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Newsletter January - February 2016
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | January - February 2016
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26th February 2016


Hi Friends and Alumni

The new year at UKZN has started well, with a fresh crop of students filling lecture venues and laboratories and fields and getting acquainted with all that Agric has to offer. It's the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN's International Year of Pulses this year, so we'll be bringing you more features in these early months about our crop-related disciplines, and look forward to bringing you an interesting feature on pulses and relevant research at UKZN.

Our other big calendar event is the Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium, taking place on the 24th and 25th of May. Our annual Networking Function will coincide with that this year, so we encourage you to diarise it now. It will definitely be one for the books! We would welcome your involvement in the Symposium; you will find the invitation and additional details further down this email.
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Featured Discipline

Crop Science graphic

History

The discipline of Crop Science was established as the department of Agronomy in 1948, regarded as an essential element of agricultural studies. It boasted a large percentage of undergraduate registrations in the early days of the former Faculty of Agriculture, and saw a great many graduates go on to successful careers in academia and in government.

The Department was led by Sakkie Smuts, followed by Sampie Hulme (who notably became a professor at the tender age of 24). Karl Nathanson followed, and under his watched renamed the Department to that of Crop Science in the 1960s. Nathanson was well known for his work in seed legume production and for his extensive research, making his untimely death in 1982 a blow to the Department. He was succeeded by John Lea, who oversaw notable developments like the Subsistence Agriculture Study Group which focused its work on uplifting communities in the Vulindlela area, something of a forerunner of the discipline's current emphasis on small-holder and subsistence farmers. During his tenure a common bean crop improvement programme was initiated and overseen by Rob Melis, who is currently associated with the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) in SAEES.

Following Lea's retirement in 1986, the Department of Crop Science was linked more closely to Soil Science and Agrometeorology within the Department of Agronomic and Environmental Studies under the leadership of John de Villiers. Staff who then joined the Department included Joseph Adjetey and Albert Modi, and in the late 1990s Agribusiness was offered as a co-major with Crop Science, aligning it with Agricultural Economics.

In 1988 the South African Sugar Association (SASA) established the Chair of Crop Science, a post held by Andy Cairns and Peter Greenfield.

In the early 2000s, the Department's focus broadened to include indigenous crop development and seed technology in addition to more common commercial crops, and in that era Crop Science was also aligned with Plant Breeding and Horticultural Science in the Agricultural Plant Sciences cluster of disciplines. In 2004, the merger of the University of Natal with the University of Durban-Westville had a considerable effect throughout the new institution, particularly in relation to restructuring of administrative functions and financial changes.

*Sources for historical information:
Guest, B., 2010. A Fine Band of Farmers Are We! A History of Agricultural Studies in Pietermaritzburg 1949-2009. Pietermaritzburg: Occasional Publications of The Natal Society Foundation.

University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2008. Celebrating 60 Years of Agriculture, Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Discipline at a Glance

Crop Science, not unlike the organisms it studies, has developed and grown over the years it's been a part of life at Agric. Studying Crop Science now looks somewhat different to what it was a few decades ago, as it has had to evolve to accommodate the changing needs of a world facing climate change, water shortages and food insecurity, the hot topics of any environmentally-oriented institution these days.

For the past decade or so, Crop Science has been closely linked to the disciplines of Horticultural Science and Plant Breeding under the banner of Agricultural Plant Sciences, with a number of modules being shared between these disciplines. Students undertaking a 3-year BSc may major in Crop and Horticultural Science, or elect to study the more traditional 4-year qualifications in Agricultural Plant Sciences, with some undertaking a BSc Agriculture in Agribusiness in the Crop and Horticultural Science stream. Agricultural Plant Sciences branches into various streams of specialisation, one of which is Crop Science. Other programmes within the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, such as Grassland Science, Genetics and Bioresources (Agricultural) Engineering will also share modules with Crop Science in their structured programmes. Within the SAEES, Crop Science staff also frequently train students studying in the School's other programmes.

Subject matter taught in Crop Science, broadly, covers the origins of agriculture, crop establishment and classification, plant nutrition, plant morphology and plant development, carbon and nitrogen metabolism, and principles of plant breeding and agricultural development. The discipline distinguishes itself by ensuring that students have strong foundational knowledge in the basic sciences underpinning their qualification; the first portion of undergraduate study feature the basic skills like statistics and chemistry, with focus on plant-specific science emphasised from second year.

The number of students studying in Crop Science is on the rise; where it was not unusual to have one or two students majoring in Crop Science a decade or two ago, it's now common to have up to five students in the final year class for Crop Science, with up to ten postgraduates undertaking Masters and PhD studies at a time. UKZN remains a popular choice for students throughout the country wanting to undertake postgraduate studies in Crop Science, with international students, particularly from other SADC states, also electing to study on this campus.

Highlights of studying Crop Science for the students are found both in the classroom and in the field, given the expertise and passion of their teachers and the good exposure they receive to commercial agricultural technology.

Students leaving UKZN with a qualification in Crop Science are highly employable and rank competitively with students from other institutions. Graduates often find themselves working in research, which their qualification disposes them to, whether in governmental departments, research institutes or private organisations.

The discipline is an popular one for students, with its use science and technology making it an attractive science, while also being research-led and opening up opportunities in the afore-mentioned spheres of society. Students, in fourth year especially, are training to work independently and execute their research with excellence.

Increased students numbers do pose their own challenges, with infrastructure and space always an obstacle, from classrooms to laboratories to field space. Crop Science makes use of the University's Controlled Environment Facility (CEF) and Ukulinga Research Farm for the trials being done by staff and students.

The future of the discipline is closely linked to UKZN's vision and mission of being the premiere institution of African scholarship, and furthermore it aims to produce graduates who are proud to be crop scientists, and who are equipped with knowledge that is relevant to current food production systems. Staff in the discipline aim to focus on research responding to pertinent issues such as climate change, small-holder farming systems and the like. This will also see increased linkages being formed with other disciplines as multi-faceted responses are required.

Crop Science maintains strong links to governmental agricultural departments, and both the Water Research Commission and the Agricultural Research Council support postgraduate training and research that takes place in the discipline. Bodies like Kwanalu and the South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR) are also important allies for Crop Science, with there being support of initiatives and support in the way of bursaries and awards for students, with Pannar coming on board to present an annual award to a top Crop Science student at the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Awards evening in April. More support is always welcomed however, particularly in the arena of student bursaries as the nation faces increasing challenges in funding deserving students in the higher education sector.
Crop Science video

Crop Science at SAEES - video

Staff

Historically, the then-Department of Crop Science at the former University of Natal was predominantly made up of white male academics at senior levels, with demographic changes as the country eased into democracy only becoming very apparent in the last decade or so.

The discipline, which was always a small one, had 3 academics and one technician (shared with other departments), and now has an added academic post with the filling of the long-vacant South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) Chair of Crop Science adding capacity to the group.
Albert Modi
Professor Albert Modi received his Masters from the then-University of Natal in the early 1990s, after completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Fort Hare, and was a Fulbright Scholar at Ohio State University in the USA for his PhDs. Before joining the staff of the University of Natal in 1996, he was provincial agronomist for PHI-Hibred International, a position that exposed him to important agronomy and rural development issues.

Modi is a champion of sustainable agriculture, and of the value of indigenous knowledge in informing scientific research. He has successfully led a number of
research projects and was pivotal in the establishment of the innovative Ezemvelo Farmers Organisation, which focused on the small scale production of amadumbe (taro) for supply in mainstream commercial retail chains. He also established and led the Moses Kotane Institute.

Modi is a Senior Fellow of the GreenMatter initiative, an Honorary Fellow of the Mangosutho University of Technology and Chairman of the South African Agricultural and Life Sciences Deans Association (SAALSDA).

He has published more than 70 peer reviewed journal publications, conference proceedings and chapters in books, as well as popular science articles. He is a dedicated supervisor and consistently puts his students first, having supervised 10 PhDs and more than 30 Masters’ graduates. Despite the demands of his leadership role in SAEES, Modi continues to teach extensively. In recognition of his efforts in the classroom, he was named a recipient of one of UKZN's Distinguished Teacher Awards for 2015.

He holds a Membership Award from the New York Academy of Sciences, was a Young Affiliate of the Third World Academy of Sciences for the Sub-Saharan Region from 2008-2012, and received an Agricultural Writer Award from the Agricultural Writers South Africa in 2009. He is also a Fellow of the South African Society of Crop Production, of which he was President in 2007 and 2008.

In addition to this already long list of awards, Modi was a finalist for the 2014 NSTF-BHP Billiton TW Kambule award. A C-rated researcher by the National Research Foundation, he also received a National Science and Technology Forum Finalist Certificate in 2005, and the Daan F. Retief Floating Trophy for the best paper presented by a scientist younger than 40 years in 2007.

Since 2012, he has been a member of SANSOR and a co-director of local multi-media company Jive Media Africa, demonstrating his commitment to engaging with society. He was also a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa’s Agricultural Education and Training Consensus Study panel in 2014. In 2015, he received a Water Research Commission Award for Human Capital Development in Water and Science Studies.

Modi personally funds children from rural schools in Transkei (in the village from which he comes) to study Science from Grade 10 to 12.
Alfred Odindo
Dr Alfred Odindo hails from Kenya, where he completed his undergraduate diploma in agriculture. He went on to undertake a Master of Science at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, where he focused his research on seed science and technology. After completing his Masters and returning to teach at the University of Eldoret (formerly Moi University, Chepkoilel Campus) Eldoret, Kenya.  Odindo decided to pursue a Doctoral degree, and on the advice of his supervisor in
Scotland, Dr Alison Powell, sought out Professor Albert Modi to supervise his PhD on the topic of 'Cowpea Seed Quality in Response to Production Site & Water Stress'. After completing his PhD through UKZN in 2007, Odindo returned to Kenya to teach at his alma mater, and in 2010 returned again to UKZN as a lecturer in Crop Science.

Odindo describes his work and interaction with students as a highlight of his occupation and is involved in the supervision of a number of PhD, Masters, Honours and 4th year students. He lectures in several modules, including the second year level introduction to plant production, irrigation design & management and plant physiology at third year level, and at fourth year level: principles of agricultural research, forage production & utilisation, and staple crop production, while also coordinating the applied plant sciences project and seminar module.

In addition to his research on seed and plant physiology and crop modelling, Odindo is part of some really interesting work with UKZN's Pollution Research Group (PRG) in the discipline of Chemical Engineering. His portfolio in this group involves the revalorisation of waste products, from faecal sludge to waste water. His work on plant nutrition focusing on nutrient recovery and re-use from waste plays into this field, as does his interest in the sustainable management of water and waste water. Within the PRG, he leads the project on integrating agriculture in designing low cost sanitation technologies funded by the Water Research Commission.

Odindo's work with the PRG has been particularly focused on the use as new fertiliser sources, processed waste-products such as struvite, nitrified urine concentrate and struvite effluent from urine-diversion toilets, which he quipped should be installed in Rabie Saunders Building to alleviate water crises and take unnecessary pressure off strained water resources by thinking ahead.

The link between PRG and Crop Science has seen key partnerships emerge from this work, one being the research collaboration with eThekwini Municipality in seeking innovative solutions to the problems of sanitation provision and food security. Secondly, complementing projects in Africa by the Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA) with the special initiative “One World No Hunger” of the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation & Development. Thirdly,  the Royal Society Newton Grant Scheme with University College London (UCL) that sees academic exchanges take place between the two institutions to explore possible avenues for collaboration, and fourthly, a project that will make particular use of Odindo's agricultural expertise is the Sustainable Water Treatment and Nutrient Reuse Options (SuWaNu) alliance, which aims to develop technologies through international research partnerships to explore how agricultural practices can relieve the enormous pressure they put on water resources, especially in areas like waste-water treatment. 
Lembe Magwaza
Dr Lembe Magwaza has been part of the staff in Crop Science since January 2014 as a lecturer. He completed his BSc in Agriculture in Horticultural Science at the then-University of Natal in 2003, and after working for the Agricultural Research Council as a Research Technician, returned to 
undertake his Master of Science in Agriculture in Horticultural Science at UKZN in 2007, specialising in Plant Physiology.

He then went on to the University of Cranfield in the United Kingdom, working as a researcher while completing his PhD through Stellenbosch University, working on pre-harvest and post-harvest physiology trials of tropical and subtropical crops. He completed his PhD in 2013, before coming to UKZN in 2014. His work while at the institution, in addition to lecturing and supervising responsibilities, has included work on projects such as the characterisation of agronomic and nutritional performance of indigenous leafy vegetables and pulses to improve food and nutritional security in rural communities.

Magwaza is experienced in Horticultural Science, with a focus on pre-harvest factors affecting post-harvest performance of citrus and subtropical fruit. His work in this field has furnished him with good knowledge of issues relating to rind physiological disorders of citrus fruit, non-destructive evaluation, and post-harvest handling of fresh fruit. His interests also lie in seed technology, fruit export, non-destructive evaluation, and packaging of fruit and vegetables.
Shimelis
Professor Hussein Shimelis, SASRI Chair of Crop Science, is a plant breeder whose recent appointment to the Chair position brings his work and expertise more closely into the sphere of the discipline of Crop Science. He obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Plant Sciences from Alemaya University in his home country of Ethiopia, going on to obtain a Masters degree in Plant Breeding from Wageningen University in 1996. He completed his PhD with the University of the Free State in 2003, following which he was a research consultant at the Small Grain Institute in Bloemfontein. He moved to
Polokwane in 2004, working at the University of Limpopo as a lecturer and later Associate Professor of Plant Breeding and Head of the Department of Plant Production.

In November of 2008, he joined the University of KwaZulu-Natal's African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) as Associate Professor, and there played an integral role in the training of PhD students from across Africa in the discipline of Plant Breeding. He has published prolifically, and has earned extensive recognition for his research; in 2015 he was awarded for the best paper published in the SA Journal of Plant and Soil by a member of the South African Society of Crop Production (SACP), in addition to holding a C research rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF). Shimelis has also participated in the USAID-funded Pigeonpea Improvement Using Molecular Breeding project with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR).

His interests and expertise lie in Agricultural Plant Science, Plant Biotechnology, Plant Physiology, Plant Breeding, Plant Genetics, Plant Pathology and Plant Biodiversity, and he has worked on numerous crops, from wheat to maize to sorghum to pigeon peas and more.
Matt Erasmus
Mr Matt Erasmus is the technician for the discipline of Crop Science, and in this role provides technical support across the AGPS disciplines. He has been at the University for 11 years; prior to this he worked at the Agricultural Research Council's Roodeplaat Range and Forage Institute and
also taught draughting at a secondary school level; a skill which has proved to be surprisingly useful in his current work. Mr Erasmus is an essential part of experiments and projects that take place in all of the AGPS disciplines; he single-handedly oversees trials at the CEF and at Ukulinga Research Farm.
Tafadzwa
Research continues to be a vital part of the day-to-day activities in Crop Science, and Research Fellow in the discipline Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, together with Modi, is the principal researcher leading a burgeoning group of postgraduate students in a number of research projects that are contributing to furthering knowledge in the discipline and
training students to meet the needs of their country and continent through their skills in Crop Science.

Mabhaudhi received his BSc Agriculture (Honours) from the University of Zimbabwe in 2006, and came to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2008 to undertake his Masters in Crop Science, going on to do a PhD in Crop Science and Agronomy under the supervision of Modi, which he received in 2012. He then continued research as a postdoctoral research fellow at the institution, and in 2016 was appointed as a Research Fellow in Crop Science. Mabhaudhi's specialisation is in crop modelling (plant-water relations), irrigation design and management, crop production and seed technology. He is involved in a number of research projects, including Water Research Commission projects looking at the water use of certain crops, from biofuel crops to indigenous grain and legume crops.

News


Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium

Ukulinga Howard Davis Farm Trust Memorial Symposium
The Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium is fast approaching, and a call has been issued for participation in this research and knowledge-sharing event aimed at showcasing the University's agricultural research through its facilities at the Ukulinga Research Farm in Pietermaritzburg.

The theme of Agriculture: Our Life and Future 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.

If you are interested in climate change impacts, crop production, animal science, food security, community engagement, environmental sciences and agricultural engineering, we encourage you to participate. In particular, we need you to share how universities and research have contributed, or should contribute, to community agriculture and knowledge dissemination. Participants may make use of displays, posters, presentations, sponsorship or attendance to share in our vision of making UKZN research relevant, topical and dynamic in its response to contemporary social and ecological scenarios. Of particular interest would be the showcasing of relationships between UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science and its community and agribusiness partners.

Please indicate your expression of interest in our symposium by the 29th of February 2016 for inclusion in a dynamic programme that will include technical, academic, practical and social involvement. The programme includes the Friends of UKZN Agriculture Networking Function at Ukulinga Research Farm on the evening of the 25th of May 2016.

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.

We look forward to hearing from you. Please do send your intention to participate, as well as any queries, to Dr Gareth Lagerwall, chairman of the organising committee.

Crop Science Student Awarded Omnia Presentation Prize

Slindile
Ms Slindile Miya of the discipline of Crop Science in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) was awarded for her presentation at the annual Combined Congress of the South African Societies of Crop, Soil, Horticulture and Weed Sciences held in Bloemfontein in January.

Miya, who completed her Masters in Agriculture in 2015, received the Omnia award for the best oral presentation by a scientist under the age of 40. This was Miya’s first presentation at a scientific congress, making the achievement all the more significant for the young crop scientist.

Miya’s presentation was entitled ‘Seed quality response of maize to hail damage and plant density’. Her work focused on the interaction of a number of factors that impact seed quality, specifically genetic, environmental and management factors. In relation to her study, these factors were the density of the plant population, the cultivar used, hail damage, and the management practice of seed selection.

The results of the study showed that seed quality is negatively impacted by hail damage, with an important factor being the stage at which the plant is exposed to hail, with those in an early stage of growth able to recover, while plants exposed in later reproductive stages sustained permanent damage that reduced seed quality. Based on the results of her work, Miya recommends that plant density is moderate to high, since high density planting uses resources more efficiently.

Miya used three cultivars, one of which is SC701, a popular cultivar in KwaZulu-Natal, which she says showed the most resilience. She also found that her results differed based on which of her two sites the crops were grown at; her trial at Baynesfield Estate proved more adaptable in its seed quality response than her trial at Swayimane.

The motive for exploring the resilience and adaptability of this crop, Miya says, was the need for solutions to the globally-critical issue of climate change that will impact food security, particularly as the effects of climate change like severe hailstorms are on the rise. Miya noted that the serious hailstorms experienced in the Pietermaritzburg area in January 2015 played into her experiment, exposing her trials to hail before she simulated hail damage, but fortunately not causing too much damage.

Miya, who is supervised by Professor Albert Modi, aims to undertake a PhD looking at the seed quality of the Bambara groundnut, where she hopes to explore more parameters involved in seed quality, from physical to genetic and molecular aspects. This will lead to increased work with plant breeders, which Miya looks forward to.

She said that she hopes the results of her study will be useful to farmers and industry looking to mitigate the effects of climate change on crops. Miya also encouraged others to work passionately and tirelessly at their studies to achieve success.

Biowatch Farmers Visit UKZN Landrace Trials

Biowatch visit
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Agriculture campus and Ukulinga Research Farm recently played host to a group of small-scale farmers from Tshaneni in northern KwaZulu-Natal, thanks to research that is being undertaken on farmer-selected landrace seeds of neglected and underutilised crops.

The farmers, who work in Biowatch South Africa's Sphiwinhlanhla Gardening group, visited UKZN to meet with staff and students who have been utilising the farmers' landrace seeds for research on describing agronomy and water use of indigenous cereal and legume food crops. The current research is being undertaken as part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) funded project led by Professor Albert Modi.

The visit kicked off with tea and introductions, as well as a presentation by postgraduate student Mr Lindah Hlukayo covering the results of the characterisation and performance assessment of the pigeon pea seeds. The group of farmers also broke into song at the start of the meeting, singing ‘uThandolukababa, lubanzi lujulile’ in unison. The group visited the University's Seed Technology Laboratory in the Rabie Saunders Building and the Controlled Environment (CEF) facility on the Agriculture campus, before proceeding to Ukulinga Research Farm to see various legume trials being done using the seed provided by the farmers.

Postgraduate students Ms Slindile Miya, Mr Sandile Hadebe and Ms Nokuthula Hlala guided the visit, which included the viewing of the WRC trials being conducted by postgraduate students in the Crop Science research group headed by Honorary Research Fellow Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi.

The seeds are landraces which were donated by the farmers for use as part of the WRC project (No. 2274) entitled ‘Determining water use of indigenous grain and legume food crops'. The on-farm selection by farmers under often unfavourable conditions has resulted in several of these landraces acquiring tolerance to several abiotic stresses, chiefly drought stress. However, there is little documented information describing how to grow these crops and supporting such drought tolerance. This hypothesis and research gap has been at the centre of research being carried out by Prof Modi’s research group. On-farm and on station trials were conducted. This visit was part of knowledge sharing and capacity building, which are important aspects of the WRC study. The farmers’ method of agricultural production is based on agroecological farming which aims to conserve and protect their land and agrobiodiversity. However, there are challenges in developing best practice management recommendations that will allow farmers to improve yields as well as documenting evidence of successes in using agroecology. Biowatch South Africa lends assistance to these farmers, and is promoting agroecology techniques in the training that they provide to the farmers, while also valorising the traditional farming knowledge put into practice by these farmers on their household and communal plots.

Ms Rose Williams, director of Biowatch, said that the visit was important because the farmers see what happens to the seed, and also because it emphasises that the knowledge that they have to contribute is as important as academic and technical knowledge in institutions.

The visit was enlightening for both the UKZN and Biowatch participants, with exclamations of interest emerging from farmers in the laboratory, and postgraduate students receiving lessons on how best to grow their trials from the farmers during the Ukulinga visit.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) document being developed between Biowatch and UKZN will see partnerships between the university and the NGO grow, as they work together to reach farmers, share knowledge and make UKZN's research capacity useful to this sector of society. Professor Modi said that he is excited that the WRC project led to not only to strong relations with small-scale farmers, but it also allowed for a long term collaboration with a renowned institution, Biowatch. This outcome of the project will be a legacy beyond the term of the project.

Agrometeorology System Wins Accolades

Prof Savage award
Professor Mike Savage (centre) receiving his award from Vice-President of the SASCP Dr Diana Marais (right) and Mr Francois Olivier (left), Registrar of the SASCP [Photo: the LOC Combined Congress Bloemfontein 2016]

The Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) system developed by Professor Michael Savage of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) has continued to win accolades as an innovative teaching and agrometeorological tool, chalking up its fifth award at the recent Combined Congress of the Societies of Crop Science, Horticulture, Soil Science and Weed Science in Bloemfontein where senior author Savage accepted the award for the best paper published in South African Journal of Plant and Soil 2014.

This Congress award continues a winning streak in SAEES; the same award was won in 2014 by Savage for a paper on frost occurrence and duration for short-grass surfaces, and in 2015 by SASRI Chair of Crop Science Professor Hussein Shimelis for his paper on the topic of identification of agronomic and seed oil traits in the vernonia crop. The award is conferred by the Board of the South African Society of Crop Production (SASCP).

The title of this year’s award-winning paper is ‘Web-based teaching, learning and research using accessible real-time data obtained from field-based agrometeorological measurement systems’. The publication covers the rationale, detail, application and evaluation of the web-based data and information system as a tool to enhance understanding of physical concepts of the agroenvironment, and thereby accelerate teaching and learning processes.

The AIM system has proved useful in providing easily accessible, near real-time agrometeorological data to the lay public and to students and staff in a range of disciplines. The paper also details the system’s capability in giving early warnings of phenomena such as Berg winds, floods and frost.

Savage’s work on this system was the subject of his cum laude Masters in Agriculture, which he received in 2014 despite having attained his PhD in the late 1970’s and a prestigious Doctor of Science in Agriculture degree in 2010. He was also awarded one of UKZN’s 2014 Distinguished Teacher Awards, thanks largely to his work using this system.

The AIM system is the result of Savage’s quest to make his lecturing content more alive and comprehensible to students across language and cultural divides, as the system employs visual literacy techniques to translate the physical agroenvironment into the classroom.

Savage thanked the undergraduate students who assisted in the set-up phase of the system as its first users, as well as SAEES Technical Manager Mr Kamenthren Govender, the University’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO) and the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) for their support.

Guest Lecture Highlights Climate Change Models in Southern Africa

Professor Trevor Hill (left) introduces Dr Stephan Woodborne (right)

Dr Stephan Woodborne of the National Research Foundation (NRF) iThemba LABS in Gauteng recently visited the University of KwaZulu-Natal to deliver a seminar on the topic of ‘A 1000-year time/space isotope dendro-climatology for southern Africa’. This research is designed to use records taken from tree-rings across southern Africa to ‘hind-cast’ climate changes that have taken place over the last 1000 years in order to ascertain whether current climate change models projecting into the future are reliable.

His seminar was delivered to a group of Geography and Zoology undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as interested members of staff in the Schools of Life Sciences and Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES).

In his presentation, Woodborne pointed out that current climate change models are often calibrated with data that is relevant to the northern hemisphere, making their application to southern Africa potentially problematic. This led the team at iThemba LABS to examine tree rings, taking into account unique challenges due to wildlife damage and other factors, and eventually the project yielded 1000-year records of rainfall variability for several locations in southern Africa. The resulting space/time map of rainfall variability is ideal for testing the climate models which have been used to simulate past climate. If the models can accurately reflect past climate change, then we have reason to believe that future forecasts for the region more likely to be accurate.

The research team’s work is based on stable carbon isotopes and tree physiology that affects ratios of Carbon-12 and Carbon-13 in the organisms. Cored samples were taken from baobab specimens, mostly living, across southern Africa. The team found that a number of factors affect the uptake of carbon dioxide isotopes, and determined that phenomena like the Little Ice Age recorded in Europe between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries and El Niño had affected the climate in southern Africa, with El Niño events like the one being experienced currently acting as short-term drivers of climate change.

However, Woodborne noted that no amount of El Niño can explain some of the changes that have taken place, especially more recently. Woodborne sounded an ominous note as their data seem to indicate that current climate change models seem to be getting predictions right. These models, like one Woodborne referenced from a 2011 study by Francois Engelbrecht, indicate that, in the next 50 to 70 years, some regions in southern Africa could see an average temperature increase of up to seven degrees Celsius, and up to 40% less rainfall in some areas.

Woodborne co-supervises UKZN Masters student Ms Jean Baverstock, who is undertaking her research on dendro-climatology under the supervision of Professor Trevor Hill and Dr Jemma Finch in Geography. Her work makes use of climate signals preserved in dendrochronological records from an ancient Afrocarpus falcatus (common yellowwood) specimen felled in Karkloof in 1916 and housed at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in Pietermaritzburg, compared with living specimens still in Karkloof. Her work is aimed at correlating tree-ring width time series, as well as stable carbon isotope time series, with recorded climate data.

The presentation elicited interest from staff and students alike, with insightful discussions taking place afterwards about the technicalities of conducting this kind of research, and highlighting the opportunities for students interested in dendro-climatology research.

Exciting Water Research Partnership Launched

Staff members at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are involved in the recently-launched, multidisciplinary uMngeni School of Water Governance Research that will see the uMgeni River Basin the subject of research evaluating the problems facing the natural resource in a drive to find solutions to governance failures impacting the river basin.
A group of twenty social and natural scientists recently gathered for a workshop in which they discussed social and ecological threats affecting the uMgeni River Basin, and planned a way forward in terms of collaborating on these issues. At least seven of these participants are currently engaged in doctoral research. Participants included colleagues from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Institute of Natural Resources (INR), Monash South Africa, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Urban Earth and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA). This group represents a large portion of water research efforts focused on the uMngeni River Basin. Ms Catherine Sutherland of the School of Development and Built Environment (SOBEDS) at UKZN and Dr Sabine Stuart-Hill of the discipline of Hydrology in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) are involved in the new initiative.

‘The uMngeni River Basin is our collective life-blood; we rely on its water for homes, businesses and irrigation, we collect food and medicinal plants from its wetlands, and use its rivers, streams and dams for water sports,’ said Duncan Hay, Director of the INR and one of the workshop organisers.

‘Despite a good understanding of the system’s hydrology and ecology and our harnessing of the system for our needs, we find ourselves in a situation of deteriorating water quality, high rates of water wastage, epidemic proportions of alien invasive plants, disruption of natural flows, compromised human and ecological health, a lack of regulatory enforcement, unequal access to resources for rural residents and inadequate preparation for crises like droughts,’ said Hay.

‘This is symptomatic of a failure of governance in terms of water resource planning, use and management.’
The workshop acquainted researchers working in the area with one another and with relevant research taking place, established a common identity and identified key research needs and partners. Potential research partners and key stakeholders ranged from civil society, through NGOs and the private sector to various spheres of government.
Participants established a basis for collaboration, initiating the process of founding a shared research agenda. The range of interests was not confined to research but included direct support for management efforts, capacity development of key stakeholders like municipal officials and traditional leaders, and creating a large body of research attempting to unpack the river basin as a social-ecological system.

The group unified under the banner of the uMngeni School of Water Governance Research, linked to the already well-recognised uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership. The hope is that the growing body of sound knowledge will reach and influence the intended users of the river basin, engage new collaborators from various fields and consolidate research agendas.

The successful workshop left participants enthused about advancing research of this vital natural resource, with a short-term list of goals established and roles and responsibilities assigned.

Appointment of Director of the African Centre for Food Security

After a lengthy search for the right senior academic candidate to assume the position of Director of the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS), the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) is pleased to announce that a panel led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science has appointed Professor Steve Worth as Associate Professor of Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management and Director of the ACFS. Worth was selected from a shortlist of a number of candidates from South Africa and abroad.
Originally from California in the USA, Worth received his Bachelor of Science cum laude in Agricultural Business from California State University at Fresno in 1978 and shortly thereafter emigrated to South Africa as a part of his desire to contribute to the betterment of world borne of his commitment to the Bahá'í teachings. Settling in Mahikeng, he spent 17 years working in the field of agricultural and rural development among smallholder African farmers and village communities in what is now the North West Province. He served in agricultural economics, public relations, cooperative development and ultimately district and regional management where he managed a staff of 450 people responsible for the provision of extension, animal health, and related development services to thousands of farmers in an area extending over more than 8 million hectares, governing an annual budget of R20 million. It was then that he learned first-hand and gained his passion for agricultural extension.
 
Worth completed his Master of Agricultural Management at the then-University of Natal in 1994 focusing on the management of agricultural development among smallholder farmers. Between 1996 and 2001 he consulted independently in land reform, rural enterprise development and agricultural planning. He joined the University in 2001, where he was a senior lecturer, researcher, and later Acting Director in the Centre for Rural Development Systems (CERDES). When the Centre for Environment, Agriculture and Development (CEAD) was instituted in 2005, he joined that Centre as a senior lecturer and researcher working in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management and Community Resource Management. He went on to pursue a PhD with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which he completed in 2009 focusing on agricultural extension education in South Africa. With the re-structuring of UKZN to the College model in 2012, Worth was appointed academic coordinator of the discipline of Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management. In 2015, he was appointed Academic Leader of Teaching and Learning for SAEES. 
 
Worth has a national and international reputation as an Agricultural Extension and Agricultural Education expert. He has trained many Masters and PhD students and published widely in his field, and is especially skilled at curriculum development and facilitation. He established the Agricultural Extension programme of UKZN – the most successful in the country. His reputation is recognised by the provincial and national governments in South Africa, as well as overseas organisations dealing with agricultural education and rural development. 
 
In his new role, Worth will continue to forge ahead in the arena of Agricultural Extension while also advancing UKZN’s work in the global strategic area of Food Security.

Invasive Species Training - South African Green Industries Council

In 2016, the South African Green Industries Council (SAGIC) will once again be hosting one-day training workshops on specific aspects of invasive species for horticulturists, landscapers, landscape architects, conservationists, invasive species professionals, botanists, zoologists and passionate gardeners with a superb knowledge and interest in flora and fauna.

Port Elizabeth – 2 & 3 February, 2016
Johannesburg – 2 & 3 March, 2016
Cape Town – 16 & 17 March, 2016
Durban – 13 & 14 April, 2016
 
Network of invasive species consultants
All trained professionals will be listed in a SAGIC database of invasive species consultants on the SAGIC and Invasive Species South Africa websites, and will receive a certificate to indicate that they have attended the workshops.
It is hoped that SAGIC consultants will be able to assist estate agents and sellers of properties to check properties and sign off on the Declaration of Invasive Species Form in various regions of the country.
 
People who attend the module on Invasive Species Control Plans will get an insight into the invasive species control plans that every organ of state (e.g. municipalities) need to have drawn up by October 2016.
 
Invasive species are a liability to landowners. The law says:
 
NEMBA (2004): Chapter 5, Part 2, page 60, 73 (2) (b)(2) 
Duty of care:   A person who is the owner of land on which a listed invasive species occurs must take steps to control or eradicate the listed invasive species.  ‘Control’ means the systematic removal of all visible specimens of an invasive species.
 
NEMBA Alien and Invasive Species Regulations (2014): Chapter 7, Section 29, (1), (2), (3):
The seller of any immovable property must, prior to the conclusion of the relevant sale agreement, notify the purchaser of that property in writing of the presence of listed invasive species on that property.
  
The two day training will cover:
 
Module 1:
Introduction to legislation:   * An explanation of the NEMBA legislation and the updates.* Landowner duty of care * Organs of state * Permitting and compliance * Invasive species lists.
Note:  This module is a newer, updated and more relevant version of the one-day SAGIC invasive species training given in 2015. More focus on the law as well as the process regarding pre-directives and directives. 
 
Module 2:
Developing and implementing control plans: * Work load assessments * Control methods * Writing a control plan * Implementing a control plans.
 
SAGIC's training is an entirely self-funding project. Each person will pay R600 per day (per module) for training. 

Booking: Booking is essential. Email completed booking forms to Margie Vonk along with proof of payment.  Electronic payment details are on the form. No one will be admitted to the training without payment or prior arrangement.

For more information email Hazel (+27 11 723 9000), or visit the SACIG, South African Landscapers Institute or Invasive Species South Africa websites.

Kind regards,
 
Christine Cuénod
Networking Facilitator
cuenod@ukzn.ac.za
(w) +27 33 260 6557
(c) +27 83 314 3317
 
on behalf of
 
Duncan Stewart
Committee Chairman
duncan@lima.org.za
(c) +27 82 491 1912
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