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1 November 2017
Hello friends and alumni

We're excited to share some news from Agric from the past month or two, and hope you enjoy reading through it and finding opportunities to engage with your alma mater.


September Graduations

The University hosted its first Spring graduation in September this year; a total of 1 503 graduands - 58% of whom were women - were capped and hooded. More than 500 of degrees conferred were awarded to postgraduate students. This graduation ceremony allowed those who completed their studies between April and August 2017 to graduate and move onto their careers without having to wait for the 2018 graduation ceremonies.

We're sharing some stories from research undertaken by graduands that will be of interest to our agricultural friends and alumni.

Some Black Schoolboys Prefer Larger Women – Study Finding

Gcina Manyathi

Photograph by: Abhi Indrarajan

Research into what urban Black boys at high schools prefer when it comes to the body size of women earned a UKZN student a Master of Science in Dietetics degree.

Ms Primrose Gcinani Manyathi aimed to establish what role such preferences have with regard to the high prevalence of obesity among urban Black South African women.

Manyathi examined the preferences of boys when their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and future wives were involved, identifying the Body Mass Index (BMI) that represents these choices.

‘The causes of obesity are complex and interrelated,’ said Manyathi. ‘Though some of the causes have been researched in South Africa, not enough researchers have looked at how the Black male preference for particular female body shapes influence this prevalence.’

Her findings indicated that urban Black boys at high schools preferred a normal BMI for their sisters for health reasons, but that changed for a girlfriend and/or future wife where the choice was for ‘a normal weight to an overweight shape’ with sex appeal being cited as the predominant reason for this.

Boys from one school studied preferred their mothers to have a normal BMI as it symbolised health, while scholars from another school preferred their mothers to be obese as they thought that was a healthy shape.

Manyathi says the results require further investigation among Black men during later stages of their lives to get the full picture of body size preferences.

Manyathi, who has always been interested in science and food, attended Vryheid Comprehensive Secondary School. She enrolled in UKZN’s Science Foundation Programme, which, she said, gave her insight into how the University functioned before she was fully accepted into the Dietetics programme.

She appreciated the many programmes UKZN had to help students from different backgrounds, as they were vital in helping those willing to do their part and work hard.

Manyathi thanked God for providing her with parents who strongly believed in sending their daughters to school, and for giving her sisters she could look up to - two of whom have Master’s degrees in different disciplines. She also thanked her supportive and objective supervisor, Dr Susanna Kassier.

‘Last, but not least, I want to thank UKZN for giving me the amazing opportunity to study,’ said Manyathi, who aims to go on to do a PhD in Food Security next year.

MSc Graduate Tests Sugarcane Crop Model’s Mimicry Abilities

Natalie Hoffman

Photograph by: Abhi Indrarajan

Ms Natalie Hoffman concentrated her Masters research on the Canegro sugarcane crop model, working to assess how well it can imitate genetic, environmental and management (GxExM) interactions.

The better it can do this, the more potential it has to aid crop improvement for sugarcane in a drought-stricken and water-scarce environment.

Hoffman completed a BSc Honours in Chemical, Molecular and Cellular Sciences at the University of Cape Town. A bursary from the South African Sugarcane Research Institute brought her to UKZN where Dr Abraham Singels and Dr Alana Patton, who she credits for their enormous support in getting her through her studies, supervised her research.

The research incorporated aspects of genetics and plant physiology, tying in well with Hoffman’s study background as well as presenting the challenging and novel research arena of crop modelling.

Hoffman explained that the Canegro sugarcane crop model predicts crop growth and yield by simulating plant processes that are regulated by genetic traits and driven by environmental variables.

‘The model is used extensively in research and management but its ability to mimic these interactions has not been assessed, mainly because of the lack of reliable genetic trait parameter values for most varieties,’ said Hoffman.

The outcomes of Hoffman’s study are reliable trait parameter values for selected genotypes and a better understanding of the impact of selected traits on genotype performance for a given environment.

Hoffman’s research will be used in crop model improvement as well as in high-throughput phenotyping to assist plant breeding to develop drought-tolerant sugarcane, for example using drone aerial imagery for crop improvement.

This research has lent itself to further studies – Hoffman is registered as a full-time PhD student at UKZN investigating high-throughput phenotyping to assist breeding for drought tolerant sugarcane.

During her studies, she received travel grants from the South African Society of Crop Production in 2015 and 2017 to attend the interdisciplinary workshop on merging crop modeling and genetics at the University of Florida and the High-Throughput Phenotyping Workshop at the University of Arizona. She is the recipient of a study grant from the National Research Foundation (NRF) Professional Development Programme (PDP) for her PhD studies.

Chickens Home to Roost for Poultry Specialist

Franscois Crots

Photograph by: Abhi Indrarajan

The Technical and Sales Director for AFGRI Animal Feeds, Dr Franscois Crots, graduated with a PhD for his research to establish the optimum energy to total Lysine rations for broiler chickens from a day old to 35 days old.

Crots’s work produced highly valuable regressions that can be applied commercially.

Crots, who received his BSc Agriculture degree from the University of the Free State (UFS) and his Masters from Stellenbosch University, grew up on a farm near Kroonstad in the Free State.

During his undergraduate studies, he spent a semester at Virginia Tech University in the United States, where a visit to the vertically integrated broiler system at Tyson’s Foods sparked a passion for the poultry sector.

After completing his Masters, Crots worked as a technical advisor and nutritionist for Meadow Feeds before pursuing an MBA at UFS under Agricultural Economist Professor Johan Willemse better to understand the business side of the industry. He later worked for Evonik Industries and Country Bird.

He enrolled for his PhD in Poultry Science at UKZN to expand his knowledge of broiler nutrition. He lauded the University for its supportive study leaders, well-run research facilities, an excellent library and beautiful surroundings.

‘UKZN has produced some of the best monogastric nutritionists in South Africa, and some of the leading nutritionists in the world have roots at UKZN,’ said Crots.

‘The world of poultry nutrition is highly specialised. Feed rations are precisely calculated to ensure the birds produce the most economical kilogram of meat to feed the growing population.’

Crots aimed to equip commercial nutritionists with a set of regressions to help them design feeding specifications to formulate the most economical feeds, which need to be adjusted to support these modern bird breeds and their nutritional requirements.

He says the poultry market is going to increase in terms of what is consumed leading to increased competition for market share.

‘The question therefore for commercial nutritionists is not if poultry meat will be consumed, but rather will broilers be fed on my feed formulation? My desire was to design a practical tool that can assist me to formulate differentiated broiler rations that will ensure career sustainability.’

Crots is currently responsible for drafting poultry and pig specifications for AFGRI’s six feed mills countrywide and ensuring that the sales team present the market with value-enhancing, competitive products.

The close alignment between his work and studies helped him balance both responsibilities. He also noted the importance of selecting the best university with superior facilities and perhaps even more important, selecting the best supervisor for one’s speciality.

‘I have been very fortunate to have Dr Mariana Ciacciariello as my mentor, friend and devoted supporter, who made this study possible,’ he said. ‘Dr Ciacciariello went out of her way to help me to get funding in place to ensure that my dream of obtaining my PhD would be achieved.’

Research on Timber Genotypes for Chemical Pulping Scores Doctorate for Lecturer

Oliver Bodhlyera

Photograph by: Abhi Indrarajan

A Lecturer in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), Dr Oliver Bodhlyera, has graduated with his PhD in Statistics after conducting a study on the development of statistical models for optimally sorting raw materials for processing, specifically timber genotypes for chemical pulping.

To conduct his research, Bodhlyera statistically sorted timber genotypes into compatible groups able to be chemically pulped together. He used four related statistical methods to sort the materials and successfully developed a materials mixing criterion and identified timber genotypes that can be mixed optimally during chemical pulping.

‘This is a statistical look at chemical processes, with a view to optimising the mixing of different raw materials that feed into such processes,’ said Bodhlyera.

The research findings, he believes, can help in the production of products with consistent quality, even when made from raw materials obtained from varying sources.

Bodhlyera, originally from Mutare in Zimbabwe, has been at UKZN since 2008, drawn to the Institution because of its reputation for academic excellence.

He completed his undergraduate and Honours degrees at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), working as a high school mathematics teacher for a time before becoming a teaching assistant at UZ. He then completed his Master’s degree in Statistics and Operational Research at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom in 1997 before returning to Zimbabwe where he lectured at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo until 2007. Bodhlyera was at the University of Fort Hare for a short time before joining UKZN.

Bodhlyera said he enjoyed the vibrancy of UKZN’s well-resourced academic activities grounded by well-established management systems and well-defined principles and goals. Bodhlyera has also enjoyed the hospitability of the Pietermaritzburg community.

He credited staff in the Discipline of Statistics at UKZN for their support, particularly Professor Delia North for ensuring that he settled in well, and his supervisors Professor Temesgen Zewotir and Professor Shaun Ramroop, who helped shape his study, based partly on Zewotir’s work. He credited his supervisors for providing guidance and moderation and also thanked Dr Viren Chunilall at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Forestry Products Research Unit in Durban for assistance with data generation.

Masters Research Shines Spotlight on Sugar Mill Operational Efficiencies

Phyllis Kwenda

Photograph by: Abhi Indrarajan

The future is bright for Ms Phyllis Kwenda who graduated with a Master of Science degree in Bioresource Systems from UKZN.

Supervised by Dr Gareth Lagerwall, Kwanda worked on a research project titled: Systems Analysis of Operational Efficiencies at Mhlume Sugar Mill Using Milling Season Modelling Approaches. Her research aimed to test the applicability of the LOMZI model for risk management and decision making at a sugarcane milling area in Swaziland.

‘With the milling area currently operating at a capacity of 70%, this information points out that optimising production at the milling area entails deeper research to identify other important issues crippling productivity,’ said Kwenda.

Whilst studying for her BSc Honours degree in Microbiology, Kwenda researched the response of two Saccharomyces Cerevisiae strains – one of which was unknown – to different concentrations of ethanol. This research motivated her to choose a related project for her Masters research as she had an interest in biofuel production. ‘The postgraduate degree in Bioresource Systems gave me an opportunity to combine biotechnology and engineering skills to help optimise productivity at a sugarcane milling area,’ she said.

Kwenda said pursuing her Master’s degree was the greatest challenge in her academic life because she had to learn a lot of new things such as computer modelling and using various statistical packages to analyse data – all of which she had no prior experience in since she came from a biotechnology background.

Nevertheless she advised aspiring bioresource students that the pain was worth it.  ‘Stretch your mind and realise your full potential,’ she said.  ‘Perseverance will make you achieve things you never thought you would, things you never knew your mind was capable of processing.’

Kwenda had a word of advice for her fellow students:  ‘Supervisors might not know everything but they certainly know way more than you do,’ she said. ‘This means you need a good supervisor in order to complete your studies successfully.’

Kwenda’s role model is her father as she admires his hard work and determination. ‘With God and strength of mind anyone can reach the stars,’ she said. ‘This is what motivates me to leave a significant mark in the world of Science.’

Kwenda intends to pursue a PhD in Biotechnology and wants to work on a project that has to do with quality assurance, optimising the quality of products in the sugar or any other related food industry.

Words by: Manqoba Hadebe


Top 30 Researchers at UKZN

Onisimo Mutanga
Albert Modi
In September, the University of KwaZulu-Natal congratulated its top performing researchers for 2016. UKZN has consistently ranked as one of the Top 2 universities nationally by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DoHET).

Among the top 30 published researchers were Professor Hussein Shimelis (SASRI Chair of Crop Science), Professor Onisimo Mutanga (Acting Dean and Head of SAEES, Geography), Professor Mark Laing (Plant Pathology & African Centre for Crop Improvement), Professor Albert Modi (Acting DVC for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, and Crop Science), all from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES)

The University also recognised its top performing young researchers (40 years and younger) for their exceptional performances. Featuring in the Top 10 Young Published Researchers for 2016 was Professor Andrew Green of Geology in SAEES.

Featuring in the Top 10 Published Students for 2016 was Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, Research Associate at SAEES.

UKZN-North Dakota Academics Survey South African Opinions on Fracking

Bakken wheat
UKZN’s Professor Kevin Kirkman and NDSU graduate student Jonathan Spiess discussing dust impacts in a wheat field in the Bakken

Devan McGranahan, Assistant Professor of Range Science at North Dakota State University (NDSU) recently visited KwaZulu-Natal and convened focus groups with community members, landowners, interested parties, environmental activists, tourism bodies and community leaders to survey opinions on the issue of fracking. The survey is open to anyone with opinions on fracking in South Africa.

McGranahan's interest in the issue of fracking and how it could affect South Africa was sparked by his work in North Dakota close to the Bakken oil patch

McGranahan spent time in 2013/14 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) as a Fulbright Scholar and National Research Foundation (NRF) postdoctoral research fellow.

Collaborations with UKZN's Professor Kevin Kirkman and a joint visit to the Bakken in 2016 prompted discussion of similarities and differences between North Dakota's fracking industry and aftermath, and proposed fracking in South Africa.

Frack-Free SA assisted with convening the focus groups held by McGranahan in Utrecht, Dundee, Matatiele and Pietermaritzburg, with Kwanalu hosting one group. McGranahan encouraged participants to consider the possible impacts of fracking and raise awareness about what needs to be done should it go ahead.

'I was interested in speaking about fracking because of the concerns around unconventional energy,' said McGranahan. 'It's important to identify what the local community does and doesn't know.'

'We want to apply lessons learnt in North Dakota by asking what we can take from research there to be proactive in South Africa,' said McGranahan. 'This will help identify what landowners and communities should be prepared for if it goes ahead; the impact on people will be hard to manage.'

McGranahan said that while entertaining the possibility that fracking could take place is unpalatable to those resisting; affected parties should prepare for that eventuality. He encouraged focus not only on the effects on sub-surface elements like water resources, but also on spatial effects on landscapes, roads, pipelines and electricity, as well as the handling of materials and disposal of toxic by-products. He alluded to the social issues that accompany fracking, including constrained resources, increased crime as a result of influx of people into mining areas, a lack of schools and human trafficking.

He said concern about the environmental impact depends on the geology of the area and its conduciveness to unconventional energy development without damaging sub-surface reserves.

McGranahan will present reports and academic articles using results of the survey to give policy makers and non-governmental organisations a stable reference as to opinions on the issue.

He emphasised the need for relationship building between any mining interests and farmers to relieve tension, establish trust, and foster productive information sharing. McGranahan noted that South Africa will have the full spectrum of landowners to consider, including reserves, state land, traditional authorities, and private land, to name a few.

McGranahan has been involved in NDSU research on the effects of dust from roads related to the oil industry on surrounding crops and grazing lands. The project involved socio-ecological work and a collaboration with Meghan Kirkwood in NDSU's Department of Visual Arts on the publication of landscape photography to illustrate the impacts of the oil and gas industry.

Fountainhill Estate Symposium Celebrates UKZN Research

Mr Duncan Hay, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Professor Albert Modi and Mr Konrad Taeuber at the Symposium

Fountainhill Estate (FHE) recently hosted its annual two-day research symposium to disseminate the findings and purpose behind research being conducted at the Estate, which avails its facilities to the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) for the purpose of research.

Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UKZN, presented a keynote address to open the event.

Van Jaarsveld told the story of Dr Stephen Jay Gould, an American scientist diagnosed with terminal cancer who approached his diagnosis and the accompanying dire statistical prognosis to reveal that terms like ‘median’ are simply abstractions.

Using lessons from Gould, van Jaarsveld counselled scientists and practitioners present that their conservation work in biodiversity and their outlook should not be limited by statistical abstractions.

‘You can quite easily place yourself at the far right of any [statistical] distribution by thinking and implementing best practices, and making sure that you don’t succumb to mediocrity, but stretch yourself beyond the statistical mean,’ he said.

In the context of conservation, van Jaarsveld advised that scientists keep in mind the variance in the reality, and look for the exceptions and outliers.

‘Think about a system in its fullest context, understand the variance and variety, because therein lies opportunity,’ said van Jaarsveld.

FHE manager Mr Edwin Gevers thanked the T&T board for allowing Fountainhill to be used as a facility and a base for research.

‘What we’re doing here is to get that research to be presented on this platform, as well as looking at research that’s applicable to our uMngeni catchment,’ said Gevers.

‘Thank you to the participants, and particularly the presenters, for their considerable involvement, research endeavours and enthusiasm today,’ said Mr Konrad Taeuber of T&T.

‘We hope through this to make better sense of our ecological interdependence, and through our various Symposia, better understanding,’ said Taeuber.

Taeuber said he saw work at FHE as holistic and striving to embrace multiple facets. This broadens understanding through practical activity, and enhances awareness to improve chances of realising sustainable balances for an equitable future for all in the ecosystem.

The themes of the two days focused on conservation of the Umgeni River, and the inter-relationship between the bio-diversity of catchment ecology and the importance of preserving it for sustainability. There were presentations from academics, students, professional scientists and amateurs.

Research leaders Professors Graham Jewitt, Colleen Downs and Trevor Hill closed proceedings by thanking Fountainhill Estate for the unique research sites and opportunities made available to their students. They noted the importance of collecting baseline data to monitor change, cultivating relationships between researchers and amateurs, and creating space for students to develop a love for fieldwork.

‘Watching the very rapid development of the relationship between Fountainhill and UKZN has been a revelation,’ said Mr Duncan Hay of the Institute of Natural Resources (INR). He credited Gevers for ensuring the operational impetus behind the collaborations.

DTI Promotes Entrepreneurial Mindset to Student Leaders

AESS seminar
From left: Ms Patience Motokolo, Mr Wiseman Myeni (DTI) and Ms Nosisa Zaca

On 6 September 2017, student leaders from BMF, Enactus and CDA attended a capacity building workshop that aimed at encouraging young people to think about entrepreneurship as an alternative to just looking for employment after completing their degrees. The workshop was organized by Agriculture Economics Student Society (AESS) and was presented by Mr Wiseman Myeni from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Mr Myeni spoke about programmes that DTI offers to businesses like the Agro-processing support scheme (APSS) and support programmes for industrial innovation (SPII).
The main focus of the APSS is to develop businesses that can uplift the rural areas since they are the most food insecure and the unemployment is high. It encourages the sourcing of inputs from black owned businesses that were previously disadvantaged.
The main focus of the SPII is to encourage product development ideas like modernizing indigenous or traditional foods such as snacks from Mopani worms, juices, spices from herbs such as moringa etc.
Moreover, he cautioned students not to approach business with a hand-out mentality whereby students will only depend only on government funding or grants to start their businesses. He encouraged students to think about ways the township and rural economy could be developed to be inclusive of poor people. 
After the workshop, student leaders got a chance to engage with Mr Myeni about the ideas that they have and wish to pursue in future. In closing, student leaders were encouraged to share the information they received from the workshop with their members.
AESS aims to link students with workplace opportunities and to equip them with skills to be able to start their own businesses. AESS shares scholarships and job opportunities on its Facebook page and organises seminars for students.

- Lungelo Cele
Visiting Researcher Explores Legal Geographies & Social Justice
Louise Sarsfield-Collins
Ms Louise Sarsfield Collins, a PhD candidate at Maynooth University in Ireland, is in South Africa for six months as part of her research and data collection for her work on the legal geographies of LGBTIQ people in post-colonial states and subsequent sites of vulnerability and resistance.

During her visit, Sarsfield Collins presented a lecture entitled 'Legal Geographies and Social Justice’ in UKZN's discipline of Geography in Pietermaritzburg.

Her lecture covered an examination of the notion of law, querying what it is and speaking about geographers troubling the notion of the law being natural and neutral. She noted that law and space are co-constitutive, and raised the separation of private and public spaces in the application of the law.

Sarsfield Collins described a case study style of work in legal geography, and pointed to theorists including David Delaney whose theories including concepts like the nomosphere (or how laws are made material), have influenced legal geographies. She touched on terms including heteropatriarchy, and subversive property theorised by Sarah Keenan.

Sarsfield Collins noted that law is not limited to foundational documents, but concerns how it is implemented. Examples from South Africa include the inclusion of traditional laws and societal norms.

‘My concern is that laws and norms are internalised so that social injustice (and other more banal things) come to be viewed as natural, as simply the way things are, without understanding the processes that make this happen,’ said Sarsfield Collins.

She used case study examples such as access to abortions in Ireland and the laws and politics influencing this case, and how legal geographies and space were used to challenge relevant laws.

Speaking about queering legal geographies, Sarsfield Collins brought the focus to her work in South Africa.

'I want to bring these strands of human geography (legal geography and queer geography) into conversation with each other so that we might better understand the spatio-socio-legal processes of the heteropatriarchy and smash it,' said Sarsfield Collins.

Sarsfield Collins praised the South African Constitution for its human rights protections, but noted that hate crimes and everyday harassment against LGBTIQ people in particular are still a problem.

'I'm trying to understand ways in which the law has not yet been made material and become grounded in everyday norms and experience in South Africa,' said Sarsfield Collins.

Sarsfield Collins’ early findings have included focus on issues of class and socio-economic divides, as well as a rural-urban divide.

Sarsfield Collins touched on the National Strategic Plan for 2017-2022 in terms of HIV, STIs and TB. She indicated that queer-friendly medical spaces would be important, and highlighted the role of the church in opening up spaces for dialogue.

Sarsfield Collins is utilising qualitative research methods, including semi-structured interviews, archival work and field observations. She noted her position as an outsider with its advantages and disadvantages, and highlighted her focus on under-researched places in terms of queer and legal geographies in the country.

Sarsfield Collins acknowledged the Irish Research Council and Maynooth University for support for her research.

Promising Maize Biocontrol Research Presented in Japan

Admire - Japan Conference
PhD candidate in Plant Breeding, Mr Admire Shayanowako, recently travelled to Japan to present at the 26th Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society Conference on research on the integration of breeding and biocontrol in the control of a parasitic weed called Striga asiatica that affects the yield of maize in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the event, Shayanowako presented part of his PhD research that involves the identification of varieties of maize that are resistant to Striga asiatica, commonly known as witchweed.

The weed presents an enormous problem, particularly for small-scale communal farmers working with poor quality soil where witchweed thrives. Communal enterprises are often relegated to areas with sandy soils and soil improvement schemes would prove too lengthy to implement, making improving host resistance a preferable, more sustainable solution.

Two species of Striga affect maize in southern Africa, and one plant produces as many as 500 000 seeds that remain viable in the soil for 10 years. Resulting yield losses that can reach as high as 60% lead to food and income insecurity.

Shayanowako is working to identify resistance in maize that has naturally accumulated through breeding, and then boost those resistant genotypes by using a biocontrol agent called Fusarium oxysporum fsp. strigae.

Fusarium oxysporum is an endophytic fungus, applied as a seed coat, that grows with the roots of the host and suppresses emergence of the parasite, as well as causing disease symptoms on the parasite if it manages to attach,’ explained Shayanowako. ‘It is host-specific in its virulence to the parasite.’

Shayanowako added that some genotypes are more compatible with the biocontrol than others. He is working to identify genotypes that demonstrate this synergistic resistance with the biocontrol, and then increase frequency of their resistance by recurrent selection. Resistance will mean fewer attachments of the parasite, or that it will tolerate attachments and still produce a high yield.

Shayanowako, supervised by Professor Hussein Shimelis and Professor Mark Laing, is conducting research in South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the aim of releasing open pollinated varieties or hybrid cultivars to farmers. He is successfully finding some local genotypes with considerable resistance that can be improved.

The presentation in Japan was well received, given the challenges of parasitic weeds affecting dominant legume crops in Asia. Responses included questions about how Shayanowako is mass-producing his biocontrol agent and how frequently resistance is being identified.

He was able to attend the conference thanks to a National Research Foundation travel grant and funding from UKZN’s Research Office. His research is supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) providing some of the germplasm for the work.

Shayanowako completed undergraduate and Masters studies at the Africa University in Zimbabwe, coming to UKZN for his PhD studies after discussions with Laing about the biocontrol of parasites at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Zimbabwe where Shayanowako worked for a time.
Hydrology Research Proposal Presentations
Towards the end of the academic calendar, final year and postgraduate classes hold seminars and presentation sessions where students have the opportunity to present their work to staff, supervisors and peers to help them hone their presentation skills and receive input on their work. The Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) hosted one such session in September where some of their Masters students presented their work.

'These sessions are important for consolidation of research, to get feedback and to present to one's peers,' said Professor Graham Jewitt.

Ms Tasmiyah Peerbahi presented on her work on An 'assessment of the estimation of actual evapotranspiration and streamflow with the use of satellite derived reference ET in the ACRU model'. She noted that the estimation of ET is vital, especially in countries like South Africa, and covered her work on remote sensing as an unconventional data collection method for ET.

Ms Nomcebo Myeza spoke about modelling water flows in the Limpopo North Water Management Area (WMA). This work is part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project. The work involves examining changing land use scenarios, looking at the impact of mining on water quality and quantity. Myeza also detailed verification studies done using the ACRU model.

Closing off the session was Mr Jeremy Moonsamy, who spoke about his work deriving crop coefficients for the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) (2012) vegetation clusters. This is part of a WRC baseline project, and involves defining and refining hydrological modelling parameters, evapotranspiration and water use coefficients, and application of the FAO 56 Penman-Monteith method. The project's aims are to group 450 spatial units for SANBI's 128 vegetation clusters, and to determine the water use parameters for these vegetation clusters


Ndumiso Ngidi
Mr Ndumiso Ngidi, a UKZN alumnus and currently also a PhD candidate, joined the staff in Human Geography at UKZN at the beginning of October 2017 as a lecturer.

Ngidi is originally from KwaMashu, and pursued all of his university studies at UKZN's Howard College campus, beginning in Media and Cultural Studies and going on to a Masters in Development Studies, which he completed in 2012.

Ngidi is completing his PhD in the field of Education; the focus of his research is the geographies and ecologies of sexual violence. He is working with adolescents in township and rural areas in co-ed schools. He is examining space and violence and the creation of safe spaces, questioning why some spaces are prone to violence and how this can be changed.

His approach involves visual research, a relatively new field in which research is conducted in an observatory, participatory manner. Ngidi says this approach helps research participants feel empowered and own the data that they produce, an important facet given the focus of his own research. His study participants use tools like PhotoVoiceCellphilm and participatory drawing. Use of these tools would involve, for example, a participant taking a photo of an unsafe space and describing it. The research process also involves participants speaking back to the visuals and descriptions, and identifying alternative narratives to affect change. This approach humanises those involved, and has already resulted in the formation of a safety group at a school he is working with; the teenagers involved are using the material produced to educate their peers and educators about sexual violence and (un)safe spaces.

Before coming to work at his alma mater, Ngidi spent a year working with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in Sweetwaters, Pietermaritzburg as a researcher. Before that, he worked at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) in Durban as a student development practitioner. Ngidi lives in Pietermaritzburg with his partner and son.

Ngidi is passionate about working with young people, especially to teach them how to lead, both themselves and their communities. His teaching approach is based on transformative pedagogy to empower students in their own education. He is hoping to design his own modules on queer and feminist geography, and on violence and space, as well as on research methods.


2018 Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program for South Africa

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is pleased to announce the 2018 Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program (Borlaug Fellowship Program) for South Africa.

The Borlaug Fellowship Program promotes agricultural productivity, food security, and economic growth through collaborative research. The program offers training for agricultural research, international agricultural economics, leadership, and agricultural policy to researchers and faculty in South Africa.

Competitively selected Fellows will work one‐on‐one with a U.S. mentor who will coordinate the training program. After completion of the 10‐12 week fellowship, the mentor will visit the Fellow's home institution to continue collaboration on the research topic. USDA will select U.S. host institutions and mentors for each fellow.

The 2018 Borlaug Fellowship Program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
The application deadline for the 2018 Borlaug Fellowship Program for South Africa is November 5, 2017.

  • Provide early to mid‐career agricultural economists, research scientists, faculty, and policymakers with one‐on‐one training opportunities in the fields of agricultural policy and research (see acceptable research areas below).
  • Provide agricultural economists, research scientists, faculty, and policymakers with practical experience and exposure to novel perspectives and/or new technologies that can be applied in their home institutions.
  • Foster collaboration and networking to improve agricultural productivity and trade.
  • Facilitate the transfer of new economic, scientific, and agricultural technologies to strengthen agricultural practices.
  • Address obstacles to the adoption of technology such as ineffectual policies and regulations.
Research Topics
  • Animal Health/Breeding and Genetics: to research livestock genetics topics such as animal breeding and reproduction, animal genomics, and animal genetics managements, and others
  • Biotechnology: to expand the applications of agricultural biotechnology, such as the developing improved food crop varieties, plant genetics, genome engineering and technologies, and biosecurity/SPS issues related to new technologies, and others
  • Plant Health: to research integrated pest management for Fall Armyworm
Length of Fellowships
Fellowships last between 10‐12 weeks. All program proposals must include goals that are achievable within that timeframe. Fellowships can begin as early as August 2018 or as late as the summer of 2019.

After completing the U.S.‐based portion of the fellowship, the mentor will visit the Fellow’s home institution approximately one year after the U.S. portion of the training.

Eligibility Requirements
Candidates will be evaluated, interviewed, and selected based on the following criteria:
  • Citizen of South Africa.
  • Good reading, writing, and speaking skills in English language.
  • Master’s degree or higher with at least two years’ of practical experience (minimum).
  • Currently employed by a university, government ministry, research institution, or other scientific institution.
  • Intention to continue working in the home country for a minimum of two years following the return from the United States.
  • Early/mid‐stage of professional career (2‐10 years of experience preferred; candidates with more than 15 years of experience are weakly competitive; candidates with 20 years or more experience will not be considered).
  • Proposal directly related to one of the listed research areas.
Application Requirements
Eligible candidates must submit an application using the Fluid Review application website no later than November 5, 2017.

Applicants must submit the following documents
to complete an application:
  • Application form (using Fluid Review website). Proposals submitted by email will not be considered.
  • Program proposal and research action plan
  • Signed approval from applicant's home institution
  • Two letters of recommendation (academic and professional preferred)
  • Copies of diploma(s) for college/university degree(s) received
  • Copy of passport identification page
Contact Information
For questions related to the application process please contact:
USDA‐FAS Pretoria
United States Embassy

Borlaug Fellowship Program

Additional information is available on the website

ARC Masters Projects - Plant Genetics


The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) manages a table grape breeding programme to help the South African table grape industry stay internationally competitive. In recent years, the ARC has been incorporating marker-assisted selection (MAS) to benefit the breeding programme, but requires functional markers linked to favourable agronomic traits. Currently studies are underway to detect Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) in a mapping progeny segregating for various agronomic traits. This mapping progeny has been genotyped with an 18K Grapevine Illumina SNP chip and shows segregation for traits such as berry waxiness, the aroma profile, bunch architecture, berry size, seedlessness, flesh and skin colour, and possibly Botrytis cinerea resistance. Quantitative measurement and subsequent mapping of these traits is of interest to the grape breeding programme, whilst characterising these traits, and the underlying molecular mechanisms, will further contribute to the understanding of the development of these traits.

Two MSc projects are planned to investigate these traits and their underlying genes, focusing on (1) the cuticle layer, and (2) the aroma profile.

Applications close on 10 November 2017.

uMngeni Resilience Project Top-Up Bursaries

URP Top-up bursaries
An important component of the URP is a focus on capturing lessons learned through implementation with a view to scaling up and replicating project interventions. While a lot of knowledge is being generated by the URP, some questions are emerging that require specific research so they can feed back into the project to inform implementation and/or policy as well as future projects. Provision was made in the design of the URP for supporting research and capacity building through limited top-up bursary opportunities at the Masters and Doctoral level for a maximum of 24 months. The Research Advisory Panel recommended that this opportunity also be opened up to interns who are able to conduct focused research in the institutions they are assigned to, as well as academics. 

The research must be based sites that are of interest to the URP which includes areas within the Greater uMngeni Catchment Area and uMgungundlovu District Municipality area. 

See the above advert which appeared in the Sunday Times on 22 October 2017. Email for any queries as well as for the application form and terms of reference.

The closing date for applications is 24 November 2017.
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
Copyright © 2017 Friends of UKZN Agriculture, All rights reserved.

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