Newsletter September 2015
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | September 2015
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13 October 2015

Greetings friends and alumni

September's edition is a little late, but it was a good month of expanding UKZN's contacts with industry and international partners. The World Forestry Congress provided new opportunities for staff and students to engage with researchers and Forestry stakeholders across the globe. The Congress saw conversations take place around research and possible future collaborations between UKZN and the global Forestry sector.

We have also been planning for exciting new events coming in 2016, so watch this space as Friends of UKZN Agriculture works to make agriculture at the institution even more exciting in the months to come.

Featured Discipline

Agricultural Engineering


The Department of Agricultural Engineering was established in 1948 when the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Natal was formed. A Mr Geiger was the first lecturer appointed to give two service courses to Agriculture students and to act as a service engineer to the Department of Agriculture and to the Faculty. After Mr Geiger’s resignation two year later, the Department gathered momentum under the late Professor Piet Vorster (also one-stage Dean and later Deputy Director of the Water Research Commission), who established a five year degree in Agricultural Engineering with the first graduate (Mr C Stephens) in 1956. The five year Agricultural Engineering degree programme was subsequently changed to a four year programme in 1968 to align it with the other engineering degrees. In order to comply with the Professional Engineers Act, the Agricultural Engineering degree was transferred to the Faculty of Engineering in 1972, but the Department of Agricultural Engineering remained on the Pietermartizburg Campus in order to facilitate links between the Agricultural Engineers and other agricultural disciplines. The Agricultural Engineering degree remains accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).
Prof Vorster was promoted to become the first occupant of the chair of Agricultural Engineering in 1960. The late Potgieter (Pottie) Meiring was appointed as a lecturer in the Department in 1956 and he was subsequently promoted and appointed as Professor of Agricultural Engineering and as Head of Department in 1976, following Prof Vorster’s appointment at the Water Research Commission in 1973.  Prof Meiring was responsible for the development and expansion of a research programme in Power and Machinery, which became a leading, internationally-recognised, tractor and fuels research centre. Peter Lyne (later Dr and Prof) joined the Department in 1977 and, together with Alan Hansen (also later Dr and Associate Prof) formed the core team with Prof Meiring in this centre of excellence.
Many students will fondly remember the mixture of congeniality, foreboding presence, high standards expected and incisive intellect of Prof Meiring, who always seemed to ask the difficult question, did not tolerate barefoot students in his classes and ruled the Department with an iron rod, ably assisted and organised by his secretary Mrs Kay Temple.
Upon the retirement of Prof Meiring in 1991, Dr Peter Lyne was appointed as Professor and Head of Agricultural Engineering in 1993, a position he held until 2003. Prof Lyne forged strong links with the sugar industry and initiated negotiations with the South African Sugarcane Research Institute to fund a Senior Research Fellow in the School and also initiated an ongoing research programme into optimising transport systems in the sugar and timber industries. Prof Lyne is still an Honorary Professor Emeritus who frequently works with the discipline.
Prof Jeff Smithers was appointed as Head of the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology (BEEH) in 2002 and as Professor of Agricultural Engineering in 2004. During his tenure the school grew in terms of staff and student numbers. He secured a Chair in Hydrology and university funded academic and technical staff to sustain the delivery of the hydrology undergraduate programme, which was dependent on contract research funded staff for the delivery of the degrees in Hydrology.
Hydrological research in the department started in 1974 under the leadership of Dr Jack Burney and the appointment of Dr Roland Schulze in 1975, who has led hydrological research within the School from 1976. Prof Schulze initiated the degree programme in Hydrology at the University of Natal in 1981.  His focus, dedication, commitment and prolific research output resulted in a thriving, nationally and internationally recognised applied hydrological research group, now the Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR).  Following his retirement from the University in 2007, Professor Graham Jewitt was appointed as Professor of Hydrology and later went on to take over the Directorship of the CWRR.

The restructuring of the University of Natal in 1999 saw the change in the name from the Department of Agricultural Engineering to the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology (BEEH), which formed part of the Faculty of Engineering. The strength of the two disciplines resulted in a vibrant and research active school. However, the restructuring of the university in 2012 resulted in the Agricultural Engineering discipline remaining in the School of Engineering and the Hydrology discipline being located within the School of Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Science.  

The Discipline at a Glance

The discipline of Agricultural Engineering is unique in that it is currently the only tertiary institution in South Africa which offers an accredited qualification in Agricultural Engineering.
The Agricultural Engineering curriculum was revised and broadened in 2006 to include new fields (e.g. food processing and engineering, sustainable bioenergy systems, soil and water conservation engineering), while retaining traditional strengths in Agricultural Mechanisation and Soil and Water Engineering. Third and fourth years of study are now completed on the Pietermaritzburg campus, with only the second year of study currently having to be completed on the Howard College Campus in Durban.
The demographics of the discipline have changed over the years, with more female students electing to study Agricultural Engineering. While the  discipline still has to combat misconceptions about what Agricultural Engineering entails, it is the only Engineering discipline which  provides technology to connect the living world of plants, soil, water & animals with the technology of engineering,  i.e. systems, structures and machines.
The concerns related to food and water security in South Africa and the need for technology to sustain natural resources has resulted in the increasing availability of bursaries for undergraduate students. This has resulted in the undergraduate student population to grow to approximately 100 students with typically between 8 and 15 students graduating per year. Similar growth in postgraduate student numbers have been experienced.
Research undertaken by academics in the Energy, Food and Water Engineering Research Group in  Agricultural Engineering is focused on a wide range of fields including: water use efficiency in irrigation, proper design and management of drainage systems, increasing water productivity in agriculture, rural water supplies infrastructure and water provisioning, energy utilisation and efficiency and supply chains in agricultural production systems and as well as water resources engineering, food engineering and food processing.
Highlights in the Agricultural Engineering programme for the students include “brown bag lunch” meetings, to which they invite Agricultural Engineering professionals external to UKZN to talk about professional work experiences. They are also fortunate to be able to visit commercial farms, factories and other industrial sites to witness the processes for which they are being trained. The final year design project continues to be an important, albeit demanding, highlight of the Agricultural Engineering programme, and allows them the opportunity to acquire hands-on experience in engineering designs, construction and evaluation of the designs. The projects are frequently undertaken in collaboration and with support from industry, and contribute to farming systems and agro-processing practices. Their designs, mostly created with small-scale operations in mind to keep the scale of the project manageable, are presented in October to the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers, industry sponsors and their peers.
The discipline enjoys strong support from industry, although it would benefit from additional bursaries being made available to potential candidates for study in this area which would help to meet the growing demand for good graduates. In addition, further industry participation in creating new partnerships and funded research opportunities for postgraduate students to meet industry needs, provision of attachment and vacation work for undergraduate students and support for final year design projects would be welcomed by the Agricultural Engineering discipline.
Staff and students in the discipline also maintain very close links to the South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers (SAIAE/SAILI), serving on national and provincial structures of SAIAE and frequently getting involved in the planning of business breakfasts, conferences, career fair stands and more. This contributes to maintaining the discipline's high standard of education by keeping it linked to the professionals working in the field.
As for international partnerships, the discipline enjoys a strong relationship with the University of Illinois in the USA, with collaboration and interaction since 2004 between students at the two institutions on final year design projects.
Agricultural Engineering has been purposeful about maintaining a high standard of teaching and research in order to produce graduates that will contribute to industry. An industry advisory board is convened annually to advise the programme and allow industry partners to give input about the Agricultural Engineering programme and the performance of graduates in industry.
There are challenges which face Agricultural Engineering, as with every discipline. Increased support and publicising of the discipline is needed in order to attract good students who would excel as Agricultural Engineers and bring new blood into the sector. This would in turn result in growth in the sector nationally and even internationally, which is much needed in for a sustainable and a changing agricultural sector.


Professor Jeff Smithers graduated with a BSc Engineering (Agricultural) degree and a MSc Engineering from the former University of Natal. After completing his National Service, he worked as an Engineer in the Directorate of Agricultural Engineering, Department of Agriculture. 

He joined the University of Natal in 1989 as Senior Research Fellow to work on research contracts in the hydrological field. After being employed on research contracts for more
than 10 years, he joined the permanent lecturing staff as a Senior Lecturer in 2001. 

He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2002 and appointed as Professor of Agricultural Engineering in 2004. He was Head of the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal from July 2002 to June 2011. He is currently an adjunct Professor in the National Centre of Engineering in Agriculture, Faculty of Engineering and Surveying, University of Southern Queensland in Australia. 

Prof Smithers is a registered professional engineer, is a fellow of the SAIAE and currently serves on the National Council of the SAIAE. He has a wide range of research interests which include design and water resources engineering, and energy use and efficiency in agricultural production systems.
Professor Tilahun Seyoum Workneh has been a part of the staff at UKZN since 2010, when he was appointed as an Associate Professor. He is a graduate of one of the oldest universities in Ethiopia, Alemaya University of Agriculture (now Haramaya University), and he also worked at the institution as a graduate and teaching assistant before enrolling at the University
College Dublin in Ireland for his Masters in Agricultural Engineering. Prof Workneh completed his PhD through the University of the Free State in the early 2000s, during which time he also served at Haramaya University as a lecturer in Agricultural Engineering and taught topics such as food processing and environmental control in farm structures.

He has been involved in establishing curriculum in agricultural and biological engineering, food engineering, food science and post-harvest technology, and has supervised a large number of postgraduates during his career, with more than 15 of them being women, a remarkable number in a previously male-dominated field.

At UKZN, Prof Workneh is involved in multidisciplinary research to do with food engineering, post-harvest engineering and technology of fruit and vegetables, food processing and preservation and refrigeration storage.
Dr Aidan Senzanje has been at UKZN for 8 years, having completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Zimbabwe, his Masters at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom and his PhD at Colorado State University in the USA, specialising in Irrigation Engineering. Dr Senzanje has appreciated the space he has had at UKZN to focus on research after spending a lot of his academic time at other institutions focusing on administrative and managerial matters.
His area of specialisation is Irrigation Engineering, specifically as it relates to irrigation, agricultural water management, and water resources management with a bias towards agricultural water use. He also has a particular interest in the smallholder producer because they tend to have peculiar challenges that are not fully understood and cannot easily be modelled. Interest in this area for Dr Senzanje stems from the fact that the smallholder sector producer appears to be mired in perpetual poverty despite huge investments by governments and others.

In the future, Dr Senzanje hopes to continue playing a role in encouraging increased interest in the discipline and appreciate its demands, as well as understand that it’s an engineering profession that has a niche to serve in the South African economy.  As far as research goes, he plans to be even more active in his research on applied irrigation and agricultural water management for sustainable development, and mitigation of climate change and climate variability.
Dr Gareth Lagerwall completed his degree and Masters in Agricultural Engineering at the former University of Natal during its transition to the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He went on to pursue a PhD in Agricultural Engineering at the University of Florida, and later worked as a consulting engineer for Land Resources International in Pietermaritzburg, before joining UKZN as a lecturer in 2013.
He specialised in ecological modelling during his PhD, and has work experience in the fields of precision agriculture and rural development, with a focus towards mechanisation in his work at UKZN. He is a committee member of the KZN branch of the SAIAE and is registered as a candidate professional engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA). He is heavily involved in promoting the discipline, from maintaining the website, to manning stands at agricultural shows, and presenting at the UKZN Winter School.
Mr Mervyn Hansen is the Technical Tutor for Agricultural Engineering and is a registered Professional Engineer and completed his studies at the former University of Natal, before going on to spend time farming in Zimbabwe and South Africa. His work with the discipline is sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) in order for there to be sufficient academic support for students studying Agricultural Engineering on
bursaries from DAFF. He has filled an important gap as the student demographics have changed, with more students coming in from non-agricultural backgrounds. He has acted as course coordinator in the past and has added capacity by assisting with lecturing and tutorials, and hosting overseas visitors.
David Clark
Mr David Clark is a researcher in the discipline of Agricultural Engineering and completed an MSc (Eng) degree in vehicle performance simulation. After graduating he was employed by the University of Natal for four years, lecturing and working on research projects in vehicle performance simulation and hydrological modelling. 

He spent two years consulting at Land Resources International in the field of agricultural and natural resource management. Since 2004 he has been working at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Water Research Commission funded projects related to modelling systems and water resources modelling, and is currently completing his PhD.
Mr Alan Hill is the Principal Technician in charge of the Agricultural Engineering workshops and laboratories at the Ukulinga research farm. All graduates have benefitted from his expertise and wealth of experience, particularly during their final year design projects.


UKZN to Host Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium

In May 2016, the University of KwaZulu-Natal will host the first Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium, a research and knowledge-sharing event intended to showcase the University's agricultural research through its facilities at the Ukulinga Research Farm in Pietermaritzburg.

This initiative arose from discussions between trustees of the Howard Davis Farms Trust, which operates a farm situated on the Jersey Islands in the United Kingdom, and the UKZN Foundation. The founder of this Trust, Thomas Benjamin Frederick Davis, was a well-known figure in Southern Africa in the early 1900s, having made his fortune in the stevedoring business and eventually controlling the business of loading and unloading ships at docks from Port Elizabeth to Dar-es-Salaam. Davis was a benefactor of the former University of Natal when it was founded, contributing £140 000 to the building of the Howard College building, opened in 1931, on what is now the Durban campus of UKZN. The building was named for his son, Howard, who died at the age of 21 in the World War I Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Howard Davis
Howard College 1931
Howard College Stella Bush
With 2016 marking 100 years since the death of Howard Davis, the Symposium has been instituted to honour Howard Davis’ legacy and enable the creation of a new legacy. Given the link to the Howard Davis Farm in Jersey, this Symposium aims to raise the profile of agriculture in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and in South Africa at large through the dissemination of vital research and its applicability to both agribusiness and community farmers.

The educational legacy of the late Howard Davis will be continued through the hosting of this multi-level Symposium, which aims to showcase research carried out at Ukulinga to the scientific community, agribusiness sector and farming community. The organisers of the Symposium also aim to make the event a catalyst for the development of mutually rewarding relationships with the agribusiness sector. The event will also form part of the facilitation of essential practical skills and knowledge transfer to benefit emerging and current small-scale community-based farmers.

UKZN's legacy of contributing to these vital areas of agricultural development is a strong one, with much advancement in the industry in South Africa coming about because of research undertaken at Ukulinga. The farm, the name of which is an isiZulu word meaning "to try", was purchased in 1948 after the establishment of the Faculty of Agriculture at the then-University of Natal, and has been used very successfully as a research farm with a strong educational function.  In recent years, the research activities have expanded beyond “classical” agriculture to include various ecological and environmental aspects for sustainability of rural systems.

The farm comprises facilities dedicated to engineering, hydrological research, grassland science, horticulture, crop science and animal science, with ruminant and monogastric animal research (particularly related to poultry and pigs) taking place on-site. Historically, embryo transplants and test tube calves were pioneered at Ukulinga.

Among the first experiments started at Ukulinga were the Long-term Burning and Mowing Trials and the Veld Fertilizer Trials, which were initiated in 1950 and are still being fully maintained after 64 uninterrupted years. A new grassland research site is linked to 48 other similar sites around the world, and is focused on studying the effects of nutrient addition to natural grasslands.

There has been a strong focus on crop and horticulture related research over many decades, including plant breeding as well as production research. Important work in recent decades includes the breeding of high lycene maize which was widely recognized as a breakthrough in increasing the protein content of maize. The African Centre for Crop Improvement is focused on PhD research in crop breeding, in a programme to boost plant breeding skills in Africa. They have released several new varieties in the last few years.

The University partnered with the local Pietermaritzburg (Umsunduzi) Municipality, whereby about 100 ha of the Ukulinga Research Farm has been incorporated into the neighbouring Bisley Nature Reserve which has a variety of vegetation types and several species of wildlife, including giraffe, zebra and a range of antelope.

Ukulinga is a popular venue for local schools to expose learners to agricultural science and practice, and it is increasingly being used for this purpose.

The Symposium is currently being planned to coincide with other agricultural events taking place in the province in May, and will take place over two to three days. One day will be dedicated to scientific presentations, with participation of government and scientists, with a second day aimed at presenting innovative research to agribusiness and the wider agricultural community. The organising committee is also planning for a skills sustainability aspect through attracting and exposing young learners to the agricultural industry.

The intention from the organisers is for this Symposium to become an annual event which will highlight the innovative work being done in agriculture by UKZN, making the name of the institution synonymous with agriculture in the province.

Friends of UKZN Agriculture will be lending support to the planning of the Symposium, with Christine acting as one of the members of the organising committee. It would be wonderful to see alumni and friends coming out in their droves to support this initiative and contributing to the raising of the profile of agriculture at UKZN. There are opportunities for agribusiness, farmers and alumni to support in various ways, so please get in touch if this has grabbed your attention.

Food Security Students Present Research at Community Engagement Symposium

A group of staff and students from the African Centre for Food Security took part in the North-West University’s third Community Engagement Symposium at the Emerald Resort and Casino in Vanderbijlpark.
The Symposium was intended to provide a platform for academics to disseminate their research to various stakeholders in the community, from teachers to NGOs to everyday citizens. The hope is that this kind of forum will unlock the enormous potential for the expertise of academics to positively impact communities around them.

Presentations and activities at the Symposium were also intended to educate researchers and academics as to the best strategies to use in order to effectively communicate their research to the wider community.

The ACFS had fifteen staff members and students in attendance at the Symposium, where they presented their work. Six of the presenters were Masters in Food Security students, with one Masters student in Human Nutrition and four Food Security PhD students also presenting. The staff members who attended were Dr Unathi Kolanisi, Dr Muthulisi Siwela and Dr Anette Van Onselen.

Research being conducted by these students includes work on lowering phytic acid in maize for food and nutrition security, assessing nutritional quality of affordable snacks and eggs produced by layers fed with bio-fortified maize, and working with small-scale farmers on their progression from subsistence to commercialisation.

The Masters students who presented at the Symposium were grateful for the opportunity to advance their experience in this field, as many of them aim to be food security experts who will contribute towards ascertaining food and nutrition interventions that are easily available, accessible, socially acceptable and offer nutritional quality to improve the well-being of households.

According to the group of students, who come from a variety of academic disciplinary backgrounds from Politics to Microbiology, participants at the Symposium responded positively to their presentations. The general response o their presentations indicated that their multi-disciplinary backgrounds contributed greater depth to their work.

Attending the Symposium and sharing experiences with other researchers in the field allowed these postgraduates to examine how their research could significantly be translated into implementation activities to deal with food & nutrition insecurity. The group also mentioned that the Symposium acknowledged and valorised the contributions made by communities to advancing research through providing essential data.

PhD student and presenter Sithandiwe Khoza spoke positively of the experience, saying that some of the audience was amazed that eggs could be dehydrated into powder. She added that she hopes her research will assist policy makers in the design of poultry-based entrepreneurial projects and programmes aimed at improving the food and nutrition security and livelihoods of rural households.

Khoza hopes that the research presented at the Symposium will have greater impact on the communities it is intended to reach as researchers gain the tools to transmit their work to policy-makers in agriculture.

Mbalenhle Gwacela, who is completing her PhD in Food Security, presented at the Symposium on her research on encouraging joint stakeholder participation in ensuring food security for University students. Her work has shown that around 80% of students surveyed in agricultural sciences are anxious about where their next meal is coming from. Gwacela hopes that her work, as communicated to others working in this field, will mitigate this challenge by encouraging more parties to come to the table to implement models like the Food Bank scheme to assist students in this area.

One academic at the Symposium who was impressed by Gwacela's presentation pledged to do more to assist her students as she had not considered before that a factor in their underperformance could be as basic as hunger.

"I was particularly proud at the fact that someone could learn about my study, and immediately want to implement some changes in her campus," said Gwacela. "It shows that awareness does bring about desired change."

PhD presenter Phumzile Dandala, who spoke at the Symposium on the topic of "Perceptions towards women's obesity in the traditional African context" said that her presentation had the intended effect of informing community workers that obesity is in fact a critical problem, and one that researchers can assist in combating.

All the students expressed gratitude to their supervisors and staff in the ACFS and Dietetics and Human Nutrition, saying that the Symposium was important in expanding their contacts with others working in this field, as well as deepening the body of knowledge of food security in South Africa and making it applicable to the wider community.

University of Illinois Staff & Students Visit Agricultural Engineering

University of Illinois Visit
A group of staff and students from the University of Illinois recently spent four weeks at the University of KwaZulu-Natal as part of a project-based study abroad programme which saw their students collaborating on the final year design projects of UKZN’s Bioresources Engineering students.

This is the seventh annual visit from representatives of the University of Illinois to UKZN; visits which were initiated by Professor Alan Hansen of the University of Illinois given his links to the University as a former professor and head of what was then the Department of Agricultural Engineering.

This year’s group of three students, led by Professor Paul Davidson of the University of Illinois’ College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), are all busy with their studies in Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the United States. This trip during their summer vacation provided an opportunity for students from Illinois to contribute their knowledge to the UKZN students’ final year design projects, while being exposed to a different culture and environment than they are used to.

‘I was able to contribute some of my knowledge of technical skills like welding,’ said Patrick Schroeder, one of the University of Illinois students who came along.

In exchange for the contribution of these skills, the American group left having experienced South Africa, with a visit to the Drakensberg and to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Davidson said that they look forward to future visits to the University and to strengthening their relationship with UKZN over the coming years.

APRU Guides Research on Farm Workers’ Living and Working Conditions in South Africa

Farm Workers
The Agricultural Policy Research Unit (APRU) in UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN recently released a report conducted for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the living and working conditions of farm workers in South Africa.

The study was conducted by four South African Universities under the guidance of Ms Margareet Visser of the Labour and Enterprise Policy Research Group (LEP), Institute of Development and Labour Law, University of Cape Town, and Dr Stuart Ferrer, Director of the APRU. Their work was monitored by an oversight committee which included government officials and representatives from community, worker and employer organisations.

Following incidents of unrest in the sector and consequently increased coverage of farm workers’ living and working conditions, the ILO sought to address controversial and sometimes polarising issues through this study, and provide updated perspective that allows broader understanding of some of the drivers of labour conflict to inform the management of the future landscape of agriculture in South Africa.

Research conducted by the team revealed that a number of incidents in the agricultural sector had negatively impacted on the living and working conditions of agricultural workers in South Africa, most notably violent farm worker protests in 2012 and the 52% minimum wage hike implemented in 2013.

According to the report, responses by farmers to these events were, largely, to reduce permanent employment, cut working hours, move workers off farms and charge for non-wage benefits like housing. This is also a result of increased financial pressure on farms due to market deregulation, reduced trade tariff protection and the dominance of big international retailers.

With employers increasingly using casual labour, more workers now live off-farm in informal settlements with services struggling under the weight of the increased population. This leads to other consequences such as the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which in turn impacts agriculture with raw sewage contamination water sources.

Visser and Ferrer undertook a desk review of existing laws and literature and then proceeded to do field research in eight provinces.

The study found a fairly high rate of compliance in farm workers being granted key rights and minimum wages, more so in industries where labour is internalised. In the report, key areas that need to be improved were identified, for example the neglect of granting of leave to seasonal workers who are continuously employed by the same employer and demands on farm workers to provide medical certificates on the first day of sick leave.

Highlighted in the study was the stalemate in which the industry and workers find themselves in the inability of farmers to meet increased legislated minimum wages and the inability of farm workers to sustain their families on even the proposed increase in their minimum wage.

The study’s recommendations were that the state should play a more active role in ensuring that both agricultural producers and workers are have bargaining power by considering the whole value chain and not simply parts of it. Research revealed that both agricultural producers and workers are withdrawing from the sector, and researchers said it is vital for the state to realise that the prosperities of producers and workers are interlinked.

ACCI Plant Breeding Professor Attends ICRISAT Workshop in India

ICRISAT workshop
Professor Hussein Shimelis of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN recently travelled to Patancheru, India, to participate in the Product Dissemination Workshop of the USAID-funded project: ‘Pigeonpea improvement using molecular breeding’.
The three-year project, which has been implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)  and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), since its launch at the beginning of 2013, is intended to improve the yields and resilience of the pigeonpea crop in India and Africa. This legume is a vital part of life for millions of poor people in India’s drylands, both as a staple, nutritious food source and as an avenue of income for farmers. It is grown on about 5 million hectares in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South-Central America, with African countries growing it as an important export crop.
Along with UKZN, other institutions that have been involved include the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) and Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) in India, Ilonga Agriculture Training Institute, the Open University of Tanzania and Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute in Tanzania, Chitedze Agricultural Research Station in Malawi, Mozambique's Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM), the University of Education in Ghana and Krishidhan Seeds in India.
The visit allowed those who have been involved in this project to interact directly with farmers and their visit pigeonpea fields, as well as take stock of what the project has achieved thus far. The first phase of the project has been completed, and involved decoding of the crop’s genome sequence and the isolation of the ideal candidate gene that would enable further breeding, a noteworthy success as this is the first ‘orphan legume’ to have its genome sequence mapped.
Shimelis explained that there is a need to breed this legume to allow for resilience to fusarium wilt disease and pigeonpea sterility mosaic virus. Additionally, to benefit those who rely on this crop, an early maturing, drought-tolerant variety needs to be bred, which also needs to be a short variety to enable combine harvesting. These needs are significantly influenced by increasing pressure on growers as a result of climate change and a growing population to feed.
The next phase of the project, which requires funding in order to be initiated, would be the translation breeding phase, which would lead to the development of these cultivars.
Another important part of Phase Two would be the building of capacity of plant breeders working in Asia and Africa. This component of the project has been an important one, with Shimelis including his PhD students from Africa in the process of this project. Participating in this project allows collaborators access to a state-of-the-art training facility and bioinformatics experts, which Africa is lacking. Training students on this kind of project therefore allows for exponential growth in this area as they bring their skills back to Africa to develop the continent. The first phase of the project saw two students from Africa and six from India trained in molecular breeding techniques and technology.
Working on this project also enabled Shimelis to contribute as co-author to a publication entitled ‘Genomics-assisted breeding for boosting crop improvement in pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan)’, which was published in the Frontiers in Plant Science journal in February 2015.

Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis Short Course

26 October - 06 November 2015

Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis
The incidence of food security in some Southern African countries remain high. This anomaly of widespread food insecurity amid national food surpluses stimulated the analysis of the nature and causes of food insecurity. Some countries are experiencing production shortfalls due to a series of droughts and/or policy failures. Subsequently, national, regional and international organisations have engaged themselves in assessing the impact of such failure so as to better understand the context and take appropriate actions to build the capacity of vulnerable households and communities to respond to any changes in their environment. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has recognised this challenge and identified the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) or the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) as a Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA). The overall objective of Food Security Analysis is to provide the necessary skills to practitioners who carry out vulnerability assessment activities and build much needed analytical capacity.

How you will benefit. You will learn to:
  • Understand complexities of food security, vulnerability and its indicators in the context of SADC countries.
  • Use food security and vulnerability analysis as a means to promote continuous monitoring rather than the once-off assessments triggered by emergency response.
  • Understand the assessment of crop and animal production, storage and access to food security and vulnerability.
Key focus areas:
  • Module 1: Conceptualizing Food Security & Vulnerability
  • Module 2: Food Production and Availability
  • Module 3: Food Access, Livelihoods, Policies and Coping Strategies
  • Module 4: Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E)
Programme fee:
US $2,495 or equivalent pp (includes tuition and materials, venue, excursion, lunch and refreshments; excludes accommodation, travel, dinner and incidentals)

NQF Level:
Level Seven

Facilitators include:
Dr Joyce Chitja
Dr Joyce Chitja is an experienced agricultural scientist and food security expert with a rich understating of agriculture & rural livelihoods & vulnerability, especially challenges in the small-scale farming sector and its value chains. Her experience ranges from research in organic production, agricultural development, land reform, the land claims process and its challenge. Her current research areas include Food Security in relation to market access and innovation for smallholders, organic farming production, small-scale farmer value chains, water and land use security, rural livelihoods, gender & agriculture, land reform and vulnerability.

Dr Unathi Kolanisi
Dr Unathi Kolanisi holds BHuman Ecology degree (University of Western Cape) and Consumer Science PhD (North West University). She is an academic in the Food Security Programme teaching & researching on food security, food access for food security, food storage for food security, measuring and monitoring, research methods. Her other research interests are consumer behaviour, sensory evaluation, gender & agricultural production resources, and institution organisation.

Dr Maxwell Mudhara
Dr Maxwell Mudhara is a lecturer in Food Security. He holds a PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida, Gainesville, USA. He was an Agricultural Economist for more than 10 years in the government of Zimbabwe. He became a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension. He has over 20 years experience in smallholder agricultural research and development. His current thematic fields of interest are marketing, agricultural development and policy and impact assessment.

Verona Mohanlal: +27 31 260 8765+27 31 260 8765

Kind regards,

Christine Cuénod

Networking Facilitator

033 260 6557033 260 6557

083 314 3317083 314 3317

on behalf of

Duncan Stewart

Committee Chairman

082 491 1912082 491 1912

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