School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Ms Zinhle Mhlaba received a Master’s in Crop Science at the UKZN Spring Graduation.

Genetics of Africa’s Important Tepary Bean Crop Explored for MSc Research

Ms Zinhle Mhlaba has graduated with her Master’s in Crop Science for her study that analysed the genetic diversity of tepary bean, an important legume that has shown considerable tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress, and which is useful for human food, animal feed and in intercropping systems.

Tepary bean is widely cultivated in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by smallholder farmers under low-input agricultural systems. Despite its potential economic significance, limited research and development efforts have been directed towards tepary bean improvement and production in SSA, leaving only poorly adapted and low-yielding landrace varieties available for cultivation.

Mhlaba indicated that once promising genotypes for further breeding or selection are identified, the development of high-yielding, genetically-improved tepary bean genotypes with biotic and abiotic stress tolerance could boost productivity of the crop in SSA. The desirable traits Mhlaba was looking for include drought tolerance, an important attribute in the water-scarce region that could minimise loss in production during drought seasons.

Mhlaba also completed her undergraduate and honours degrees at UKZN, and called the Institution her academic home, saying that she appreciated its culture of learning and the exposure she received to interesting research opportunities in the sciences.

During her master’s studies, Mhlaba became a wife and a mother while also working. She said that she found strength in God to balance these responsibilities and conclude her degree. Having pursued her studies in an academically-demanding field, Mhlaba hopes that the knowledge and skills she has gained will open up more opportunities in the agricultural and scientific sectors. She hopes to be able to work and conduct research in agriculture, ideally progressing to PhD studies in the future.

Mhlaba thanked her friends and family for their support during her studies, and extended special thanks to her supervisor, Professor Hussein Shimelis, her mother Mrs TC Mhlaba and her husband, Mr EX Mtshali.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied