Newsletter January 2015
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | January 2015
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19th January 2015

Hello Friends and Alumni

Happy New Year 2015. We hope that this year brings with it everything of the best for all of you reading this. 

We're a couple of weeks into 2015 and have already welcomed our first international visitors to SAEES with the Cornell University team's annual visit to our Food Security discipline, and have initiated some exciting collaborations with the Forestry industry.

2015 promises to be an exciting one, what with a Forestry Congress, a second Agri-Food Career Fair, our annual Networking Function and far more ahead to look forward to. We invite all of our friends and alumni to renew their commitment to this School and the University as a whole and help us make the study of agriculture a roaring success in this province, as the University continues to contribute meaningfully to the advancement of agriculture in our country and across the continent.

The United Nations has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils, with the aim of raising awareness about a critical non-renewable resource that plays a vital role in life on this planet.

Featured Disciplines

We know that many of you who studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (previously the University of Natal) like to reminisce about life during your days as a student at the "AgFac" and are curious about what the School looks like now. Likewise, many of our friends and partners have questions about what happens on a day-to-day basis at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences. Therefore, in each of our newsletters in 2015, we will be featuring one of the School's disciplines to give you a glimpse into its research, teaching and staff component, as well as giving you the chance to get involved in giving back to that specific field of study. We hope that you enjoy getting some insight into life on campus at Agric over the next 12 months. 

Soil Science at UKZN
Since 2015 is the International Year of Soils, we'll be starting our disciplines feature with Soil Science. You can read more about the history of the department, and all the disciplines, in Bill Guest's A Fine Band of Farmers Are We and in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science's 2009 publication, Celebrating 60 Years of Agriculture.

The department was officially instituted in 1974 under the leadership of Professor Malcolm E. Sumner and was known as the Department of Soil Science and Agrometeorology, which emerged from the Department of Agricultural Chemistry. John de Villiers and Johan le Roux joined Prof Sumner as lecturers in its early days, as did Alf Cass, John Hutson and Mike Johnson in Soil Physics, and Martin Fey in Soil Chemistry, Fertility and Pedology and Jeff Hughes in Pedology and Mineralogy. Dick Haynes, Jeff Hughes, Chris Bester and Louis Titshall held the fort for a few years, before Haynes, Bester and Titshall moved on to other endeavours, leaving Hughes to manage the discipline before he was joined by Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa in 2011, and Dr Pauline Chivenge, Mr Dimpho Elephant and Dr Rebecca Zengeni in 2012.

After Pauline's departure last year, the discipline is looking forward to welcoming a new staff member at the end of February, and Dimpho will be leaving the discipline at the end of March this year. Professor Jeff Hughes still contributes considerably to the discipline, despite being officially retired, and continues to co-supervise students and give input in many ways.
Pardon Muchaonyerwa
Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa joined the discipline in 2011 after 7 years at the University of Fort Hare, before which he worked at his alma mater, the University of Zimbabwe. Pardon is known by his students and colleagues for his passion for teaching, despite having initially wanted to pursue Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science during his undergraduate studies at
University. "I struggled initially with Soil Science," says Pardon, "until I learnt the secret of working with others and developed an attitude of trying my best. As a soil scientist, you really value your role once you realise how important the discipline is and how applicable it is across various fields."
Rebecca Zengeni
Rebecca Zengeni, who did her MSc in Soil Biology and has recently received her PhD, also studied at the University of Zimbabwe and was initially looking into studying pharmacy, before she was drawn into the discipline of Soil Science due to the diversity of its applications.

When Soil Science students arrive to Pardon
and Rebecca's classes in second year after completing a general BSc first year, they are exposed to a variety of modules, including Pedology, Mineralogy, Soil Physics and Chemistry. Many Hydrology students elect Soil Science as a co-major, with between 15 and 20 students on average coming through the discipline in third year. Students are able to study either a 3-year BSc in Soil Science (plus a 4th year Honours course), or a 4-year BScAgric in Soil Science, after which they can enrol in the Master's programme.

The second-year Pedology field trip ranks as one of the highlights of the degree for the students, when they spend a week in the field looking at issues of soil fertility, performing soil surveys and getting to learn in a hands-on manner (the discipline is always open to new farms/plantations/game reserves etc. to visit for the week during the mid-semester break in September). Farmers, plantation owners or game reserve managers are able to keep the soil maps which are generated, proving important for the management of their land.

The uptake of Soil Science students into the Honours year is around 8 students each year from numerous applications. However, many of those coming both from UKZN and other institutions face the challenge of a lack of funding for their studies and living expenses, limiting their ability to pursue higher education as fully as they wish to.

Students from Soil Science have a high rate of employability, with many going on to work as consultants, in government and in other sectors. The discipline also services many of the other disciplines in the School through its undergraduate modules and laboratories for postgraduate students and other researchers.
On the technical front, Mr Rajiv Singh has been a stalwart staff member, managing to act as the technician for the discipline since 2008 despite there being enough work to keep two technicians busy full-time. Rajiv's work ensures that laboratory-based work and practicals are carried out smoothly.

Part of the discipline's work, which is sometimes overlooked, is its importance in the area of Food Security. "In relation to the global challenge of Food Security," says Pardon, "it's important to remember that it's
the quality of the food that counts, and not just the quantity - understanding Soil Science determines both."

Research being undertaken in the discipline is focused on a number of themes, with investigations into the management of waste, including human waste, through composting and biochar being one example. Collaborative research on the topic of conservation agriculture is also being performed with the University of Fort Hare and Cedara Agricultural College. The discipline also makes use of research trial facilities made available at Baynesfield Estate by the Joseph Baynes Estate (Pty) Ltd., where a PhD student is currently looking at the condition of soil treated with pig slurry for long periods: its fertility, the effect on water pollution and the possibility of harvesting plants that grow in pollution for use as organic fertilizer), among other issues.

The discipline continues to charge ahead, with Pardon, who is the Academic Leader for the Environmental Sciences Cluster, hoping that the research conducted by his team will influence their teaching.

The discipline aims to continue moving with the times, and hopes to develop devoted Soil Science laboratories, acquire up-to-date equipment and hire more technicians to ease the burden on Rajiv and postgraduate demonstrators. They also hope to see new guest speakers interacting with their students and aim to locate new venues for their field trips to ensure that their students are exposed to a diverse range of soils.

For Pardon, an initiative like the Year of Soils emphasises what he sees as a vital point for action in the field, namely that the rate of soil degradation worldwide is alarmingly greater than the rate of soil formation, due to human factors, and management of this degradation is essential. It is therefore important to encourage more students to pursue a qualification like Soil Science and provide them with the best training possible to combat the challenges facing our world such as those caused by climate change and population growth, training which UKZN intends to do, and do well.
Seminar Room
The Seminar Room on the ground floor of Rabie Sauders Building, where many Soil Science theses, encyclopedias and journals provide students with the references they need for their research and projects. 

On Friday the 16th of January, a NASA press release stated that the organisation had determined that 2014 was the hottest year on record (since 1880), with rises in average temperature globally of 0.68° C, with the 10 hottest years having occurred between 2000 and 2014.

According to South Africa's Mail & Guardian, these rises in temperature will result in unpredictable weather, a recent example being the ferocious hailstorm we experienced on Agric campus on Friday afternoon. Additionally, there will be a significant impact on crop growing patterns and harvesting, as the western parts of the country become increasingly drier and the eastern parts increasingly wetter, albeit with rain coming in shorter, more intense bouts.
Mike Savage
Our very own Prof Savage (right) weighed in on NASA's results with his knowledge of agrometeorological trends.

"The 2014 air temperature anomaly for the globe was 0.68°C. For the southern hemisphere it was 0.51°C, and 0.86°C for the northern hemisphere.
The anomaly for a given year, explained Prof Savage, is the average air temperature for that year minus the baseline temperature. The baseline is the average of all anomalies between 1951 and 1980.
"Ranking the 1880 to 2014 anomalies for the globe shows the hottest 20 years; every year since 1997 is on the "top 20" list. 2014's anomaly (0.68°C) means that in 2014 the globe was 0.68°C warmer than the 1951 to 1980 period."
Albert Modi

Prof Savage also noted that, for the period 1970 to 2014, the rate of increase in the anomaly is 2.5 times for the northern hemisphere (2.32°C/100 years) what it is for the southern hemisphere (0.93°C/100 years). He also explained that the 2014 September-November period for the southern hemisphere was the warmest such period by far, which explains the many Berg winds Pietermaritzburg experienced during those months.

Friday's hailstones (pictured left, held by Prof Modi), wreaked havoc in the Scottsville area.

Looking for Classmates
Class of 1950
Class of 1950; Dr Bruns is fifth from the left in the second row

An alumnus of the University of Natal, Dr Carl Bruns, has contacted Friends of UKZN Agriculture looking to get in touch with classmates who qualified in agriculture at the institution in 1950. If any of our friends or alumni are in touch with anyone who was at the University then, please get in touch with me so that I can link you to Dr Bruns for some reminiscing. The classmates who graduated that year are: Deryk Brown, Carl Bruns, George Hunter, Dieter Jobst, Peter Knox-Davies (distinction in Horticulture), Donald McAlister, Johannes Dieter Reusch (cum laude ), Malcolm Rodel and Siegwatt Rohrs, as well as those who  graduatedin absentia, namely  Roy Alcock, Michael Cooper (distinction in Horticulture), Alan Dicks (distinctions in Pasture Management and Soil Conservation), Kenneth Hanssen, Ian Horne, Rupert Lello, Cuan McCarthy (a Springbok cricketer), Edward Seward and Anthony Stubbs.

A message from Dr Bruns:

"I enrolled, as a second year student, in the Faculty of Agriculture, in 1948. I graduated B.Sc. (Agric) in 1950 and was the second student to be capped at the graduation ceremony, in March 1951; Deryk Brown was the first, due to the in absentia of Roy Alcock.

I returned to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1957, where I completed my medical degree, at the age of thirty five years, and practiced medicine for fifty years.

It will be interesting to get a reply from those who graduated in 1950; we were housed in Oribi Camp and I recall very happy memories of the staff who tried to guide us in the science of agriculture."
Incidentally, if anyone is interested in submitting a short biography covering their personal and professional achievements in order to keep other alumni up to date and find old friends, the Alumni Affairs Office is taking submissions of a maximum of 10 lines until today, the 19th of January 2015. Biographies will appear in the 2015 edition of the UKZN Touch alumni publication.

Submissions may be sent to the Alumni Relations Office via email, Fax: 031 260 2236 or in person to: Alumni Relations, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 232 Mazisi-Kunene Avenue, Howard College Campus, Durban 4041.

Wildlands Conservation Trust - Honours & Masters Bursaries


The Wildlands Conservation Trust is advertising Honours and Masters Bursaries for individuals who are interested in pursuing Honours and Masters Programmes with specific focus on Restoration, Ecology, Stewardship and Conservation, Sustainable development, Sustainability, Biodiversity, Climate change (Environmental and Atmospheric Science), Community Development within the context of Environmental Management and Waste Management.

This research will serve as a vehicle for the elevation and integration of this knowledge within the Wildlands Conservation Trust’s implementation portfolio, and application to more robust implementation models at grassroots level. We are making this call to South African Universities as part of developing a community of practice at the interface between conservation, sustainability and development in line with Wildlands Conservation Trust practice.
Specific Research Areas will cover the following, but not exclusively:
  • Natural resource management, heritage, beliefs, values, etc.
  • Capacity building and training programmes in the Environmental Sciences;
  • Stewardship and Conservation
  • Biodiversity, Ecology and Restoration
  • Sustainability and Climate Change
  • Waste Management
  • Ecosystems, adaptation and Community Development

Conditions of the bursary:
These bursary opportunities are restricted to South African citizens only.
Interested Honours’ candidates should have completed an undergraduate/BSc or B Social science degree in Environmental Science, Environmental Management or Geography. The bursary funding will be restricted to 1 year.
Master of Science and Master of Social Science candidates must have completed a four year degree/Honours in Environmental Science, Environmental Management, Community Development or Geography. The bursary funding will be restricted to either 1 year or 2 years depending on the nature of the MSc Programme. This bursary is restricted to a research Masters only.

Selection criteria:
Preparation of a statement of interest (different to the research proposal, 500 words).
Research proposal (including proposed aim and objectives, literature to be reviewed, proposed methods, Supervisor details and a literature reference list).
Letter of confirmation/ proof of registration by the prospective department/ supervisor that the student will be admitted to the participating university for registration in the 2015 academic year.
A detailed Curriculum Vitae.

Only field of studies indicated on the advert will be considered for bursary award for the 2015 academic year.
All funding is supplementary to already funded Honours and Masters Programmes.

Closing Date: 25 January 2015.

General Enquiries:
Ms. Sarisha Ramanand
Unit: Sustainability
Wildlands Conservation Trust
Telephone: 033 343 6380 OR 081 541 3275

Completed Applications can be posted to the following address –
The Wildlands Conservation Trust
P. O. Box 1138

Job Opportunities


(Plant Pathology/ Microbiology/ Molecular Biology)
Join an international research facility based in Lanseria, Gauteng and contribute to the development of new and improved plant varieties for the global market. Use your research and/or work experience (preferably in plant pathology), to assist with breeder supportseed healthdisease diagnosis and maintenance of plant pathogens and insect vectors.
Besides your strong academic recordwriting skills and ability to work in a team to strict deadlines, you should work independently to:
  • perform greenhouse manipulative experiments involving insects, plants, nematodes, fungi, bacteria and viruses to screen varieties for disease resistance
  • perform seed pathology tests to ensure seed produced are free from seed transmissible diseases
  • do routine evaluations of field trials for presence of pests and diseases
  • perform the isolation and identification of plant pests and pathogens for diagnostic services
  • store and maintenance of cultures
Some related work experience would be a strong advantage as the incumbent will be expected to contribute as an independent professional in supporting the vegetable breeding programme. 
Please e-mail your CV, together with certified copies of your ID and Academic Record, to Tersia Fourie to reach us before 30 January 2015.
Kindly note that only short-listed candidates will be contacted.

BTech (Biotechnology)
 Join an international research facility based in Lanseria, Gauteng and contribute to the development of new and improved plant varieties for the global market.
The technician will be required to perform all molecular techniques and to confirm disease resistance in plants using PCR and other techniques to support the vegetable breeding programme.
Besides the ability to work accurately, within deadline, the technician will be required to:
- perform DNA extractions and MAS on plant breeding material
- update results and communicate these to professionals within the team
- detect pathogens in plants and seed using PCR and Elisa
- assist with plant pathology related tasks
In addition to a BTech (Biotechnology) qualification, at least one years’ work experience performing molecular techniques in a laboratory, is required. 
Please e-mail your CV, together with certified copies of your ID and Academic Record, to Tersia Fourie to reach us before 30 January 2015.
Kindly note that only short-listed candidates will be contacted.

Kind Regards,

Christine Cuénod
Networking Facilitator
033 260 6557
083 314 3317

on behalf of

Duncan Stewart
082 491 1912
Copyright © 2015 Friends of UKZN Agriculture, All rights reserved. 

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