School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Ms Busile Lukhele’s passion for food security has earned her a Master’s degree.

Swazi Teacher’s Master’s Explores Digital Technology for Enhanced Food Security

Ms Busile Lukhele’s Master’s in Food Security is a celebration not only because the high school agriculture teacher from Eswatini overcame starting her studies during the COVID-19 pandemic and extended delays to her field research but because it brings her closer to her goal of improving food security for those from poverty-stricken backgrounds.

Born in the poverty-stricken rural area of Nhlangano in Eswatini, Lukhele realised that anybody could find themselves trapped in scarcity and lose access to a basic need: food. Interested in exploring how food insecurity affects the most marginalised and what interventions can support those suffering, she enrolled for a Postgraduate Diploma in Food Security at UKZN in 2020.

Lukhele attended St Michaels High School and then completed her undergraduate degree in Agriculture Education at the University of Eswatini in 2015.

She was attracted to UKZN because of its excellent research performance and reputation and chose to enrol for a postgraduate diploma. She was impressed by the support provided by administrators, academic staff and other university officials. She also enjoyed meeting students from diverse backgrounds who shared a common goal of excellence.

Lukhele did well during her studies, earning the Lima Rural Development Award for the top student in the Postgraduate Diploma in Food Security and being awarded funding from the Water Research Commission (WRC) to pursue her master’s degree.

Her master’s research, supervised by Professor Joyce Chitja, explored the influence of digital technology on market access and household food security among smallholder vegetable farmers at Ntfonjeni and Sidvokodvo communities in Eswatini.

The intensification of digital technology in the agriculture sector intrigued Lukhele, and she wanted to investigate whether smallholder vegetable farmers were aware of digital agricultural technologies and whether they incorporated them when marketing their vegetables.

‘Smallholder farming plays a fundamental role in household food security, especially in sub-Saharan countries,’ said Lukhele. ‘Even though challenges including market access and participation often face smallholder farmers, the use of digital technology can be one technique that can assist in reducing these market barriers.’

Maintaining perspective was essential for Lukhele to succeed in her studies – she sacrificed a lot of her leisure time, using time management principles and a rigorous schedule to stay on track. The discipline of prayer during challenging times restored her confidence and boosted her resilience. Lukhele also relied on positive emotional support from her family and friends.

Lukhele was able to present her research at UKZN’s Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium in 2023, and despite beginning her project during the COVID-19 pandemic, she was able to overcome the uncertainty and anxiety that characterised this period with the support and flexibility from her supervisor and the funding support from the WRC.

‘Her dedication was exemplary,’ said Chitja. ‘Despite extended delays during her field research, she remained committed and received a pleasing final mark for her dissertation.’

With her master’s complete, Lukhele is continuing to teach Agriculture at the high school level and hopes to expand her career in food security with a PhD in her sights.

She thanked Chitja for her academic and financial support and her family and friends for their emotional support.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini