School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Agricultural Economics PhD Graduate Sets Records at UKZN

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Dr Lerato Phali is celebrating completing her PhD in Agricultural Economics as the youngest doctoral graduate in the subject at UKZN and being only the second Black South African PhD graduate in Agricultural Economics at the University.

‘I am so proud that I am the youngest and only the second Black South African Agricultural Economics PhD graduate at the University,’ said Phali. ‘It really does show that we need more of our local talent in academia and I am willing to work hard to ensure that happens.’

Focusing on water economics and governance, Phali’s study was funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC) and involved an evaluation of institutional integration, water user participation and performance in irrigation schemes in KwaZulu-Natal.

Supervised by Professor Maxwell Mudhara and Professor Stuart Ferrer, her work aimed to expand knowledge on efficient management and sustainable and equitable use of water resources in the context of climate change and water scarcity.

‘This research used a multi-disciplinary approach in addressing issues that rural communities face and took a deeper look at how policy can be reformed to address them,’ said Phali. ‘This is important because South African legislature and policies are considered to be very good compared to other developing countries but the implementation is not efficient.’

Focusing on where issues lie in implementation, from policy level to on the ground challenges, Phali sought to contribute to solutions to improve the effectiveness of policies and the improvement of rural farmers’ access to water resources for irrigation of their produce.

Now a lecturer and researcher in agricultural economics at the University of Pretoria, Phali was drawn to the subject because of its status as a management science, with concepts applicable to most spheres of key sectors in the developing world.

‘It is not just “agriculture”, but knowing how we can see value from our “agriculture” to improve livelihoods,’ she said.

During her studies, Phali was selected as a Young Agricultural Professionals Program Fellow, one of only two South Africans selected for the programme which incorporated a study tour in the United States where she visited Cornell University, the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services.

She also presented her research at international conferences, and participated in a one-year research fellowship at the University of Foggia in Italy.

‘The most important highlight of my studies was working with rural communities and witnessing how much lives can be improved with the right match of development policy and implementation,’ said Phali. ‘There is still so much to be done and I can’t wait to be part of it.’

Phali wants to continue making contributions to academia and contribute towards policy advisory by undertaking more development research.

She thanked Mudhara and Ferrer for their guidance throughout her studies, the WRC for funding her research, and the University of Foggia Agricultural and Food Economics Group for the opportunity to learn from them.

Words:Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied