Newsletter November 2015
Friends of UKZN Agriculture | November 2015
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18th December 2015

Hello again everyone

We are into the last month of the year and are looking forward to what 2016 has in store. November brought with it exams, some farewells, student presentations and a lot of staff interaction with society.

Featured Discipline

Food Security graphic


The African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) was first conceived of in the late 1990s following UKZN staff members' attendance at a conference in Zambia on the topic of Food Security. Inspired by discussions at the conference, around 20 staff members began to explore the possibility of launching a programme focused on Food Security capacity-building and research at UKZN. These discussions came at a time when interest in the topic of Food Security was gaining traction in the media and literature, precipitating the need for a multi-disciplinary academic response to questions being asked about how to tackle challenges related to Food Security. With issues of hunger and malnutrition on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa, combined with the effects of a changing climate and a growing population, the staff designed a programme that would provide multi-disciplinary training on the topic, with a three-year trial programme commencing in 2000.

Professor Sheryl Hendriks, then a lecturer from the Community Resources programme, initiated the development of the ACFS and led the Centre until departing in 2010 for the University of Pretoria, where she now heads up the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-Being. Other academics who played an integral role in the development of the Centre's academic programme included Professor Mike Lyne, Professor Gerald Ortmann, Professor Ignatius Nsahlai, Dr Philip Copeland, Dr Fiona Ross, Marie Paterson, Professor Maryann Green, Professor Eleni Maunder, Professor Neil Ferguson and Professor Rob Gous. Professor Ayalneh Bogale led the Centre after Professor Hendriks' departure, with Dr Joyce Chitja taking over as Director after Professor Bogale left the University in 2013 to take up a position with the African Union's Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture in Addis Ababa.

With the registration and training of its first students from 2001, the ACFS graduated the first person in the world to hold a postgraduate Diploma and later Master of Agriculture in Food Security, Likeleli Makhotla from Lesotho. In 2008, Dr Samuel Chingondale and Dr Joyce Thamanga-Chitja became the world's first PhD graduates in Food Security.

The programme was officially designated a Centre in 2006 and increased its training activities to upskill students in the field of Food Security. It offers postgraduate training in Food Security, with a one-year postgraduate Diploma in Food Security on offer, as well as Masters and PhD qualification.

The modules offered by the ACFS were audited and approved by the SADC Regional Food Security Training Programme Accreditation Committee in 2005. Of the three identified institutions known to offer Food Security-related training (the University of Lesotho and Eduardo Mondale University being the other two), the UKZN programme was the only one offering a dedicated programme and modules in Food Security.

With the phasing out of the Community Resource Management Programme in 2008 following Professor Maryann Green's retirement, elements of the training it had provided were absorbed into Food Security and related programmes in the School. A third year module from the programme was taken over by Food Security and enabled them to introduce undergraduates to issues of Food Security. Staff members from the Community Resource Management Programme also joined Food Security, one of them being Dr Unathi Kolanisi, who was part of the UKZN family from 2006 and who recently departed to take up an Associate Professorship post at the University of Zululand.

The ACFS was endorsed by NEPAD as the lead agency in its Pillar III Food Security activities of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) and received formal recognition as the SADC Regional Centre of Excellence for Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis. It is also the only facility in the world to offer transdisciplinary training and named degrees in the field of food security.

The ACFS has led, together with CILSS from West Africa, the development of the AU/NEPAD Framework for African Food Security, a continental policy framework for addressing hunger and malnutrition in Africa through African led-initiatives.

In 2011 the ACFS signed an MoU with 5 other universities in the region and began offering its popular short course on Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment to build capacity in the CAADP region.

In 2005 regional partners were sought as the demand for training and research for vulnerability assessment and analysis as demand was far greater than any one institution could absorb. Collaborating colleagues include staff at: Bunda Colllege of Agriculture (University of Malawi), Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania) and Makarere University (Uganda) and Maseno University in Kenya and a continually growing network of African institutions.

The ACFS continues to strive to engage with local and regional partners, and works with key partners and funders like the KwaZulu-Natal Treasury. Its international partners include Cornell University's International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, from whence a delegation of staff and students have visited every year since 2012.

The ACFS has graduated 20 postgraduate Diploma students, 22 Masters students and 4 PhD students since 2002; in 2014 alone 10 MSc students graduated from the ACFS, demonstrating the growing student numbers.

The Discipline at a Glance

The ACFS has made it its vision to be the premier institution providing scholarship and leadership in understanding and monitoring and responding to the multi-faceted issue of Food Security in Africa.

The ACFS focuses on both its capacity-building and research into the arena of Food Security, and to guide its work uses an expanded Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) definition of Food Security as

“the physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food by all Africans, at all times, to meet their dietary and food preferences for a healthy life and productive life”.

Capacity-building and research is built around trans-disciplinary engagement between various sciences for new and innovative questions and solutions to be pursued for the betterment of the human condition.  Through this continual renewal of scientific knowledge and competencies, the ACFS is producing scholars to lead the charge of improving Food Security across the continent.

The current mission of the ACFS is to facilitate and conduct professional training and trans-disciplinary research, and - through targeted information dissemination and informed advocacy - to support and sustain a critical mass of personnel.

The ACFS also works to maintain a network of collaborating institutions and organisations equipped to lead effective vulnerability policy and practice across the sub-continent.

Challenges still faced by the ACFS include disruptions in leadership and staff shortages. Additionally, the ACFS hopes to be able to, at some point, be able to introduce taught courses at Masters of Science and PhD level; currently taught courses are aimed at the postgraduate Diploma and Masters of Agriculture levels. The introduction of an Honours degree is also a challenge the Centre looks set to tackle; since there is currently no undergraduate qualification in Food Security this is not yet on offer. Staff in the Centre would also like to see increased options for its students to take modules offered by other disciplines.

As with most research Centres, funding is always a challenge that remains at the forefront of running a Centre, so staff remain on the lookout for opportunities to resource their work through funding partnerships.

The ACFS' key activities are capacity-building and research, both of which are carried out in a number of ways.

Training in capacity-building involves the teaching of key skills and competencies necessary for practitioners and policy-makers involved in vulnerability assessment, analysis, policy making and impact assessment. The Centre covers aspects from food production, availability, access and utilisation at national and household levels, to social protection opportunities, food rights and policy.

The qualifications offered by the ACFS are approved by the South African Qualifications Authority and are subject to regular internal reviews and audits to ensure quality standards are maintained.

In total, the qualifications offered by the Centre are: annual continued professional development short courses, a postgraduate Diploma at 4th year level, coursework Masters degrees (M Agric, MSc Agric and MSc Food Security) and PhD programmes. Students entering Food Security programmes have primarily scientific or agricultural undergraduate backgrounds, however there have been graduates from the Social Sciences who have enrolled in Food Security programmes.
Although in existence for a relatively short time, the programme and Centre has already qualified 46 students with degree qualifications and 21 through short courses, and provided elective modules for a range of other programmes. Students come from a variety of academic, research, public service and civil society organisations, and a growing proportion hail from other parts of Africa. By 2009, 36 students from 16 African countries (South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, Sudan and Eritrea, to name a few) had enrolled for one or other of the postgraduate qualifications on offer.

In keeping with the trans-disciplinary ACFS approach, curricula are designed to expose learners to the vast array of complex and interrelated causes and symptoms of vulnerability while building on disciplinary knowledge. Trans-disciplinary education focuses on themes, topics, and issues typically assessed through summative active learning applications that promote higher-order critical thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, application and evaluation).

Each module is divided into logical, coherent, interrelated, iterative units, with very clear structures and explicit learning outcomes. This guides learners through exploration of the complex relationships between influencing factors in economic, social, natural, physical and human environments, empowering them to identify practical, sustainable opportunities for livelihood development and practical solutions to Food Security-related problems.
Students are drawn from various international agencies, Universities, Ministries and Departments of Agriculture, NGOs, CBOs, and National Research Institutions.

These students have either continued with their studies or have returned to various international agencies or government and non-governmental institutions. The research carried out by students covers a broad spectrum, illustrating the Centre's academic relevance to vulnerability assessment and analysis, social protection and the geographical coverage in research.
Flexible block module delivery and digital modules enable students to return to their countries and complete modules, assignments and research projects at their home institutions.
The ACFS has also prepared three modules for the international EC-FAO ‘Food Security Information for Action Programme’. They include two lessons on vulnerability assessment and indicators for vulnerability measurement and the material forms the basis for short courses in vulnerability analysis. The third lesson contributed by ACFS focuses on community-based Food Security analysis. This lesson includes numerous examples of participatory tools and methodologies with which the ACFS has experimented. The Centre has tested the EC-FAO modules as part of the Masters programme's Measures and Monitoring module.
Other sectors and organisations also utilise the ACFS' offerings: the South African National Department of Agriculture’s Directorate for Food Security and Rural Development sent their entire staff complement on a short course in 2007, while the Directors of Southern Sudan’s Food Security Directorate attended the ACFS annual short course in 2008. Members of the SADC National Vulnerability Assessment Committees attended modules in 2008. The ACFS has also been approached by the Human Sciences Research Council to collaborate on vulnerability training for end and intermediate users of the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System (FIVIMS). A group of Municipal and District Managers from Sekhukhuneland participated in a module with ACFS students in 2007.



The ACFS conducts important research in addition to its capacity-building.
The Centre focuses on evidence-based trans-disciplinary research towards practical solutions to food insecurity in Africa, including research into coping strategies, household food insecurity vulnerability, and resilience in relation to agricultural growth and economic development.

This work has significantly influenced Food Security analysis and policy development at continental level through bridging the divide between national assessments, understanding household dynamics and shifting the focus from price and nutrition indicator measurement to recognition that vulnerability to food security is an outcome of household coping behavior.

Staff and students in the ACFS have also examined the impact of agricultural growth on individual household member nutrition to determine whether broader economic development benefits individuals.
Another key area of research is the evaluation of Food Security interventions and impact on vulnerability, including assessment of seed and starter packs, community gardens, poultry projects, social grants, savings clubs and food aid.

Additional areas of research include assessment of malnutrition, comparison of vulnerability measures, experience of hunger, effect of seasonality on food consumption, coping strategies, consumption behaviour, social security, information systems, land issues, supply chains, horizontal and vertical co-risk behaviour, and production and storage practices.

Public Policy and Community Engagement 
Community engagement is a critical element of trans-disciplinary research., with many research problems initiated by way of community engagement. 

Until the demise of CAADP Pillar Institutions in 2011, the most exciting opportunities have been provided to UKZN and ACFS staff through the Centre's nomination as the AU/NEPAD lead institution for the CAADP Pillar III activities and policy development. The ACFS collaborated with the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Relief in the Sahel (CILSS) in West Africa on the CAADP Pillar III activities and networks of regional institutions to support the CAADP Country Round Table processes. The Centre has led the development of the CAADP Framework for African Food Security (FAFS), the only continentally agreed-upon plan of action internationally.

Staff members have participated in numerous missions to foreign countries and Development Agencies, consultation meetings and NEPAD meetings across the continent and globe. The Centre was also selected as the SADC Centre of Excellence for Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis in November 2006.
A variety of approaches have been used and experimented with, including participatory methodologies such as the development of a Livelihoods-based Participatory Analysis (LiPA) Manual. These in turn inform and strengthen teaching.

This kind of methodology provides an active and empowering dialogue for stakeholders to identify the vulnerable, review the effectiveness of current programmes and policies, and design effective integrated and comprehensive food security programmes in line with CAADP’s FAFS principles and objectives. The methodology employs various participatory tools that allow the very people targeted by development programmes to participate in development planning. The methodology has evolved through teaching and development of the ACFS Livelihoods Opportunities module (FDCS755) that involves the participation of community members such as local NGOs and Community-Based Organisations. 


Dr Joyce Thamaga-Chitja, Acting Director of the African Centre for Food Security, was initially appointed at UKZN in the Community Resource Management programme. In 2008 she became the first female PhD graduate in Food Security, going on to assume a post in the Department of Land Affairs, returning to academia at UKZN in 2010.

She completed her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in Horticultural Science at UKZN, and a Master of Social Science in Community Resources, before going on to do her PhD in Food Security.
Dr Chitja is an experienced agricultural scientist and Food Security expert with a rich understanding of agriculture in South Africa, especially challenges in the small-scale farming sector.  Her experience includes research in organic production, agricultural development, land reform, and the land claims process and its challenges.

She is a member of the Agricultural Research Council, sitting on their Research, Development and Evaluation Committee and their Review Strategy Committee. She was the Director of Operations at the Regional Land Claims Commission in 2008 and is a board member of the Agribusiness Development Agency.

Dr Chitja was the second runner up in the emerging researcher category in the Department of Science and Technology's Women in Science Awards in 2012

Her current research areas include Food Security in relation to organic farming production, small-scale farmer value chains, water and livelihoods, gender & agriculture, land reform and vulnerability.

Her peer-reviewed articles have been published in Development Southern AfricaAgendaIndigenous Knowledge Systems and the Journal of Family Ecology and Consumer Sciences. She has also contributed to book chapters and other publications.

Dr Joyce Chitja has supervised a number of postgraduate students, all of whom have conducted research and engaged with rural communities about their findings and recommendations.  She was a visiting scholar at Cornell University in the USA in 2011.
Mr Denver Naidoo has been part of the ACFS since 2012 as a lecturer and has played an important role in coordinating the academic activities, outreach work and short courses undertaken by the Centre. He is currently busy doing his PhD and has been part of a variety of different research projects, including the exploration of water use security and sustainable livelihoods. He also previously worked as Coordinator for Monitoring and Evaluation for Sinani (KwaZulu-Natal Programme for Survivors of Violence).
Dr Maxwell Mudhara, Director of UKZN's Farmer Support Group, is also a lecturer in the ACFS. An experienced Agricultural Economist, Dr Mudhara worked for the government of his home country of Zimbabwe as an Agricultural Economist on a multi-disciplinary team for over 10 years, before going on to lecture at the University of Zimbabwe's Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension.

He obtained his PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida in the United States, and has expertise in impact assessment studies of rural
development programmes (especially related to smallholder farming systems), assessment of the effects of policies and programmes on Food Security, for example issues like land tenure reform, inputs provision, access to markets, employment creation programmes, extension support and infrastructure development. He teaches modules on Food Security modelling systems, and has conducted relevant multi-disciplinary research on topics such as the impact of water access on women's Food Security.

Dr Mudhara is a member of the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA).

Staff Changes

November Staff Farewell
The month of November saw us saying a sad farewell to a number of staff who left us after many years. Dr Unathi Kolanisi of the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) left us after 9 years to take up the post of Associate Professor at the University of Zululand. We know that we will continue to work closely with Unathi and are very happy for her as she takes the next step in her academic career.

From the discipline of Animal Science, we had three staff members leave us with almost 90 years of experience between them.

Ms Debbie Davies retired at the end of November after 35 years of faithful service to her discipline as a technician. She was lauded for the excellence of her work and her skill in laboratory analyses, having analysed everything from chicken manure to prawns. She will also be remembered in the discipline for her ultimate dedication to the students she assisted, as well as the pranks she was famous for pulling and her creative Casual Day outfits.

Mr Philemon Zondi also left at the end of November after almost 20 years at UKZN. Philemon was a familiar face around campus and will be fondly remembered by students who he shuttled to and from Agric and Ukulinga everyday. He has experience in just about everything in Animal Science and always had a smile for everyone he saw. He was also an expert in the art of mimicry, delivering skillful and amusing impersonations of his colleagues. His colourful character will be missed but his family will benefit enormously from having him closer to them on the KZN South Coast.

Mr Shadrack Dlamini, a very familiar face to anyone who's spent time at Ukulinga, leaves after having been at UKZN working on the farm since 1981. He has worked with every animal on the farm, from the miniature horses to the chickens. He has worked hard and faithfully and is retiring to get some well-earned rest. His contributions to Ukulinga research have been very valuable and he will be missed.


New SASRI Chair of Crop Science Appointed

Professor Albert Modi, Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth & Environmental Sciences, is pleased to announce the appointment of Professor Hussein Shimelis of the African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) to the position of South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) Professor & Chair of Crop Science.

The SAEES has been seeking to appoint the SASRI Chair of Crop Science for more than five years now. For strategic reasons, this relationship requires a senior academic to be placed within the School, so that s/he can pursue the objectives of research
collaboration between SASRI and UKZN, especially SAEES. After many attempts to find a suitable candidate for the post, a panel that included a SASRI representative and Chaired by the DVC and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, finally shortlisted and interviewed candidates in November 2015

Shimelis, who has been a part of the ACCI since the end of 2008, is a C-rated researcher according to the National Research Foundation, demonstrating the quality of his extensive body of research and reputation with his peers.

Shimelis is originally from Ethiopia and completed his PhD with the University of the Free State in the early 2000s, where he also spent time as a postdoctoral researcher. He went on to take up an Associate Professorship at the University of Limpopo, where he was for four years before coming to UKZN. He has been at UKZN as an Associate Professor in Plant Breeding in the ACCI and has supervised a great number of postgraduate students during his time at the institution.

His research interests in the arena of agricultural plant sciences are broad, ranging from quantitative plant genetics to biodiversity to biotechnology. The crops he has focused on during the course of his career are wheat, vernonia, potato and cabbage. His work has involved development of improved crop genetic resources for yield, industrial use, and biotic and abiotic resistance or tolerance. Shimelis' approach to his work in a multi-disciplinary one, incorporating breeding, pathology and genetics.

Professor Shimelis will continue to contribute to the sterling work of the ACCI as he deepens his work with SASRI and the wider agricultural industry.

Visit to Ukulinga Mowing & Burning Trials

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Ukulinga Visit
A group of retired academics, environmentalists and farmers who now live in various Amber developments in the Howick area recently visited the long-term mowing and burning grassland trials at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Ukulinga Research Farm. Among them was Professor Emeritus Neil Tainton.

The long-term trials have been running continuously since 1950/51 and have provided a great deal of very useful data that contributes towards knowledge of veld management.

The group was taken around the farm by Professor Kevin Kirkman, accompanied by Craig and Anita Morris, Sindi Chamane, Dr Michelle Tedder, Dr Zivanai Tsvuura and Ms Steph Lyle

Agricultural Economics Masters Student Receives Mandela Rhodes Scholarship
Pilele with supervisors
Ms Pilela Majokweni, a Masters student in Agricultural Economics in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) was recently awarded a Mandela Rhodes Scholarship towards her studies, which will assist her in advancing her research, entitled ‘An Impact Assessment of institutional support on household agricultural productivity.’ Her research is focused on small-scale growers in the rural Msinga area of KwaZulu-Natal.

Majokweni is from the Eastern Cape and completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Fort Hare. She is carrying out her Masters research under the supervision of Dr Lloyd Baiyegunhi and Dr Stuart Ferrer, and said she was attracted to studying at UKZN because of the strength of its ratings in agricultural research.

Majokweni applied for the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship after attending a Golden Key Society event promoting the scholarship, and described the process of applying as demanding, with applicants required to undergo in-depth interviews and compose detailed essays.

The scholarship was awarded to 50 students from around Africa, from over 5000 applications. Majokweni said that learning she had secured one of the scholarships came as a pleasant surprise. She described having to let the knowledge that she had been selected sink in, especially since she views the accolade not only as an honour, but also as a bestowal of responsibility to her continent.

The Mandela Rhodes scholarship is intended to facilitate the work of postgraduates in order to build what Mandela hoped would be exceptional leadership capacity in Africa. While pursuing their chosen post-graduate degree, each Scholar benefits from access to leadership development programmes, rooted in the principles underpinning the Foundation, namely leadership, entrepreneurship, education and reconciliation.  The scholarship will cover tuition and subsistence costs during the second year of Majokweni’s Masters.

Majokweni described her passion as being for the development of women in Africa, and hopes that the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship will equip her with the skills to achieve this, specifically through rural development. She said that this passion was in part inspired by her family, since she grew up as a child of a single mother with five sisters.

‘What also stands out to me is that development in Africa is contingent on agriculture, but this is not tapped into,’ said Majokweni.

She is already displaying her leadership at UKZN; Majokweni has begun the process of setting up a branch of the Junior Chamber International (JCI) at the institution. The JCI is a United Nations-affiliated worldwide organisation made up of people between the ages of 18 and 40 who believe that in order for positive change to be achieved, collective action is needed.

Japanese Academic Visits UKZN to Explore Water Resource Issues

Professor Tasumi Visit
Professor Masahiro Tasumi of the Faculty of Agriculture at Japan’s University of Miyazaki recently visited the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) for a week-long trip that focused on issues of water resources management.

Tasumi’s visit was initiated thanks to a connection made through Dr Abdelmoneim Ahmed, a postdoctoral fellow in the discipline of Geography and Environmental Sciences, who completed his PhD at the University of Miyazaki. Tasumi runs a Laboratory for Environmental Planning and Monitoring at the Japanese institution, and conducts research that is focused on management of land and water resources using satellite remote sensing. His background is in agricultural engineering, and research on irrigation and transpiration.

This was Tasumi’s first visit to South Africa, and during his stay he managed to travel with Dr Ahmed to see important catchment areas in the Drakensberg mountain range, as well as fit in visits to Ukulinga Research farm, the Durban coastline and a wildlife nature reserve.

During his time at the University, Tasumi met with a number of academics to explore the potential of future research collaborations to enhance the knowledge around water resource management worldwide.

He also presented at a public seminar for interested staff and students, where he spoke about water and land management using satellite remote sensing. His presentation covered the usefulness of satellite data for areas lacking ground data for environmental planning and management. He made note of the fact that water resources management is of such critical importance that water has the potential to become a site of terrorism in coming decades because of this essential, yet limited, resource’s increasing scarcity.

Tasumi’s presentation provided a valuable opportunity for discussion around the management of water resources and the best methods for conducting research that will contribute to the conservation of water resources. He was also able to gain insight into the state of water resource management in South Africa thanks to his interactions with SAEES researchers working in this field.

Horticultural Science Lecturer Awarded Prize for Poster at New Zealand Conference
Asanda in NZ
Asanda Mditshwa, a lecturer in the discipline of Horticultural Sciences here at UKZN, recently attended the 9th International Commission of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (CIGR) Section VI Technical Symposium held at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand, where the theme for this year was 'Creating Value from Bioresources through Novel Technologies.'

Mditshwa gave an oral and poster presentation, both forming part of his PhD research findings, and won 3rd prize for his poster presentation titled: 'Metabolomic analysis of Granny Smith apples stored in dynamic controlled atmospheres.'

This research is part of Mditshwa’s recently-completed PhD entitled ‘Potential of Dynamic Controlled Atmospheres and Possible Mechanisms in Mitigating Superficial Scald in Apples (cv. Granny Smith)’. His research is aimed at exploring the effectiveness of using controlled storage facilities to eliminate the postharvest physiological condition which causes the browning of the outer layer of the fruit. Since regulations in various places have changed, chemical management solutions for this common problem are largely no longer permitted, making way for the development of more innovative solutions.

Mditshwa said that his results showed promise, indicating that the technology offered by dynamic controlled atmospheres could be useful in mitigating this problem. This would be important for the fruit export industry.

Mditshwa said that the trip to the Symposium was a fruitful one, and described the presentations, particularly those dealing with the prospect of feeding 9 billion people globally by 2050, as thought-provoking.

His trip to the Symposium was generously funded by the Sundays River Citrus Company (SRCC) and the Citrus Academy, as well as the Agricultural Research Council. Mditshwa is a Citrus Academy Bursary student, with the Academy having funded his studies for 6 years.

Mditshwa joined the Horticultural Science discipline at UKZN at the beginning of July, and will graduate with his PhD from Stellenbosch University in December.

African Centre for Food Security Hosts Annual Short Course

Food Security
The African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) at UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences recently hosted its annual short course entitled ‘Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment’ for attendees from throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The course was facilitated by UKZN’s Extended Learning Office and received administrative support from SADC, who also supported the attendance of a number of participants.

Presenters at the course included staff from the ACFS, Dr Joyce Chitja, Dr Unathi Kolanisi and Mr Denver Naidoo, as well as guest presenters Dr Mark Dent, Professor Michael Chimonyo, Dr Maxwell Mudhara, Dr Aidan Senzanje, Professor Graham Jewitt and Dr Alfred Odindo.  On the seventh day of the ten-day course, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Director and Chairman of the Gift of the Givers disaster relief organisation.

Topics covered during the course included the food-land-water nexus, crop and animal production, issues of market access, cross-cutting issues affecting food security such as gender and climate change, rights to food, policy and more. Participants were exposed to a number of concepts and strategic frameworks against which they will be able to measure indicators of food security in order to assess the food security status and livelihoods of people that they work with.

Participants at the course came from throughout the SADC and included attendees from South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other SADC nations. Many work in governmental and non-governmental organisations that are directly involved with combatting food insecurity issues on the ground in their countries, and attended the course hoping to leave equipped with tools and techniques to help them better address these challenges affecting the most vulnerable.

A highlight of the course was the presentation given by Dr Sooliman, whose Gift of the Givers is the largest disaster relief organisation originating from the African continent. His presentation covered his most recent work in the Syrian conflict and he emphasised how critical issues of food insecurity are, particularly in countries affected by war, natural disasters and climate change.

Dr Chitja, Acting Director of the ACFS, said that she hoped that participants would walk away from the course with an enhanced understanding of food security, vulnerability and its indicators in the sub-Saharan region. Additionally, her hope is that the strategies taught in the intensive course would enable participants to initiate continuous, proactive monitoring assessments to manage food insecurity issues through understanding the complexities of the challenges they face.

The course is run annually, and will take place again in late October/early November 2016.

UKZN Researchers Map World's Ancient Plants and Animals

An international team led by Professor Şerban Procheş in the discipline of Geography in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), and including Dr Syd Ramdhani of the School of Life Sciences, has published a study mapping the world’s terrestrial regions that host multiple ancient lineages.
This study, which was published in the prestigious Scientific Reports journal of the Nature Publishing Group, maps the global hotspots in the present-day distribution of ancient animal and plant lineages. These lineages are groups of animals and plants that date back to Cretaceous and Triassic days, approximately 66 million years and 199 million years ago respectively.
This study has important implications for the conservation of the ancient plants and animals it deals with.
‘Among localised lineages of such venerable age is the Welwitschia of Namibia – a shrub with only two leaves that grow continuously for centuries, and New Zealand’s tuatara, a lizard-like creature whose kind has seen dinosaurs come and go,’ said Procheş.
Procheş explained that when the distributions of such lineages are summed up and mapped, interesting patterns emerge. Narrowly-distributed Cretaceous-age lineages are concentrated in several Southern-Hemisphere hotspots, including South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom, but also parts of South America, South-East Asia, and Australia.

Triassic lineages are interesting in that they do not follow the common rule dictating that most species or lineages are to be found in the tropics – many Triassic-age lineages are restricted to North America and temperate Eurasia. Many such animals and plants, after having survived for tens or hundreds of millions of years, are now threatened by anthropogenic changes in the environment, and maps indicating hotspots in their distribution are critical in ensuring their continued survival.


Wells Mountain Foundation Empowerment Through Education Programme

Applications for the Wells Mountain Foundation Empowerment Through Education Programme have opened for next year, and will be open until the first of April 2016. This year, one of UKZN's AERRM students was the first South African to be a recipient of this scholarship

Postgraduate Research Opportunity 2016 - ICFR

Post-Graduate Student (MSc) Research Opportunities at the ICFR 2016
(Bursary Source FP&M SETA – R105 000 for 18 months)
The Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) provides applied forestry research expertise in areas of forest management, risk mitigation, site potential and hardwood breeding. Through integrated and multidisciplinary projects, we generate knowledge and technology outcomes in the form of technical solutions, products and services which support a sustainable and competitive South African forestry sector. The ICFR is the only research organisation conducting research into tree improvement of black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) in South Africa. In addition, we manage the production and distribution of improved black wattle seed. Optimum capture and preservation of the realised genetic gain are therefore among key objectives of the ICFR black wattle tree improvement programme. To satisfy these objectives it is important to understand the gene flow mechanisms; develop reliable seed orchard management strategies as well as vegetative propagation (VP) methods. To support this area of research, the ICFR offers a number of postgraduate study opportunities from 2016. Successful candidates will form part of integrated research teams at the ICFR, working with leading South African Universities including the Universities of Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal.

There are two opportunities in Forest Molecular Genetics conducting a gene flow study in black wattle Production Seed Orchards (PSOs), and one opportunity in Plant Physiology in a study aiming to improving the root-ability of cuttings from adult black wattle trees.
Closing date for application is 24th December 2015
Candidates need to have completed a 4 year/Honours degree to qualify for a Masters programme. For more information contact Dr Michael Bairu at or 033 3862314.
If you are interested in applying to study for any of these projects, please complete the application form and submit with a letter of motivation indicating your expression of interest, and an abbreviated CV, to Karin Nagel at the ICFR (+27 33 386 2314) by 24th December 2015. If you have not heard from the ICFR by 30 January 2016, please consider your application unsuccessful. 


GroundTruth have available 4 vacancies in the following fields of expertise:
1. Aquatic Ecologist
2. Wetland Scientist
3. Biodiversity Specialist
4. Agricultural or Civil Engineering Technician

*Closing Date: 30 December 2015*

Based in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, with an office in the Western Cape, GroundTruth is an award-winning, multidisciplinary environmental consulting company. We have a team of leading scientists and engineers, with a particular focus around water resources and environmental studies. These studies include; Environmental Assessments & Management Planning, Impact Monitoring, Rehabilitation and Biodiversity Conservation Planning.

Minimum requirements for all of the above vacancies:

- Demonstrated academic excellence
· Excellent communication and report writing skills in English;
· Excellent computer literacy;
· Excellent interpersonal and teamwork skills;
· GIS skills and experience;
· A commitment to career development in the environmental sector;
· An articulated interest and passion for environmental issues
· An ability to work independently with minimal to no supervision
· A valid driver’s license

Candidates for the following positions are also required to meet the additional requirements specified:

· Preferably a Masters degree or minimally an Honours in Natural Sciences, incorporating courses in Aquatic Ecology, Zoology, Entomology, Hydrology and Vegetation Ecology;

· Ideally a Masters degree or minimally an Honours degree in Natural Sciences, incorporating courses in Soil Science and Vegetation Ecology;

· Preferably a Masters degree or minimally an Honours degree in either Botany, Zoology and/or Ecology

· Degree / National Diploma or B.Tech in Agricultural or Civil Engineering
· Solid experience in AUTOCAD or an equivalent CAD software package is a prerequisite

(A competitive remuneration package will be offered based on work experience & knowledge)

The following requirements would be beneficial to all preferred candidates:
· SASS 5 Accreditation
· Field-based research & experience
· Good project management skills

Interested candidates to please email a detailed CV and motivational letter to GroundTruth by the 30th December 2015.

If you have not been contacted, within 30 days of the closing date please consider your application unsuccessful.

Enjoy your break over this festive season.

Kind regards,

Christine Cuénod
Networking Facilitator
(w) +27 33 260 6557
(c) +27 83 314 3317

on behalf of

Duncan Stewart
Committee Chairman
(c) +27 82 491 1912

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