Newsletter March 2015
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | March 2015
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23rd March 2015

Hello Friends and Alumni

Today is World Meteorological Day and so, in keeping with the theme, we hope that you enjoy reading about the featured discipline for March, Agrometeorology.

UKZN has seen a month full of change as it officially welcomed new Vice-Chancellor Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, and is looking forward to a bumper month in April as a new crop of graduates are capped in the annual graduation ceremonies.

Additionally, Friends of UKZN Agriculture looks forward to renewing and strengthening its relationships with industry in the agricultural sector, particularly as we prepare for our annual networking function. We'll soon have details about this to send you, so keep a lookout in your inbox and on our social media pages as we spread the word. We'd also really like to reconnect with as many alumni as possible, so invite any alumni or potential Friends of UKZN Agriculture that you know.

Featured Discipline



The discipline of Agrometeorology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is one of only two academic Agrometeorology disciplines in the country, and currently boasts the strongest programme, with students and professionals being drawn to the excellence of its teaching and research.

The discipline has its origins in the Faculty of Agriculture at the former University of Natal. It dates back to 1962 with the appointment of Jimmy de Jager as Agrometeorologist in 1961. Prior to this in 1949, elements of Agrometeorology appeared under Pasture Management and Soil Conservation Course III: Climate and Erosion. In 1951, a separate introductory course in Meteorology and Climatology, under the important section of Additional Courses, was delivered by a Junior Lecturer Jenny Edmonds, although water relations aspects and the “relationship between rainfall and crop production” was part of the Agronomy Course I syllabus in 1957, and subsequently. Agrometeorology was named as a separate discipline in 1962 and in 1965 the combined Department of Pasture Science and Agrometeorology was formed, offering more than one agrometeorology course.

You can read more about the discipline's history in the CAES 60 Years of Agriculture publication, as well as in Bill Guest's A Fine Band of Farmers Are We.


Courses & Students

The discipline has always offered undergraduate courses, however its focus has been strongly on postgraduate and academic research. Currently, the discipline only offers second-year modules and does not have the capacity to offer a fully-fledged degree.

Despite its lack of a full degree programme, Agrometeorology is a discipline which is seeing increasing popularity, given its relation to so many disciplines like Soil Science, Grassland Science, Environmental Science and more. Agrometeorology services a large number of disciplines in the Schools of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences and Life Science, and even Social Science. From 2014 to 2015, the number of students entering the second year modules has gone from 100 to 170. The discipline also has 15 postgraduate students this year, all supervised or co-supervised by Prof Savage, marking its largest intake of postgraduates ever.

Remarkably, Agrometeorology is one of the only disciplines which accepts non-BSc students to undertake Agrometeorological studies. This approach has seen a diverse range of students entering its programmes, with one of their cum laude MSc students from last year having come from a Bachelor of Social Science background.

Agrometeorology at UKZN also attracts a number of professionals wishing to improve their knowledge at the second-year level or pursue a mid-career Master's degree, or even one of Prof Savage's short courses which are offered occasionally.

The hope of the discipline is that it will one day be able to function as a self-sustaining major, allowing those who have already expressed overwhelming interest in doing so to pursue a degree in Agrometeorology. Additionally, Prof Savage's passion for the transfer of knowledge is to see PhD students in the discipline going on to train other people in the science in their own countries.

The highlights of studying Agrometeorology for students are that they gain a better understanding of the environment and are exposed to the practical side of learning. While the discipline caters for those with a Mathematics/Physics/Satistics background, it also provides a unique space for the work of those with a Social Science/Policy background.


Professor Michael Savage (left) and Mr Alistair Clulow (right)
The discipline of Agrometeorology has to be incredibly well-taught, given the different backgrounds of students and the diverse academic experience that they arrive with. This necessitates excellence in teaching, particularly since the discipline exists only as a second-year course and a postgraduate area of study. The staff in Agrometeorology are equipped to be just that: excellent teachers who care about the progress of their students.
Professor Michael Savage is one of the longest-standing academic staff members in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, having arrived in the discipline of Agrometeorology in 1977. He will receive a Distinguished Teacher's Award from the University at this year's April graduation ceremonies.

Prof Savage is a stalwart of the School and a dedicated teacher who is passionate about seeing progress in the science of the discipline as well as in his students' knowledge. He understands that one needs to get to the students' level to help them understand, and not try and force them to his level.

Prof Savage is motivated by his students getting something out of their learning experience, and has even pioneered a study on the viability of the creation of a Zulu dictionary to create new Zulu terms for the terms used in Agrometeorology so that students from a Zulu-speaking background have equal access to the knowledge being transferred. The study has been done with his students' contributions as to what terms they think could be used to best describe scientific terms. This has proved to be challenging and ultimately needs to be developed by a language expert. However Prof Savage's interest in mobile learning has also resulted in all students grasping a better understanding of Agrometeorology through images. He is keen to see scientific societies contribute to the creation of technical dictionaries in traditional African languages so that knowledge can be transferred equally.

Prof Savage remains enthusiastic and passionate about his subject and still pursues innovative research, such as the nowcasting for frost and other conditions emerging from his work on the AWS system.
Mr Alistair Clulow joined the discipline of Agrometeorology in December 2013 after being a staff member at UKZN since 2010 while working on his PhD. Mr Clulow is an alumnus of the institution, having studied Soil Science and Hydrology and completing his Honours in Hydrology, before going on to work as a farm manager, aerial photographer and then as a hydrological consultant at the CSIR.

Mr Clulow is gradually taking over the teaching responsibilities at second-year level, freeing up Prof Savage to focus on supervising postgraduate students and research. While his recently-submitted PhD is in Hydrology, on the topic of water use of indigenous vegetation types in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, his research has a strong agrometeorological leaning.

Mr Clulow shares Prof Savage's passion for seeing students understand what they are learning, and described Prof Savage's web teaching system as a pivotal tool to achieve just that. With the different backgrounds of the students coming into Agrometeorolgy, Mr Clulow says the discipline has something to offer each of them and enables students to get both sides of the learning experience as they learn to measure the unseen.

He also says he has realised that the more one puts in as a teacher, the more the students give back in terms of their efforts and achievements, motivating staff to give it their all. Mr Clulow therefore oversees the teaching of voluntary exam revision classes, which are very well-attended and appreciated by the students.

"It's rewarding to see the students understand something in the environment around them," said Mr Clulow. This is especially good in a discipline which teaches skills that are becoming increasingly important in a world where an expanding population makes novel methods of food production necessary and climate change necessitates the improvement of efficiency in agriculture and food storage. Agrometeorology provides the tools to understand these extremes and their effects on food production in agriculture.
Mr Vivek Naiken is the resident technician for Agrometeorology and Hydrology on campus. An alumnus of UKZN, he studied Geography and Hydrology and did his Honours in Geographical Hydrology. Mr Naiken worked at the CSIR for fifteen years as a technologist and then a junior researcher and did the Agrometeorology second-year course during that time for non-degree purposes. He joined UKZN as a staff member in September 2014 and is involved in helping 
students, looking after practical equipment, demonstrating in pracs and being responsible for the transfer of technical knowledge. He is also involved in assisting in field work and research projects. Mr Naiken is keen to see the challenges of limited space and equipment overcome as he works to manage the assets of the discipline and assist staff and students on the technical side of things.

Teaching Technology

One of the things the discipline is perhaps best known for is Prof Michael Savage's innovative adoption of technology in his teaching practices through the development of the AWS Current site, which features real-time data uploaded from weather stations around campus and allows students to download the data to inform their studies.

Prof Savage, recognised as a pioneer in some of his teaching methods, has recognised that, in a country where so many languages converge, the concept of mobile learning has become important, with emphasis on creating recognisable icons which allow students to learn by associating images with meaning. This is demonstrated in his teaching system, which has produced four published papers, with the first international paper on the topic recently being accepted for publication in the International Journal of Biometeorology.

Staff in the discipline have found that many of the students entering the second year courses in Agrometeorology are seriously lacking in basic computer skills, which has led to a resourceful problem-solving approach in the discipline, whereby they have slotted an intensive computer literacy training element into their second-year practical sessions. This has resulted in a marked improvement in the students' skills, with lecturers in other disciplines commenting on the difference between their students studying Agrometeorology and those not. Prof Savage has begun advocating for this kind of intensive computer literacy training at second-year level to take place across the University, having seen what a difference it has made to his students' development and eventual marketability as employees.

The discipline also has state-of-the-art equipment operating on campus, with five weather stations feeding data to the AWS current site, including information on energy balance, weather parameters, human comfort, radiation and micro-climate. These data are collected constantly and updated on the site every two minutes, making the data current and up to date.

Despite so many UKZN students being trained with such marketable skills and good practical experience, there is still a huge need for more agrometeorologically trained graduates in agricultural departments and industry, with many positions going unfilled. This makes the discipline's work even more important as they train agrometeorologists for the country.

The challenges facing the discipline are primarily those of resources, including space, considering that it is fast growing in popularity and doesn't have as quickly-increasing resources, such as staff capacity, computer skills in graduates, expensive equipment and facilities to accommodate the numbers of students. Agrometeorology could benefit hugely from funding for research from outside stakeholders, which they have for a few students from a local avocado producer. The staff are also busy learning how their work can assist farmers, making interaction with farmers and industry vital.


Introductory Visit From Vice-Chancellor Dr Albert van Jaarsveld

On the 3rd of March, the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences met with the new Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, as well as the outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba. Dr van Jaarsveld was introduced to the School and gave a description of his goals for his term as Vice Chancellor, namely to drive excellence in teaching and research, and to drive transformation at UKZN. He also added that he aims to strengthen collegiality while providing an excellent service to students and stakeholders, and encouraged staff to support one another and demonstrate our value system through what we do.

Professor Makgoba gave his farewells to the staff and expressed hope in the University's continued development as he hands over the reins to the very capable hands of Dr van Jaarsveld.

Dr van Jaarsveld was officially installed as the new Vice-Chancellor in a ceremony held on the Westville campus on the 7th of March 2015, where he was welcomed in by Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, as well as other Vice-Chancellors from around the country. If you missed the opportunity to watch the Vice-Chancellor's installation and want to know more about his plans while in office, the installation was covered in an insert by SABC News and he was interviewed by Morning Live on the 9th of March.

Welcome to UKZN Dr van Jaarsveld; the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences looks forward to working alongside you to take our University to greater heights.

CWRR Hosts International Workshop on Hydro-Social & Environmental Impacts of Sugarcane Production on Land Use & Food Security 

graham jewitt
The Centre for Water Resource Research (CWRR), which spans the School of Engineering and the the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), hosted a group of international scientists for a workshop from the 24th to the 27th of February as part of the Belmont Forum and Joint Programming Initiative on an Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change theme. Only two proposals from an initial ninety-seven proposals were selected.

The group, whose networking endeavours are being led by Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, is involved in discussions around the topic of “Hydro-social and environmental impacts of sugarcane production on land use and food security – an international programme to foster trans-disciplinary science, networking and community building”. Professor Graham Jewitt, Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Management at UKZN, is one of the collaborators on the project and acted as host for the visit and was joined by Simphiwe Ncgobo from UKZN. International participants came from Cranfield University in the UK, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, the San Diego State University, California State University, University of Wisconsin, U. S. Geological Survey in the USA and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, as well as ICRISAT in India and Booker Tate in the UK.

The project encourages a holistic approach integrating agronomic, climatic, environmental and socio-economic knowledge. The various researchers have expertise in agricultural systems, land use modelling, social science, climate impact assessment, rural resource economics, GIS, remote sensing and spatial modelling for decision-making. The CWRR was invited to join the consortium on the basis of their expertise in the water resources impacts of land use change in southern Africa and their experience in associated policy development in South Africa.

The focus on sugarcane production in the group is one that is seen as important in terms of economic development, food security and land use change because of the crop’s importance in emerging economies like southern Africa, Brazil and India.

The workshop consisted of sessions where plans for the drafting of a global review on the positive and negative effects of sugarcane production were made. The participants discussed questions of sustainable development of sugarcane as an important crop. The group had the opportunity to visit sites in the field for a day during the course of the workshop. The field trip was organised with the assistance of the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) and included a visit to sugarcane farmers and a sugar mill. Jewitt said that the field trip proved valuable for the group, particularly as it exposed the group to dry-land cultivation of sugarcane as opposed to just irrigated cultivation.

The research they are undertaking aims to highlight the hydro-social and environmental challenges facing sustainable sugarcane production following increased demand for sugarcane operations and the effects this will have on land use, climate change, food security, water demand and local and regional economic development. The project aims to cultivate trans-disciplinary scientific research in this area through networking and community building. Increased demand for sugarcane production is global and therefore has a global effect, making an international team of scientists appropriate for the research being conducted in Brazil, India and South Africa, where agriculture (particularly in sugarcane) is a foundation of the economy and livelihoods for many.

The workshop, which is one of two planned during the research partnership, afforded the participants many opportunities to find ways of collaborating beyond just this project. The network, Jewitt hopes, will prove useful and builds on the development of long-term collaborative research projects.

The group will meet again this year to finalise their work on the global review.

IAIAsa Student Branch Hosts Career Evening at UKZN

On the 11th of March the IAIAsa KZN Student Branch hosted a career evening in the discipline of Geography at UKZN. The aim of the student branch of the International Association for Impact Assessment is to connect students studying Geography and Environmental Sciences with those working in the sector to encourage the exchange of knowledge and resources. The career evening fulfilled part of that aim, as the IAIAsa student representatives arranged for representatives from 7 different organisations, including the Institute for Natural Resources, theMsunduzi Municipality (Environmental Planning Unit), Jeffares and GreenWESSA Wildlife and Environment Society of South AfricaWildlands Conservation Trust and academia, to come and address the students in attendance.

Representatives spoke about what they had studied, the requirements of their position, the stakeholders they work with and the incredible growth of the environmental sector and its needs in terms of qualified individuals to take it further. They were able to inform students of the realities they would face in the sector and the value of their studies. The careers evening was well-attended, with the lab filled to capacity with the more than 110 students in attendance.

This kind of interaction between industry and the University is what Friends of UKZN Agriculture strives to see happening, which is why we assist with initiatives like the College Awards, where industry has the chance to sponsor deserving students with an accolade they would otherwise have missed out on, and the Agri-Food Career Fair, where industry is able to display their work, interact with students and recruit top agricultural students for bursaries and positions they have on offer. If you would like to get involved with these initiatives, we would welcome your involvement and will make it as easy as possible for you to give back to the University.

Iowa State University Representatives Visit MSc Plant Breeding Programme

Professor Thomas Lubberstedt and Professor Jessica Barb of the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University visited the Master's Programme for Plant Breeding at UKZN to see how the curriculum developed for the students to follow has been adopted.

The visit involved presentations from each of the Master's students on what their research involves and gave the visiting academics the opportunity to provide guidance and collaborate with the UKZN staff running the programme. Prof Lubberstedt and Prof Barb expressed their satisfaction at the gratitude of the students for their input and described the collaboration with UKZN as a very rewarding one.

Illovo Cane Centre of Excellence Presents Opportunities for Research to UKZN Staff

Today, Friends of UKZN Agriculture facilitated the visit of alumnus Brent Griffiths from the Cane Centre of Excellence as he met with staff in key disciplines to present the aims of the newly-initiated Centre, which has been set up to create a community of researchers linked to the Centre who will play a part in developing cutting-edge research which will contribute to AB Sugar's initiatives as the Centre supports the University by facilitating and funding viable research options. We look forward to seeing how this partnership progresses.

Friends of UKZN Agriculture encourages companies and agribusiness to pursue partnerships like this one as they look for research into their operations. There is an increasing demand for sustainable and effective agricultural practice to yield maximum productivity, and the University is at the forefront of cutting-edge research which would benefit industry and ensure the University's continued relevance to agribusiness, as well as allowing agribusiness to contribute to the development of skilled graduates.


Fulbright Scholarships

Applications for the U.S. government fundedFulbright Foreign Student Program for post-graduate students, young professionals & artists are open. Selected students receive grants to pursue Master’s and PhD programs in the United States, or to engage in research in the U.S. as part of a South African PhD.

On average, 20 South African students per year go to the U.S. on this program. Applications are open and close on the 20th of April for studies to begin in August 2016. Outstanding academics & students interested in further education are encouraged to apply.

On Tuesday the 31st of March, a workshop will be held at the U.S. Consulate for candidates applying this cycle. The workshop will guide applicants through the application, answer questions, and offer tips on writing the required application essays. Attendees are expected to have started their application online before attending the workshop.

RSVP’s must include the applicant’s full name, a contact phone number, and be received by Thursday, 26 March.
Queries can be addressed to the Fulbright Program KZN Point of Contact:
Susan Knowles, Education Specialist, U.S. Consulate General, Durban
Tel: 031 305 7600 ext. 3135

Agricultural Scientist Position at the INR

INR logo
The applicant must be a South African citizen and have a 4 year degree or post graduate degree in the field of agriculture and at least a year of professional experience or a completed recognised internship.

The position requires a sound understanding of the fundamentals of agriculture with a good grounding in agronomy or horticulture.

Excellent communication and reporting skills are required. Practical experience in agriculture, good facilitation and community participation skills, and an interest in smallholder farming systems will be an advantage.

Applicants must have good communication skills in English, Zulu and/or Xhosa, and a valid driver’s licence.

The successful candidate will be working in the fields of agro-ecology and rural livelihoods.

Interested persons are invited to apply by sending a detailed curriculum vitae which clearly addresses the requirements of the position and certified copies of full official academic transcripts, ID and driver’s licence via email or fax to (033) 346 0895 or 67 St Patricks Rd, Scottsville, 3209. Applications close on 10 April 2015. Feedback will only be given to shortlisted candidates.


Farmers & Conservation Day 2015

Landowners and conservationists are invited to join various regional conservation projects on a day of sharing on Friday the 24th of April 2015 at the Underberg Farmers' Association Hall.
Hosts, the Endangered Wildlife TrustEzemvelo KZN Wildlife and BirdLife South Africa, are endeavouring to have speakers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust, BirdLife, the Fire Protection Association and investment specialists to inform and advise farming practices in the province. Conservation talks will include topics around Cranes, Blue Swallows, Oribi, Frogs and Vultures.
Light snacks will be provided and a “Bring and Braai” after will ensure constructive discussions.

RSVP to Jiba Magwaza, 063 041 0291.

In memoriam

Prof Mike Martin
Professor Emeritus Michael Menne Martin
06/11/1927 - 27/02/2015
Plant Pathologist, Husband, Father, Christian

Professor Emeritus Michael Menne Martin, the former Head of the Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology (1977-1987) at the then Faculty of Agriculture, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, passed away peacefully aged 87 on Friday the 27th of February 2015, surrounded by his family.

According to Bill Guest's A Fine Band of Farmers Are We, "Mike Martin was appointed acting Head of the newly renamed Department of Microbiology and Plant Pathology in 1976...In the following year he was awarded his doctorate and appointed Professor and Head of Department, being ‘Mr’, ‘Dr’, ‘Professor’ and ‘Head’ all on the same day."

He was born on 6 November 1927 to the Reverend Walter Martin (Anglican Archdeacon of Durban) and Theresa Egner (a classically trained concert pianist), and spent much of his youth in St Thomas’s vicarage in Durban. After completing his BCom part time in Durban, and realising that this was the wrong career choice, he left the country and work on a farm in Canada. The intolerable cold drove him to Vancouver, where he worked as a postman before being awarded a bursary to study at the Faculty of Agriculture in Pietermaritzburg.

He completed his BSc Agric at the University of Natal, and as there were no local virologists, he undertook his Masters in their Department of Virology, at the University of Wageningen, Netherlands. This was converted into a PhD after his return, and he was subsequently appointed as the local departmental virologist. His PhD, which was awarded in 1976, focused on the Purification and Electron Microscopy of the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. Interestingly, the current incumbent of the virology post at UKZN, Dr Gus Gubba, also studied tomato spotted wilt virus for his PhD.

Prof Martin was appointed as a lecturer at the University of Natal in 1958, serving as a Senior Lecturer during the 1960s and being made a full Professor in 1977. He was Head of the Department (HoD) of Microbiology and Plant Pathology from 1977– 1987, and succeeded Prof Susarah Truter, who started the Department in 1955.

His subsequent research interest was in the field of plant immunology, specifically on how systemically acquired resistance was initiated and transmitted in plants in response to viral infection. In the meticulous studies that he conducted with the assistance of Mrs Lynne Goudswaard, he was 30 years ahead of the field. In the last 10 years, various breakthroughs have been made on this topic, and we now know that there are several forms of systemic plant resistance, including one specific for viruses. Prof Martin was delighted to discover that the latest developments tied in remarkably well with his earlier innovative research.

He introduced the study of plant disease epidemiology at the University of Natal, based on the ground-breaking works of Dr J.E. Vanderplank, an alumnus of the University and a South African plant pathologist who pioneered this field globally. As a result of this foresight, UKZN is the only university in South Africa that offers two undergraduate courses in plant disease epidemiology. He had the exceptional intellect to understand and lecture in two very different fields – virology and epidemiology – and to recognize their parallel importance.

His Plant Pathology lectures were a bit of a “curate’s egg”, as he lectured from the knowledge stored in his remarkable brain, without notes, which made them a little disorganized. What made these lectures special was that they were delivered with passion, spontaneity and a sense of curiosity, which gave the students a glimpse into the real world of Plant Pathology, into the unknowns and fascinating questions facing Plant Pathologists, with all the opportunities and possibilities that they presented. He inspired many of us to pursue Plant Pathology as a career.

Prof Martin was an intellectual and a gentleman, gentle of nature and spirit, and an extraordinarily kind individual. His love of nature and music were recurring themes throughout his life, with flowers bought for the garden being considered ‘an investment in beauty’. He was truly egalitarian, one who attached no importance to status, race, title or money. As a religious and deeply spiritual person, he expressed his beliefs in the most positive way, by living his faith in his daily life, and in his engagement with the world and his fellow human beings. He was married to Melloney (née Morton) for 58 years, and they had four children: Marian, Carrin, Viviene (Kartsounis) and James (married to Lisa del Grande), and four grandchildren.

Compiled by: Mark Laing, Professor and Chair of Plant Pathology, UKZN, with input from Professor Frits Rijkenberg, Professor Mike Wallis and Dr Carrin Martin.

Kind regards,

Christine Cuénod
Networking Facilitator
033 260 6557
083 314 3317

on behalf of

Duncan Stewart
Committee Chairman
082 491 1912
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