity

Green Farms Nut Company (Pty) Ltd is the largest kernel processor and marketer of Macadamia Nuts in South and Southern Africa, and has interests in most of the sub-tropical growing areas. GFNC are part of the international “Green and Gold” marketing group. We have processing facilities in Levubu, White River and Margate.

We are looking for someone to join our team in Natal, focusing on horticultural aspects and procurement. The incumbent will be based in Natal, but will have to travel to all other areas from time to time. This is a very exciting job opportunity for a young graduate interested in the Macadamia industry and eager to learn and grow with our company.

Job Description:
  • Providing latest agronomic and best-practice recommendations to Macadamia growers & suppliers.
  • Staying abreast with horticultural trends in the international macadamia nut industry.
  • Conduct study groups to advise growers on scouting and pest identification, soil nutrition, pruning, drying facilities and other production practices.
  • Maintaining grower orchard tree census, nut quality & yield database linked to grower’s orchards.
  • Attention to detail and above average computer skills are important.
  • Grower liaison and procurement.
  • Undertake regular visits to key growers.
  • Provide feedback to research about the regional grower interests.
The ideal candidate should possess:
  • Minimum of B Sc (Agric) majoring in Horticulture/Plant Pathology/Entomology/Soil Science.
  • Good interpersonal and communication skills to ensure professional interaction with growers/clients.
  • The ability to work independently but also as a strong team member.
  • Candidate should preferably be bilingual (English & Afrikaans)
  • Legal drivers licence.
Salary will commensurate with experience.

Please send your application form and CV to Graeme at GFNC.

Closing date for applications : 30th of November 2016.

If you have not had a reply within two weeks from the closing date please accept your application as unsuccessful.

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

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