Newsletter December 2016
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | December 2016
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21 December 2016

Hi friends and alumni

We have come to the end of 2016, and close out the year with some highlights from the past few months.

It has been a very disruptive year across the South African higher education landscape, however staff and students at Agric have continued to excel despite this.

Thank you for your ongoing support, and we are looking forward to a wonderful 2017.

Merry Christmas
We wish you and your family a safe and restful festive season, and look forward to catching up in the New Year.

SAEES Highlights 2016

2016 Highlights video
Have a look through some of the highlights from the School of Agricultural, Earth & Environmental Sciences over 2016.

Obituary - Professor Emeritus Peter Allan

Peter Allan Ukulinga pecan

Emeritus Professor Peter Allan next to the original ‘Ukulinga’ pecan nut tree (2016)

It is with deep sadness that we inform you of the passing of Professor Emeritus Peter Allan on 27 October 2016 in Pietermaritzburg.

Peter Allan was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1930. He matriculated at Maritzburg College (first class), and in 1948 was part of the second intake of students to the newly established Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg. Majoring in Horticulture, he graduated with the class of 1951 with a distinction in Horticulture. He was immediately appointed in 1952 as a Lecturer in Horticulture under H.O.D. Professor J.C. le Roux. From 1960-1969 he was Senior Lecturer. From 1970 through to official retirement in 1990, he occupied the chair of Horticultural Science, although in 1988 he stepped down from the headship of the department, which was taken over by Prof B. Nigel Wolstenholme until retirement in 1998. Since 1990, Prof Allan was Emeritus Professor, and Honorary Research Associate for much of the time until recently. He took a particular interest in the Horticulture section at Ukulinga Research Farm.
Professor Allan was an active researcher in several applied fields of Horticultural Science, including vegetative propagation, ecophysiology, floriculture, cultivar selection and evaluation (including his HoneyGold papaya selection), and climate modification. He and his students worked on a wide range of fruits, including papaw, macadamia nut and low-chill deciduous fruits such as peach, grape and kiwifruit, as well as floriculture crops.
He published some 80 refereed, and numerous other industry-oriented papers, many after retirement in 1990. His 249th and final paper was submitted in June, 2016. He supervised four PhD and 12 MSc Agric students, and taught, over the years, five horticulture courses, plus contributing to other undergraduate courses.

Peter Allan spent five overseas sabbaticals in countries which included the USA (California, Hawaii and mainland USA), Australia and Israel. He attended nearly 30 overseas scientific congresses, and numerous local congresses, always presenting one or more papers, often with postgraduate students. He became internationally known for his dedicated research in applied horticultural science. Among his awards were Fellow of the S.A. Society for Crop Production, Honorary Member and later Honorary Life President of the Southern African Society for Horticultural Sciences, and Honorary membership of the S.A. Macadamia Growers' Association.

Married to Elizabeth (Polly), who died in 2010, they had five children, all of whom obtained degrees and four of whom currently live overseas.

Professor Allan presided over a particularly productive period in the life of the former Department of Horticultural Sciences, and continued to support the discipline through the profound changes in Agricultural Studies on the Pietermaritzburg campus. His wide knowledge, experience and wisdom will be sorely missed.

Obituary by Professor Emeritus B. Nigel Wolstenholme.

Passing away of an alumnus - Mr Dumisani Nqobile Ndaba

A former Maritzburg College pupil and UKZN alumnus, Mr Dumisani Nqobile Ndaba, passed away tragically at the age of 28 following a motorbike accident in Gauteng on the 16th of December.

Ndaba, from from Imbali unit 13, studied a Bachelor of Science in Life and Earth Sciences, majoring in Hydrology and Geography. He was at UKZN from 2007–2010, going on to study a spatial planning Honours at the University of the Free State, and then a Masters in Town and Regional Planning at the University of Pretoria.

His UP Masters thesis brought his knowledge

back home; he conducted studies on the changing nature of public open spaces in the CBD of Pietermaritzburg, determining how public spaces within the area had changed in the past 10 to 15 years; what the key drivers were that had influenced the transformation of these spaces and finally what the implications were for urban planning and design in the city in terms of the promotion of greater diversity and access to opportunities for all urban residents.

While at UKZN, Dumisani also took part in an international exchange to the University of Iowa.

Dumsani was working for the CSIR in Pretoria as a researcher in regional and urban planning research at the time of his death. Before this he had also worked as an intern in the Msunduzi Local Municipality in the land use and development control business unit.

Rest in peace Dumisani. This is a great loss to science and research in South Africa, and our thoughts are with your family at this sad time.


Albert Modi

Congratulations are in order for Professor Albert Thembinkosi Modi, who was this week announced as the re-appointed incumbent for a second five-year term as Dean and Head of School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences at UKZN.

Prof Modi has served for the past 5 years as Dean & HOS, since the restructuring of the University into Colleges and Schools, and has done an excellent job, continuing to blaze a trail in academics and research (and proving to be a hugely popular supervisor), and doing his utmost to keep all his staff and students happy. It was with Prof Modi's guidance that Friends of UKZN Agriculture was established over 4 years ago.

We wish you all the best for your second term at the helm Prof.

UKZN Grassland Research in Nature

Prof Kirkman

Professor Kevin Kirkman of the School of Life Sciences contributed to a feature on grassland diversity in the journal Nature.

The feature deals with niche dimensionality - a theory concerned with accounting for biodiversity - examining how resources in a niche can affect productivity of that area of grassland and its resultant biodiversity or lack thereof.

This research is a result of collaborations between researchers working on a number of sites around the world, including at UKZN’s Ukulinga long-term mowing and burning trials, one of the longest-running ecological experiments in the world.

The connected sites are a part of the Nutrient Network (NutNet), which involves ecologists replicating the same experiments on sites across nine countries to observe the results produced in various systems. In this particular study, researchers added limiting nutrients such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), which produced a decline in plant diversity at all 45 sites in North America, Europe, South Africa and Australia.

Kirkman explained that each niche, defined by the resources in that space, has species or a number thereof that can occupy that space. All the plants, for example grasses and forbs, compete for the same resources, some of which are limiting to plant growth, such as NPK.

‘Most natural ecosystems have multiple limiting resources - in South Africa our grasslands are largely limited by nitrogen and phosphorus,’ said Kirkman.

‘With more nutrients supplied to niches, some plants compete more effectively for nutrients and fare better, reducing diversity and causing plant species loss. This increases biomass, particularly of certain species that respond well to added nutrients, and induces a shift from below ground competition for nutrients to above ground competition for light.

‘The implications of this are far-reaching, as there are factors causing an increase in limiting nutrients to grasslands, for example deposition of nitrogen from industrial fallout. Grasslands, the dominant vegetation covering South Africa, provide resources for agriculture and wildlife, stabilise soil and ensure constant supply of good-quality water, and facilitate tourism,’ said Kirkman.

‘We all rely on grass to survive. South African grasslands are among the most diverse in the world and the ecosystem services provided by these grasslands are dependent on this biodiversity, therefore an understanding of dimensionality in grassland ecosystems is critical to understanding and modelling diversity loss.’

Research of this nature is ongoing through the NutNet collaboration, with Ukulinga continuing to play an important role. The researchers would like to have more sites around the world, particularly in Africa and South America, to strengthen their research and the recommendations for conservation that result from it.

MSc Plant Breeding student receives presentation prize at the ARC PDP conference

Masters candidate in Plant Breeding, Ms  Chumisa Dweba, received an award for her presentation at the Agricultural Research Council's (ARC) 2nd annual Professional Development Programme conference held in October this year.

Dweba was the recipient of the 3rd Prize for the best MSc Oral presentation. Her presentation was entitled “Phenotypic and SSR-based characterization of new sources of Fusarium head blight resistance in wheat”. Dweba is supervised by Prof Hussein Shimelis at UKZN and Dr T Tsilo of the Agricultural Research Council's Small Grain Institute.

The Agricultural Research Council through its Professional Development Programme (ARC-PDP) trains suitable candidates to add capacity to the agriculture and science and technology sectors to contribute to economic growth in South Africa.

The ARC holds its PDP conference annually for students to present their research as oral or poster presentations. Outstanding students are recognised through excellence awards given at the ceremony.

During the event, Dr Shadrack Moepuli, the CEO of the ARC pinpointed that the ARC uses the ARC-Excellence awards serve as a platform to express gratitude to students for the good work they have done throughout the year.

ACCI Graduate Pioneers Climate-Smart Beans for Africa

Dr Stanley Nkalubo, a graduate of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) was this year featured in an article covering the development of climate-smart beans in Uganda that are helping to mitigate crop losses suffered as a result of drought and severe heat. The development of these beans will aid in the security of food supply to vulnerable areas in the country.

The new cultivars are naturally bio-fortified with iron and zinc to contribute to nutritional value of one of the country's main sources of protein. With impacts of climate change posing an increasing threat, 'climate-proofing' these food sources will be an essential strategy in ensuring access to nutritional, staple food sources for the country's rural inhabitants.

Nkalubo, now the programme leader at the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda, completed his PhD in Plant Breeding at UKZN in 2006, and, as a soil scientist, came in focused on the importance of breeding in harmony with the availability of soil nutrients.

You can read more about the development of these beans here.

UKZN Student Wins Best Presenter at Global Change Conference

At the recent 3rd biennial National Conference on Global Change, hosted by UKZN in Durban under the auspices of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation, PhD candidate in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences Ms Nasiphi Ntshanga was awarded the prize for best student presentation.

Ntshanga’s presentation covered her PhD research concerning the effect of land cover transformation for the climatic stability of Cape Lowland vegetation. Her research aims are to determine what proportion of the climate space of the historical extent of the major lowland vegetation types is lost under future climate change and what the combined effect of transformation and climate change is on climatic stability for lowland vegetation.

‘As the environment changes in the many different ways it changes, we need to be better-equipped in how we deal with the changes and how we adapt and mitigate and have all these strategies,’ said Ntshanga.

‘The ultimate output for my PhD is to have a tool that managers can use in understanding how they manage these fragmented landscapes.’

Ntshanga was inspired to pursue a PhD thanks to her passion for learning and curiosity about the world around her, and realized after completing her Masters that the work she wants to go into will require gaining as much knowledge as possible, leading her to a PhD. She is supervised by Dr Jasper Slingsby, an expert in Fynbos, who introduced her to this system, and her co-supervisor is Professor Şerban Procheş at UKZN.

Ntshanga also attended the previous Global Change Conference, and said presenting at this edition resulted in hoped-for interactions, feedback and potential for future collaborations.

‘My research links to the broader theme of global change in that it explores how different global change drivers interact, and it explores how we can manage the interactions in a fragmenting landscape.’

Ntshanga said she was also inspired by the number of younger students, especially Honours students, who presented at the conference and did well, a good indication for the future of science in South Africa, which needs increased participation from young people.

‘We need more mentorship for scientific careers,' said Ntshanga. ‘When I was an undergraduate, pursuing postgraduate studies meant you would end up lecturing and being over-qualified for any job, resulting in very few of us carrying on with our studies. Even with enough funding, a good project and supervisor, you still need a mentor to guide and advise on career choices and just navigating life as a young scientist; we need mentors, especially female scientists.’

Ntshanga is one of those few, however, and is considering the possibility of postdoctoral studies.

‘I am ready to dive in, work on big projects, supervise more students and do some exciting stuff,’ she said.

Prof Shimelis Receives Excellence Award for Journal Review

Professor Hussein Shimelis, SASRI Chair of Crop Science at UKZN, recently received a reviewer excellence award for his contributions as reviewer in the journals of Legume Research and Indian Journal of Agricultural Research.

Media Feature - 2016 to be the hottest year globally

In a recent edition of The Witness, Prof Michael Savage and Dr Alistair Clulow from Agrometeorology at UKZN contributed to a feature about 2016 accelerating to take the record on being the hottest year on record, ever, surpassing the last record-holder, 2015. KZN also experienced its driest year ever last year.

Read more about the effects of this here.

Internship Opportunity

The Gauteng Department of Agriculture & Rural Development has internships available for 2017/18.Available positions include Pollution and Waste Management, Environmental Impact Management, Environmental Policy, Planning & Coordination, Sustainable Resource Management, Farmer Support and Development, Research & Technology Development Services (including Agriculture, Agricultural Engineering, Agronomy, Horticulture, Soil/Animal Science, Animal/Crop Production), Agriculture Economics Services, Animal Production

Advisory & Support Services, and Rural Development.

These internships are open to application from unemployed South African graduates between 18 and 35 years of age who have never participated in internship programmes, or students that require Experiential Training to complete their qualifications.

Applications must be submitted on a signed Z83 form, obtainable from any Public Service Department, and must be accompanied by a Curriculum Vitae plus certified copies of Identity Document, Senior Certificate and qualification, including academic transcript.

Applications should be forwarded to Human Resource Development, GDARD, PO Box 8769, Johannesburg 2000 or hand delivered to the Ground Floor, Diamond Building, 11 Diagonal Street, Newtown, Johannesburg.

Applications close on the 30th of December 2016.

For further enquiries, please contact Mr Tefo Phelane, tel. (011) 240-2608 or Mr Livhuwani Mutswana, tel. (011) 240-2590.

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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