School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Postharvest Physiologist Recognised by National Future Professors Programme

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Dr Asanda Mditshwa from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) has been selected to participate in the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) Future Professors Programme (FPP) in recognition of his potential as an up-and-coming academic leader in the field of Horticultural Science.

Nominated by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) in response to a national call for nominees, Mditshwa’s selection identifies him as among South Africa’s most talented academics. The FFP will provide selected academics with a structured, intense programme to accelerate their journey to professorship, thereby strengthening leadership in South African Higher Education.

Mditshwa’s commitment to advancing scholarship through his scholarly work, his creativity, novelty and productivity, willingness to learn, and his resilience and openness to collaboration made him stand out in the selection process.

‘I feel very excited and honoured to be selected as one of the most talented young academics in South Africa. This is a great affirmation, especially knowing that South African Higher Education Institutions have many talented young people,’ he said.

Exposed to the challenges facing the fresh produce industry through Citrus Academy workshops and conferences during his undergraduate studies at the University of Fort Hare, Mditshwa was inspired to pursue an academic career in postharvest physiology, aiming to develop and test technologies to reduce food losses while teaching and mentoring the next generation of scientists to help navigate pressing challenges in the agricultural industry.

He joined UKZN more than six years ago, where he had completed his MScAgric in 2011, followed by a PhD in Horticultural Science through Stellenbosch University. This year, he graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education from UKZN with distinction.

Mditshwa’s research focuses on novel and non-chemical postharvest treatments for fresh produce to combatthe loss of quality during postharvest handling, a major challenge in the global food industry that results in the loss of more than 30% of food harvested. With chemical treatments the current standard, Mditshwa is interested in alternatives that will not pose the same threats to humans and the environment.

With a Y2 rating from the NRF, Mditshwa has 63 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters to his name, and has supervised 14 postgraduate students to completion, with a further 12 master’s and PhD students under his supervision. He is also a review editor and board member of the Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems journal.

His academic success has been enabled by the support of his family, particularly his wife Amanda. He also credited his colleagues in the SAEES, especially Professors Lembe Magwaza and Samson Tesfay for welcoming him to the University, mentoring him, and cultivating an environment that empowered him to excel.

‘Congratulations on your achievements,’ said Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the CAES Professor Albert Modi. ‘You have made us proud as a College; keep up the fabulous work with the assurance of our support all the way.’

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied