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15 December 2017
Hello friends and alumni

This is our last newsletter for 2017 and it's a full one; we hope you enjoy catching up with recent activity and looking through highlights of the year. We wish you a wonderful, restful festive season and look forward to getting in touch again in the New Year; 2018 will bring with it plenty more opportunities to interact with agriculture at UKZN.

Contents


Highlights of 2017

SAEES Highlights
Have a look through some of the highlights of what's happened throughout 2017 in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences.

News

KZN Premier’s Award Goes to Hydrology Masters Candidate at Conservation Symposium

Nantale Nsibirwa
Ms Nikara Mahadeo (left) with Ms Nantale Nsibirwa [Photo by Kirsten Oliver, WILDLANDS]

Ms Nantale Nsibirwa, a masters candidate in UKZN’s discipline of Hydrology, was awarded the prestigious KwaZulu-Natal Premier’s Award at the 6th annual Symposium of Contemporary Conservation Practice (SCCP) in KwaZulu-Natal on 9 November.

The purpose of this years’ Symposium was to explore the practice, science and value of nature conservation and to chart a renewed path towards addressing conservation challenges of the current era.

The Symposium is an initiative of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) in partnership with WILDLANDS, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), the Environmental Law Association, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Zululand. The SCCP aims to develop synergies between conservation implementation and research. This year’s edition saw the launch of a new marine programme, WILDOCEANS, in addition to its focus on the terrestrial environment.

The WILDLANDS-sponsored KZN Premier’s Award is conferred to a student from the province based on their oral presentation at the Symposium as well as a presentation made to a panel of judges before the event. The award involves financial assistance to attend any relevant international (winner) and national (runner up) conference in the next 12 months.

‘Winning the award came as a surprise to me and I am truly honoured, said Nsibirwa.

Nsibirwa’s research concerns identifying the source areas and transport pathways of diffuse pollution (pollution originating from the catchment land surface transported into rivers via runoff rather than a point source) in the uMngeni Catchment. She explained that this involves developing maps that aid efforts to conserve ecological infrastructure by identifying areas in the catchment with a high risk of contributing to the diffuse pollution problem.

Ms Samantha Hofmeyr, an Honours student from the School of Life Sciences, received the runner up prize for her work on the impacts of Scuba diver activity on the coral reefs of Sodwana Bay.

‘The standard of presentations this year were commended by the adjudication panel, but Nantale’s presentation was exceptional and therefore made her a well-deserving recipient,’ said Ms Nikara Mahadeo, WILDLANDS Deputy Director.

‘She delivered her presentation with confidence and a great understanding of her work,’ added Mahadeo. ‘Her research is also of significance to the practice of catchment management, particularly in the light of the pressures and constraints that our critical water resources are under.’

‘The real value of the award does not lie only in the opportunity for the winning student to attend an international conference, but in getting input from an extremely knowledgeable and respected panel,’ said Dr Roelie Kloppers, WILDLANDS Executive Director.

Kloppers thanked WILDLANDS patron Dr George Hughes, UKZN’s Dr Michelle Tedder and Mr Roger Porter for their assistance in judging the student presentations for the award.

Once she has completed her masters, Nsibirwa hopes to become involved in work that closely relates to water development issues. She acknowledged her supervisor, Professor Graham Jewitt, and her family and friends for their invaluable support.
Samantha Hofmeyr
Ms Nikara Mahadeo (left) with Ms Samantha Hofmeyr [Photo by Kirsten Oliver, WILDLANDS]

Visiting Academic Contributes Wisdom on Sustainable Agroecosystems

Professor Johan Six from ETH Zürich recently visited the University of KwaZulu-Natal as part of a collaboration with Crop Science’s Dr Alfred Odindo, and presented a lecture on understanding sustainable agroecosystems for practice to around 40 academics and students.

Six is the chair of the Sustainable Agroecosystems Group at ETH Zürich, with research focus on Landscape Analyses and Global Food Security.

UKZN and ETH Zürich are collaborating on trans-disciplinary, solutions-oriented research to simultaneously address problems of inadequate basic sanitation and food insecurity in growing informal settlements around urban centres like Durban. This can be done through developing technologies that close the agricultural nutrient cycle by developing safe nitrogen and potassium fertilisers from human excreta.

As part of this collaboration, ETH Zürich PhD candidate Mr Benjamin Wilde visited UKZN for one month as part of his work on the biophysical, social and policy aspects of using urine-based fertilisers as part of sustainable approaches to the management of waste.

Six spoke about his work on the complex interactions between soil, plants, soil biota (like fungi, bacteria, and earthworms), and the carbon and nitrogen cycles in terrestrial ecosystems, especially agroecosystems.

His general approach involves conducting inter- and transdisciplinary experimental work from the micro- to landscape scale and subsequently integrating it with modelling to interpolate and extrapolate it to the regional and global scale.

The modelling identifies knowledge gaps, generates testable hypotheses, and tests the mechanistic bases of biogeochemical models. Bio-economic modelling involves collaboration with economic and social scientists to holistically assess the sustainability and resilience of agriculture and food value chains.

Six gave fascinating examples from a diverse array of countries where he had conducted research, including the United States of America, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Ghana, Indonesia, Thailand, Namibia and Honduras, to name a few.

He described management effects on soil greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, and addressed the employment of conservation agriculture techniques. Six emphasised that the effectiveness of conservation agriculture requires that the basic three techniques are all applied: no-tillage practice, residue retention and crop rotation, which together help avoid yield losses.

He also spoke about agroecosystem-induced changes, factors affecting yield gaps in sub-Saharan Africa, agroforestry, erosion, climate smart agriculture and more.

Six spoke about the importance of including all the actors in a food system and building resilience through diversification. He added that consumers need to take responsibility and use their powers to determine what is produced and that it is done sustainably.

‘I really believe that this is what we’re going to have to do if we really want to make agriculture sustainable, is work with all the actors,’ said Six.

He concluded that sustainable agriculture is more about an integrated system where interactions between various role-players ensure food security. Its success, he said, is location-dependent and there are always trade-offs to achieve it.

UKZN Hosts Capacity-Building Workshop on Climate Resilience for Local Government

DARD workshop
Researchers from the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) involved in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality’s (UMDM) uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) hosted a half-day workshop at UKZN’s Ukulinga Research Farm to focus on capacity building within the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (KZNDARD).

The URP is a climate change adaptation project funded by the global Adaptation Fund through the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). It includes a component that is aimed at improving capacity and sharing learnings between communities that are leading the implementation of early warnings systems, climate-proof settlements and climate-resistant agriculture, all of which are research targets of the URP.

This component led to the workshop to train KZNDARD extension officers within uMgungundlovu on climate change adaptation, planned to be the first in a series of workshops between UKZN and KZNDARD. UKZN and KZNDARD maintain a working relationship under an official memorandum of understanding.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Professor Albert Modi, who is also the project leader for the URP, opened the workshop and thanked KZNDARD officials for their attendance, as well as UMDM officials involved in the URP, Ms Lungi Ndlovu and Mr Lindokuhle Khanyile.

‘Part of this component provides the opportunity for SAEES and UKZN to support the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in mainstreaming adaptation practices into its extension services and farmer support programmes,’ said Modi, who emphasised KZNDARD’s importance in contributing to the success of the URP.

Mr Dayanand Chetty, deputy manager of uMgungundlovu Extension and Advisory Services at KZNDARD thanked the University and UMDM for the opportunity and for inviting scientists, extension officers and practitioners from KZNDARD.

‘There is no doubt climate change is happening,’ said Chetty.

He referred to predictions of uMgungundlovu and Pietermaritzburg experiencing high intensity storms more frequently. He indicated that this is increasing requests for protection against disasters, like hail netting, coming to officials in local government, indicating the effects of climate-related events beginning to affect local districts.

‘That’s the purpose of us having this partnership, to look at methods of how we can progress and grow our crops, what protections we can offer, and how we can overcome the challenges of a changing climate,’ said Chetty.

‘We are committed to the programme, we’d like to give you our full support,’ he concluded.

Against the backdrop of events like the Durban storm that took place in October, KZNDARD representatives emphasised the importance of the URP’s goal of introducing climate resistant agriculture, which includes new and traditional ways of growing food so that farmers have enough healthy food to feed their families.

Industry, Arts and Innovation Unite for Postgraduate Research Day

PG Research Day
The College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) at UKZN hosted its seventh annual Postgraduate Research and Innovation Day on the Westville Campus attracting more than 700 participants including presenters, exhibitors, judges, academics, students and guests.

Sixty-five percent of those in attendance were students - a new record for the CAES.

The bumper programme included an Arts Meets Sciences exhibit, a competition featuring creations inspired by science, and an InQubate-hosted Innovation Stream event to inspire students to aim for innovation beyond academia.

‘This event highlights cutting-edge research conducted by postgraduate students and provides them with an opportunity to present their work to their peers, academic staff and research partners,’ said CAES Dean of Research, Professor Kevin Kirkman.

Kirkman thanked the postgraduate students who showed the courage and enthusiasm to present their work. He emphasised UKZN’s mission to ensure its postgraduate research was relevant to society and contributed to the wellbeing of South Africa.

Chair of the organising committee Professor Thomas Konrad welcomed everyone to a day of celebrating research, reminding them Nobel Prizes have been awarded for masters and PhD research.

UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor - Research, Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, gave a special welcome to stakeholder partners, thanking them for their support. He encouraged a focus on producing impactful, quality research that is translated into innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities.

‘It is the postgraduate students that are the engines driving research at this institution,’ said Ramjugernath.

Mrs Suvina Singh also introduced InQubate’s work while CAES students delivered 60 platform presentations and 120 poster presentations during the day.

Agricultural, financial, publishing, retail, scientific services and consultancy sectors were represented as well as several national agencies and entities. UKZN research centres and offices also took part.

‘The experience allowed me to see various opportunities in aligning research projects with current actual challenges being experienced in industry,’ said Mr Sabelo Mzimela of Transnet.

The event was coordinated by UKZN’s School of Chemistry and Physics in conjunction with Mrs Leena Rajpal from the College’s Public Relations Office. The smooth running of the event received very positive feedback.

Judges for the student prizes were from each of the five Schools in the College and external companies.

The University of the Witwatersrand’s Professor Andrew Forbes, a UKZN alumnus, delivered a keynote address featuring the stories of Nobel Prize winners Shuji Nakamura and Robert C Richardson.

Forbes reminded students that routes to success may vary but encouraged them not to follow the crowd, to be brave about their work, and find the essential ingredient for their success.

‘Often it’s on those unbeaten paths that you make the greatest difference,’ he said.

Sponsored prizes valued at R220 000 were awarded at the end of the day by Kirkman, Professor Ademola Olaniran and Professor Ross Robinson. The University’s Information and Communications Services (ICS) and 2Cana sponsored prizes for the lucky draw.

Organisers also acknowledged the indispensable assistance of more than 20 internal partners.

Professor Shimelis Presents at International Tropical Agriculture Conference

Shimelis - TropAg
Professor Hussein Shimelis, SASRI Chair of Crop Science participated in the biennial International Tropical Agriculture Conference (TropAg2017) held in Brisbane, Australia from 20 to 22 November 2017.

This year’s event attracted 720 delegates, and was aimed at enhancing international experience among leading scientific experts and facilitating collaboration, development of new projects and technology transfer. Various research papers were presented concerning advances within the agricultural industries in the subtropics and tropics, including work on grain and pulse crops, sugarcane and horticultural crops, and livestock. Oral and poster papers were presented covering a diverse range of topics.

Shimelis presented a poster entitled ‘Ethylmethanesulfonate mutagenesis of vernonia (Centrapalus pauciflorus var. ethiopica) to enhance seed oil content and fatty acid composition’.

Shimelis' poster was presented under the theme of Future Field Crops. The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of the Free State through financial support of the National Research Foundation.
 
The aim of this study was to induce genetic variation and alter seed oil content and fatty acid composition in a novel industrial crop, vernonia, through ethylmethylsulfonate (EMS) mutagenesis.
 
Results of the study suggest that the effect of EMS mutagenesis on fatty acid composition in vernonia could be genotype-specific, and is influenced by EMS dose.

'There is potential to increase solely vernolic acid, while at the same time reducing the other fatty acids during vernonia improvement,' explained Shimelis.
 
While at the conference, he was also able to attend the launch of a book entitled ‘The Business of Plant Breeding: Market-led approaches to new variety design in Africa' (edited by Dr Gabrielle J. Persley and Dr Vivienne M. Anthony). Shimelis contributed Chapter 4 of the book, entitled New Variety Design and Product Profiling.

'The education module is based on current concepts and best-practices in demand-led breeding,' said Shimelis.

The book was compiled by various experts and educators from the public and private sectors across Africa and internationally, and is intended for postgraduate educators and scholars in plant breeding, crop improvement and seed systems, and for continuing professional development of plant breeders.

Food Tank Names Prof Pardon Muchaonyerwa among 13 Soil Scientists to Watch Globally

Pardon Muchaonyerwa
The University of KwaZulu-Natal's Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa was named by Food Tank as one of 13 Soil Scientists to watch globally in honour of World Soil Day in December.

For more than 15 years, Muchaonyerwa has researched soil ecosystem function and health, and sustainable agriculture across several African countries. He is currently a member of the Soil Science Society of South Africa (SSSSA) and the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS).

Muchaonyerwa joined Soil Science at UKZN in 2011 after 7 years at the University of Fort Hare, before which he worked at his alma mater, the University of Zimbabwe. His students and colleagues know Muchaonyerwa for his passion for teaching. Despite having initially wanted to pursue Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science during his undergraduate studies at university, Muchaonyerwa has excelled at Soil Science.

‘I struggled initially with Soil Science,’ says Muchaonyerwa, ‘until I learnt the secret of working with others and developed an attitude of trying my best. As a soil scientist, you really value your role once you realise how important the discipline is and how applicable it is across various fields.’

UKZN Marks the Launch of MoUs with the South African Weather Service and Umgeni Water

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) recently hosted a launch workshop on its Westville campus to commemorate the signing of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) between UKZN and the South African Weather Service (SAWS), and SAWS and Umgeni Water (UW).

The launch workshop took place on 17 November in partnership with key partners SAWS and UW, and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), which provides oversight for the agreements. The signing of the MoUs was facilitated by the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) as part of its early warning systems component.

Honorary Research Associate Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi thanked attendees for attending and noted that interactions between the organisations represented had been happening at a technical level, with these official agreements giving context and meaning to those interactions.

The purpose of the workshop was to delineate a way forward, with the ultimate purpose of the agreements to produce tangible outputs for implementation that will benefit ordinary citizens.

The DEA’s Sibonelo Mbanjwa, Director of Climate Change Adaptation and Natural Resources, said the importance of these agreements was in the context of national efforts to develop resilient societies.

‘This project provides great opportunity and potential for us to demonstrate what we can do as a country in terms of climate services,’ said Mbanjwa.

Professor Albert Modi, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES), spoke about the focus of UKZN’s relevant research on rural economic development, water use efficiency and productivity, especially the URP project with the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM).

Modi expressed excitement at the signing of these agreements, and said that in the context of UKZN’s increasing focus on the quality of its research outputs and on making research relevant to society, this kind of collaborative work would be important.

SAWS Chief Executive Officer Mr Jerry Lengoasa expressed delight at the signing of these agreements, noting their importance but emphasising that their value is in implementation, for which practitioners and partnerships are essential.

‘Working with you as the three institutions is a translation of a vision into practice,’ said Lengoasa.

Lengoasa also noted the importance of creating earth systems scientists through training students and preparing institutions to solve tomorrow’s problems. Part of the agreement will involve making data from SAWS available to research institutions.

Mr Kevin Meier of UW noted that while their work was more operational than research-based, this agreement will be a huge step forward toward being able to plan better for flood and drought events. He noted a gap in climate change data for research and said the agreement is useful for research to get where it is needed.

Ms Lungi Ndlovu of UMDM said the meeting represented a meeting of minds, and an opportunity to implement and deliver information and services that benefit all citizens.

SHEFS Launch

SHEFS launch
A team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) recently hosted a launch workshop for a new interdisciplinary research partnership being driven by nine international partners: the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) programme.

The Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet, Our Health Programme is funding the four-year project.

Around 40 people took part in the workshop on 30 October in Kloof, with a variety of institutions represented, including LSHTM, the Colleges of Health Sciences, Humanities and Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) at UKZN, Rhodes University and the University of the Witwatersrand. Governmental departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), KZN Health, and KZN Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) were present, alongside municipalities of uMgungundlovu (UMDM), Msunduzi and eThekwini. Other organisations included the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) and WILDLANDS.

Co-investigator Professor Rob Slotow of UKZN said the purpose of the day was to listen to different perspectives and learn from participants.

‘We hope this will be something that will help everyone with their own work as they implement agendas for improved livelihoods and welfare for our people,’ said Slotow.

Professor Alan Dangour, Principal Investigator from LSHTM gave an overview of SHEFS goals as well as a conceptual framework for the programme.

‘We’re talking about the intersection of agriculture, the environment, food systems, nutrition and health; a critical intersection which has rarely been studied and is never really discussed at policy levels,’ said Dangour.

The large, inter-institutional programme features work in South Africa, India and the United Kingdom. Researchers are investigating food systems under significant pressure from demographic changes, shifts in dietary patterns, land use changes and urbanisation. These result in undernourishment and a rise in non-communicable diseases, leading to substantial economic losses and environmental degradation.

‘The aim of SHEFS is to provide policy-makers with novel, inter-disciplinary research evidence to define future food system policies that deliver nutritious and healthy foods in a sustainable and equitable manner,’ said Dangour.

This is achieved by engagement with relevant sectors and policy-makers to co-develop policies that provide access to healthy and sustainable diets. Researchers will conduct innovative research in new ways, and think about interventions on large and small scales to deliver healthy and sustainable food systems for all.

The workshop included presentations on the nexus points of agriculture, health and the environment. Presenters included Professor Anna Meyer-Weitz of UKZN’s School of Applied Human Sciences, UKZN’s Head of Psychiatry Professor Bongani Chiliza, Crop Science Research Associate Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi, Dr Cathy Sutherland of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, Dr Sean O’Donoghue of eThekwini’s Climate Protection Branch, and UKZN SHEFS Research Project Manager Dr Rashieda Davids.

Participants took part in a number of collaborative activities to give perspective on the nexus points and chart a way forward. Some key areas of concern that will become focuses of further research that could improve policy include: smallholder farmers increasing crop diversity, the living environment, especially of the poor, health literacy, and youth vulnerability in the context of food systems.

PhD Candidate’s Presentation at International Conference Draws Praise for Women Scientists

Bernice Bancole
UKZN Plant pathology PhD candidate Ms Bernice Bancole has received praise for a presentation she made at the 22nd Meeting and Scientific Conference of the African Association of Insect Scientists (AAIS) in Sudan.

Bancole’s presentation covered her research in screening strains of the Beauveria bassiana fungus for endophytic behaviour in sorghum, and biocontrol activity against the spotted stalk borer (Chilo partellus) and African pink stem borer (Sesamia calamistis). The invasive borers are moth larvae that feed on sorghum, maize, sugarcane and rice plants across Africa and cause devastating crop losses of between 40% and 70%.

Bancole is researching the biological control of these stalk borers - which feed inside the stem of the crops - using the entomopathogen fungus. Bancole aims to find systemic strains of Beauveria bassiana that can live for more than 30 days inside the roots, stem and leaves of rice and sorghum plants. She has thus far discovered a number of strains that live in the stem tissues for at least 60 days, and therefore have the potential to control stalk borers of cereal crops in Africa.

The chair of the session in which Bancole presented, Dr A Assad, complimented her on her calm and confident delivery, saying young women scientists have an important role to play in shaping the continent’s future. Her presentation also sparked interest from other students in studying at UKZN.

Bancole is from Benin where she received her undergraduate and master’s degrees and worked as a research technician at the AfricaRice Centre. She interacted with UKZN staff through comments on an online scientific forum, and investigated PhD studies at UKZN.

Bancole is the recipient of a prestigious Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) scholarship and earlier this year received the prize for the best student presentation at the 50th Anniversary Congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology (SASPP).

After completing her PhD, Bancole plans to progress to a postdoctoral position in South Africa, hopefully working with a seed company or research institute and giving lectures and training as a consultant. She also dreams of opening an educational foundation in Benin to help young women from high school to study at university to PhD level, and has started laying the foundations to achieve this.

Bancole  thanked her supervisor Professor Mark Laing for his support, her co-supervisor Dr Kwasi Sackey Yobo, and Professor Rob Melis.

Seminar Hones in on Business Development in Agriculture

StartLife

In November, UKZN hosted Jan Meiling from StartLife at Wageningen University & Research to speak to staff and students in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences about what StartLife does and how university students and researchers in the Netherlands have pursued entrepreneurship and have taken ideas emanating from research or other investigations to commercialisation.

StartLife focuses on startups in the food and agtech domain.

"We like to inspire people that entrepreneurship is an excellent way to achieve something great,' said Meiling.

He gave a presentation that honed in on the difference between startups and new businesses and introduced Wageningen University, where StartLife is based, an institution that has a particularly international character. He explained StartLife's role in relation to the University and private companies, and how it operates between the institution and industry.

He said that universities and new business enterprises are potent mixes, and gave a few examples of some of the startups that StartLife has been involved in, notably one related to biocontrol of crop pests and disease. He noted that this kind of work is all about networks, and he talked through StartLife's incubation programme.

Meiling said that Dutch business and institutions are excited about establishing constructive collaborations with South Africa in the entrepreneurial sphere, for example through already-existing and possibly future Orange Corners.

Food Security Academic Appointed as ARC Deputy Chairperson

Joyce Chitja
Dr Joyce Chitja of the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) has been appointed deputy chairperson on the board of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) for a three-year term.

Chitja, an ARC board member for two previous terms, said she was honoured to be appointed to the new role.

‘I feel positive in my new position despite the grand challenges agriculture is facing in the country and globally.   The ARC team I serve alongside are capable and highly committed - some of the country’s best scientists are working in the ARC,’ she said.

‘I see it as a serious responsibility as the ARC is a state-owned entity responsible for agricultural research and for upholding food security in the country, in every sphere of agriculture.’

Chitja’s responsibilities will involve supporting the strategic goals of the ARC, while also filling a second role as chair of the ARC’s Research, Development and Evaluation Committee.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Professor Albert Modi, and Acting Dean of SAEES Professor Onisimo Mutanga congratulated Chitja on the national recognition for her work in the area of food security.

Chitja completed her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in Horticultural Science and a Master of Social Science in Community Resources at UKZN, before graduating in 2008 with a PhD in Food Security, the first woman in South Africa to do so. She went on to hold a post in the Department of Land Affairs, returning to academia at UKZN in 2010.

Chitja is an experienced agricultural development scientist and food security expert with a rich understanding of agriculture in South Africa, especially challenges in the small-scale farming sector. Chitja has published more than 21 peer-reviewed journal articles and has graduated more than 17 masters and PhD students and many more at honours level.

Chitja was the second runner up in the emerging researcher category in the Department of Science and Technology's Women in Science Awards in 2012 and has published peer-reviewed articles in esteemed publications, and contributed to book chapters and other publications.  

She was a visiting scholar at Cornell University in the United States in 2011 and continues to host Cornell research students for focused research visits among smallholder farmers.  She is also a visiting scholar at the prestigious Stellenbosch Institute (STIAS) of Advanced Studies where she intermittently visits and works with an international team of senior researchers of smallholder farming in Southern Africa.

Her current research explores smallholder farming systems in the areas of value chains, land and water use security and access, livelihoods, vulnerability, household food security, gender and empowerment.   She has been awarded multi-year and multi-million rand research projects from the Water Research Commission, enabling the studies of her postgraduate students.

Chitja says her current focus and a source of great joy is her supervision of postgraduate students - two two of whom graduated cum laude this year, and have continued into doctoral studies. Her student team are examining small-scale agriculture and food security, steadily earning recognition for the good quality research they produce by publishing and presenting at national and global conferences.

Chitja was also part of an international team on the organising committee for the third International Conference on Global Food Security, which took place in Cape Town this month, where she chaired a theme and was involved in selecting papers.

Durban Research Action Partnership Closes 2017 with Research Symposium

D'RAP group photo
The Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP), a joint initiative between the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the eThekwini Municipality’s Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department (EPCPD), held its annual research symposium in early December to close off the year.

More than 40 students, municipal officials, scientists, and university staff attended the Symposium, which comprised 13 presentations from students about their research undertaken on D’RAP projects.

Professor Colleen Downs, one of the academic supervisors working in D’RAP, gave an introductory presentation at the event. She spoke about how the partnership is a special one as it features the municipality and university working together. Her presentation encouraged attendees to nurture an attitude of curiosity and perseverance in science.

Downs emphasised the importance of having data for the management of the effects of the Anthropocene, in which forest loss, extinctions and declines are affecting ecosystems and ecosystem services. D’RAP’s work across a gradient from urban to protected areas generates these data, and according to Downs, is making an impact and putting South Africa on the map.

‘Africa needs to be heard,’ said Downs, ‘and a lot of the work being done would not be possible without citizen science; a lot of the work that you are doing in the eThekwini involves the people that live here.’

‘Today highlights the interdisciplinary work that we’re doing, which is particularly important in this ‘post-truth’ kind of age,’ said Downs, who encouraged postgraduate students to continue contributing to increased knowledge about biodiversity and ecosystems.

Dr Sean O’Donoghue, manager of the Climate Protection Branch in the EPCPD, and Mr Errol Douwes, manager of eThekwini Municipality’s Restoration Ecology Branch, gave an overview of D’RAP research outputs and outcomes since 2011 in the form of lessons learnt by UKZN researchers and the municipality.

Douwes emphasised the importance of science to drive local action, as well as that of sustainable development, having a matrix of open spaces, and focusing on protection and management, restoration and spatial planning.

‘Developing the knowledge that’s going to help us know what is the right thing to do in terms of this novel situation of climate change where we’re facing unprecedented types of weather and vulnerabilities is where the importance of the research comes in,’ said O’Donoghue.

‘We need to know what we need to get our communities to do and how much our ecosystems can absorb the impacts of climate change before we reach tipping points,’ he concluded.

Topics covered focused on urban ecology and on plant and animal species living in urban and peri-urban areas falling under the eThekwini Municipality’s bounds. Species under study included vervet monkeys, crowned eagles, ants, forest birds and mammals, and invasive and indigenous plant species. Presenters also spoke about remote sensing of foliar nitrogen, the effect of eco-estates on animal biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal, the effects of habitat size and fragmentation on birds and mammals, and proper use of terminology in forest management.

UKZN Academics, Students Sign World Scientists' Second Warning to Humanity

World Scientist Warning
More than 16,000 scientists from 184 countries (including more than 30 academics and students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal amongst almost 400 South Africans) publish a second warning to humanity saying we need to change our material consumption and population growth to help the planet, or humanity's future is in jeopardy.

ANNOUNCEMENTS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Position for DUCT General Manager


The Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) is a non-profit, public benefit environmental organisation which was established in 2006 to champion the health of the uMngeni and uMsunduzi Rivers. DUCT has a core staff of 10 people but currently employs 350 additional staff on funded projects. DUCT’s annual turnover is in the region of R16 million.

Applications are invited for the position of DUCT General Manager. The DUCT GM will be responsible for all aspects of DUCT’s business and will be accountable to the DUCT Board.

Qualifications: A minimum qualification of a four year university degree is required. The degree should be relevant to DUCT’s work, which essentially entails all aspects of integrated catchment management, river health and the delivery of public services which affect river health.

Experience: Applicants should have a minimum of 15 years’ work experience, at least 5 of which should be in a field relevant to DUCT’s work. Leadership and management experience is essential.

Interests: Applicants should be passionate about the environment and should have an active interest in outdoor pursuits. Applicants should have a demonstrated commitment to public service and to the health and development of the communities in the uMngeni catchment.

Skills: The job requires aptitude and skill in the following areas:
  • Ability to write clearly and concisely, communicating sometimes complex concepts in a way that can be easily understood, for a wide variety of readers
  • Ability to speak clearly and concisely, adapting to a wide range of situations and contexts
  • A strong grasp of business concepts such as budgeting, planning, accounting and financial and HR management.
  • A sound understanding of all aspects of integrated catchment management, the problems, the causes and the possible solutions
  • An sound understanding of integrated catchment management which incorporates environmental, water and development issues
  • A working understanding of local governance structures, law and practice
  • Ability to conceive and write sound project proposals in order to generate future income for DUCT
  • Good negotiation skills
Character: The position requires a well organised, positive individual with good people skills, a strong work ethic, great determination and persistence.

Salary: Cost to company R600 000 per annum negotiable, plus annual performance bonus

Applications including CV and contact details of at least three professional referees should be submitted by e-mail to ian@simplycommunicate.co.za before 17 December 2017.

Maize Trust Postgraduate Bursary Scheme

Maize
Students are invited to apply for bursaries to further their studies from the Maize Trust.
 
The most important conditions of the bursaries are as follows: 
  • Students must be South African citizens and busy with full-time study.
  • The bursaries are only for Masters and Doctoral studies. 
  • The field of study must be relevant to the South African maize industry. 
  • The topic for the thesis must be approved by the Maize Trust. 
  • The Trust requires a curriculum vitae, the full past study particulars, a short summary of the intended thesis and a copy of the ID of every applicant. 
  • A mentor for the study programme must be nominated and, together with the university where the study will be undertaken, must be approved by the Maize Trust. 
  • Students will be expected to work in the South African maize industry for a period that is the same length as the period for which a bursary was awarded. 
  • The total bursary amount is R73 900 per year for two years for MSc students and R89 450 per year for three years for PhD students.
Closing date for bursary application submissions is 31 January of every year. 

For full details of the bursary agreement, please contact Louise at L&L Agricultural Services, the Administrators of the Maize Trust.

Tel: +27 (12) 807-3958/4191

Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program

The 2018 Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program is currently accepting applications! The final deadline to apply is January 13, 2018.

There will be a limited number of scholarships available for qualified candidates. We will be holding three rounds of scholarship review at the end of November, December, and January. To be considered for the first round of scholarship review, please submit your application and two letters of recommendation by Monday, November 27th.

The Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) of the College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley provides state-of-the-art training in environmental and natural resources science, policy, and leadership to strengthen the capacities of environmental practitioners worldwide. Participants will benefit from a unique opportunity to interact with Berkeley faculty as well as their global peers to access new information and tools, share practical experiences, and develop collaborative leadership skills. The Beahrs ELP has graduated over 640 environmental leaders from over 110 different countries.

FUNDING FOR A PHD STUDY (AGRICULTURAL ECONOMICS)


Ex ante socio-economic, environmental and institutional viability of decentralised sanitation services to local communities

The Pollution Research Group, School of Engineering (Howard College Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa), has secured funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a research and development project on faecal sludge management and the field testing of reinvented toilet prototypes. The overall goal of the project is to understand the economic drivers and barriers to the reuse of products from faecal sludge management in agriculture.

As partners of this project, the Disciplines of Agricultural Economics and Crop Science have been tasked to undertake a study on “Ex ante socio-economic, environmental and institutional viability of decentralised sanitation services to local communities”.

At this stage, focusing on the innovative systems developed for the management of human excreta, this sub-project will focus on ex ante analysis aiming to:

• examine the economic and social costs and benefits of using on-site sanitation systems versus traditional centralized Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW);
• assess the environmental economics of fertilizers, mulch, insects, biochar and other residuals from human excreta;
• assess the regulatory barriers and drivers related to the use of human excreta derived products for use in agriculture;
• understand consumer preferences of agricultural produce from fertilizers and biochar from excreta streams;
• assess the environmental impacts of decentralized sanitation services to local communities; and
• identify the institutional opportunities, challenges and innovations required in developing, commercializing and upscaling decentralised sanitation services to communities.

The expected outcome is to generate knowledge that will enable the relevant stakeholders pave the way towards commercializing and upscaling the products and services from the project. It also aims to design a regulatory framework to look at the role of decentralized sanitation services in communities and the extent to which it can be run as a utility service.

The research will require a versatile and self-motivated candidate with strong knowledge in sustainable agriculture/food systems, natural resources and environmental economics, impact assessment, econometrics, policy analysis, and rural household survey. The disciplines are looking for a PhD fellow who is committed to complete his/her study full time.

The position will start from January 2018. A total bursary of R 450 000 will be provided for the PhD position (maximum of 4 years). Payment is made on set deliverables being achieved. The project will also cover the cost of a computer, tuition fees and all research operating expenses for conducting field work.

If you are interested in this position, please submit an electronic copy of your academic transcript, degree certificates and a CV with two referees and a covering letter explaining your motivation to Professor Edilegnaw Wale, with a copy to Ms Susan Mercer. Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted and the application closes 31 December 2017.

SHEFS Vacancies: MSc & PhD Interns


The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is committed to meeting the objectives of Employment Equity to improve representivity within the Institution. Preference will be given to applicants from designated groups in accordance with our Employment Equity Plan.
 
COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE, ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE

PHD INTERNSHIP/RESEARCH ASSISTANTS (5 POSTS)
(NATURAL / AGRICULTURAL / SOCIAL / HEALTH SCIENCE)
ONE YEAR FIXED TERM APPOINTMENT
SCHOOL OF LIFE SCIENCES
DURBAN / PIETERMARITZBURG CENTRES
REF NO. SLS23/2017

MASTERS INTERNSHIP/RESEARCH ASSISTANTS (3 POSTS)
(NATURAL / AGRICULTURAL / SOCIAL / HEALTH SCIENCE)
ONE YEAR FIXED TERM APPOINTMENT
SCHOOL OF LIFE SCIENCES
DURBAN / PIETERMARITZBURG CENTRES
REF NO.SLS24//2017

 
Posts are now available for suitably-qualified researchers to join the Wellcome Trust funded project, Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS). This project is a collaboration between the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University College London (UCL), the University of Aberdeen and several other institutions in London, along with our collaborators in India (PHFI, Delhi).

The PhD internship/Research Assistant is a one-year fixed term appointment, renewable annually for a further two years, dependent on satisfactory performance and fair progression with academic thesis. The preferred candidates would be full time UKZN registered South African students as well as students with South African permanent residence status. The research area for PhD must be on the food-environment-health nexus, and the associated policy impacts of food system change. Evidence of an interdisciplinary research proposal will be an advantage.

Minimum Requirements:
  • A relevant Masters degree in ecosystem/environmental sciences, agricultural science, social science, health science or related field.
  • At least one published or accepted peer-reviewed journal article (ISI, IBSS, DHET or Scopus at the time of publication).
  • Evidence of acceptance/support (reference) by one of the Project Collaborators (request list).
The recommended candidates will be awarded an allowance of R136 000 per annum.

The Masters internship/Research Assistant is a one-year fixed term appointment, renewable for a further one year, dependent on satisfactory performance and fair progression with academic thesis. The ideal candidates would be full-time UKZN registered students, doing a relevant Masters degree by research focusing/specializing on the food-environment-health nexus, and the associated policy impacts of food system change. 

The preferred candidates would be full time UKZN registered South African students as well as students with South African permanent residence status. The candidates would doing relevant Masters degree by research focusing/specialising on the food-environment-health nexus, and the associated policy impacts of food system changes. Evidence of a published or accepted peer-reviewed journal article (ISI, IBSS, DHET or Scopus) at the time of publication) will be an advantage.

Minimum Requirements:
  • A four-year degree or three year degree with Honours in ecosystem/environmental sciences, agricultural science, health science or related field.
  • Evidence of acceptance/support(reference) by one of the Project Collaborators (request list).
The recommended candidates will be awarded an allowance of R95 000 per annum.

Enquiries regarding the full details of the SHEFS projects and associated duties may be directed to Ms Rashieda Davids.

The closing date for receipt of applications is 15 December 2017. The process will remain open until the positions are filled.

Applicants are required to submitted a detailed motivation, together with Curriculum Vitae, and letter of support from their proposed supervisor, to Ms Rashieda Davids.

Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Scholarships for Postgraduate Local and International Study

Scholarships for Postgraduate Local Study 2018

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) awards a limited number of scholarships annually for postgraduate study at public Higher Education Institutions in South Africa at Master’s, Doctoral and Postdoctoral level. Preference may be given to Doctoral programmes in the interests of building the local academy. South African nationals who are high-achievers with proven records of academic excellence are eligible to apply. Foreign nationals may only apply for Postdoctoral programmes.

Written submissions must be supported by the following information and documentation: 

Motivation
A signed statement (not more than 500 words) that describes:
  • Background, schooling, general interests and personal philosophy
  • Short to medium term plans and priorities
  • Career aspirations
Intended Study
  • Intended degree, programme of study, institution, period of study
  • Brief descriptions of the proposed course work, fieldwork, dissertation topic (as applicable), including a synopsis of the “intellectual problem or idea” that merits the inquiry you intend to pursue
  • Relevance and anticipated significance of the study and how the work will extend current knowledge on the topic
  • The perceived benefits to you personally, to the South African academy and to the broader community
  • Supervisor’s name and current designation (where known)
  • Proof of registration or offer and terms of admission (as applicable)
Personal Information, Qualifications and Academic Record
  • An up to date CV (not more than three pages)
  • A recent photograph (3x4 cm)
  • Complete academic transcript as well as certified copies of degree certificates
  • The names and designations of three referees
Letters of Recommendation / Referees’ Reports
  • Referees must be familiar with the applicant’s current work and study plans and well-placed to attest to the candidate’s academic achievements and must submit signed letters or reports under separate and confidential cover directly to the Trust
Budget/s
Applicants must disclose their personal financial position and submit a one page income and expenditure budget indicating:
  • Annual estimates of costs for the duration of the period of study including tuition fees, books and subsistence costs (as applicable)
  • Income from all sources including savings, family contributions, loans, offers of scholarships and bursaries or other awards as well as estimates of income from part-time work or assistantships (distinguish clearly between funds that have already been secured (attach supporting documentation) and funding applied for but not yet approved or confirmed)
Notes:
1. Time-lines for Submissions & Procedures:

1.1 Applications must be submitted a minimum of four months ahead of the intended date of registration at university and will be reviewed and adjudicated on a rolling basis at three-monthly intervals. In the normal course of events, complete applications that comply fully with the requirements will be adjudicated within three to four months of the date of submission.

1.2 Applications should be submitted electronically in word format in five parts comprising a motivation, CV, study programme, budget estimates and other supporting documentation as indicated in the guidelines, and not as a single consolidated pdf file.

2. Studies in Progress:
The OMT may consider applications from postgraduate students who are part way through two-year Master’s degree programmes or three-year Doctoral programmes. Such applications will be dealt with by exception on an ad hoc basis and applicants should position themselves accurately within the framework of the guidelines.

3. Eligibility and Tenure:
Students who intend to study for a second degree at the same level as one they already hold are not eligible for funding. Scholarships are limited to one degree or programme of study and are subject to limited tenure – up to two years in the case of Master’s study, a maximum of three years in the case of the PhD and two years at Postdoctoral level. Exceptions may be made for Master’s scholarship holders upgrading to PhD level. Awards are granted on an annual basis and renewals are not automatic; where made, these are contingent on satisfactory progress and performance and compliance with the Trust’s reporting requirements and re-application procedures.

4. Value of Awards:
Awards may not be granted on a full cost basis and may vary in value, depending on circumstances. Candidates are encouraged to actively seek out co-funding from other sources.

5. Awards are determined on a merit basis at the discretion of the Trustees.

6. Failure to comply with the Trust’s requirements will result in disqualification and late or incomplete submissions will not be accepted.

Oppenheimer Memorial Trust
First Floor
No. 9 St. David’s Park
St. David’s Place
Parktown
South Africa
2193

Telephone: +27 11 551 9502
Email: CDigby@omt.org.za

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) awards a limited number of scholarships annually for postgraduate study at public Higher Education Institutions in South Africa at Master’s, Doctoral and Postdoctoral level. Preference may be given to Doctoral programmes in the interests of building the local academy. South African nationals who are high-achievers with proven records of academic excellence are eligible to apply. Foreign nationals may only apply for Postdoctoral programmes.

Written submissions must be supported by the following information and documentation:

Motivation
A signed statement (not more than 500 words) that describes:
Scholarships for Postgraduate International Study 2018

The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) awards a limited number of scholarships annually for postgraduate study at international Higher Education Institutions at Master’s, Doctoral and Postdoctoral level.

South African nationals with a proven record of academic excellence who intend to pursue careers in academia, research or related fields in South Africa are eligible to apply. Exceptional candidates who propose to pursue programmes in unique or highly specialised disciplines in which advanced studies are not readily available in South Africa or who are able to demonstrate that they have advanced to a level where international tuition under the direction of global leaders in their particular discipline is appropriate to proceed meaningfully in their chosen fields, will be considered on merit. In the interests of building the local academy, preference may be given to Doctoral and Postdoctoral programmes.

Written submissions must be supported by the following information and documentation:

Motivation
A signed statement (not more than 500 words) that describes:
  • Background, schooling, general interests and personal philosophy
  • Short to medium term plans and priorities
  • Career aspirations
Intended Study
  • Intended degree, programme of study, institution, period of study
  • Brief descriptions of the proposed course work, fieldwork, dissertation topic (as applicable), including a synopsis of the “intellectual problem or idea” that merits the inquiry you intend to pursue
  • Relevance and anticipated significance of the study and how the work will extend current knowledge on the topic
  • Reasons for undertaking the programme of study abroad including commentary on the unique or highly specialised character of the programme (as indicated in the criteria)
  • The perceived benefits to you personally, to the South African academy and to the broader community
  • Supervisor’s name and current designation (where known)
  • Proof of registration or offer and terms of admission (as applicable)
Personal Information, Qualifications and Academic Record
  • An up to date CV (not more than three pages)
  • A recent photograph (3x4 cm) - Full academic transcript as well as certified copies of degree certificates
  • The names and designations of three referees
Letters of Recommendation / Referees’ Reports
  • Referees must be familiar with the applicant’s current work and study plans and well-placed to motivate the case for the candidate’s decision to pursue international study and must submit signed letters or reports under separate and confidential cover directly to the Trust
Budget/s
Applicants must disclose their personal financial position and submit a one page income and expenditure budget indicating:
  • Annual estimates of costs for the duration of the period of study including tuition fees, books, subsistence costs, travel and insurance (as applicable)
  • Income from all sources including savings, family contributions, loans, offers of scholarships and bursaries or other awards as well as estimates of income from part-time work or assistantships (distinguish clearly between funds that have already been secured (attach supporting documentation) and funding applied for but not yet approved or confirmed)

Notes:
1. Time-lines for Submissions & Procedures:
Closing dates for applications

1.1 For Doctoral and Postdoctoral candidates: 28th February 2018
1.2 For Master’s candidates: 31st March 2018

Applications should be submitted electronically in word format in five parts comprising a motivation, CV, study programme, budget estimates and other supporting documentation as indicated in the guidelines, and not as a single consolidated pdf file.

2. Eligibility and Tenure:
Students who intend to undertake a second degree at the same level as one they already hold are not eligible for funding. Scholarships are limited to one degree or programme of study and are subject to limited tenure – up to two years in the case of Master’s study, a maximum of three years in the case of the PhD and two years at Postdoctoral level. Awards are granted on an annual basis and renewals are not automatic; where made, these are contingent on satisfactory progress and performance and compliance with the Trust’s reporting requirements and re-application procedures.

3. Value of Awards:
Awards are generous and may be granted on a full-cost basis or vary in value, depending on circumstances. Candidates are encouraged to actively seek out co-funding from their host institutions.

4. Acceptance of an offer of a scholarship from the Trust indicates agreement to the undertakings set out in the Regulations to the 9th Schedule to the Income Tax Act which prescribe conditions for the provision of scholarships and awards for overseas study or research.

5. Applications are adjudicated on a competitive basis and awards are determined at the discretion of the Trustees.

6. Failure to comply with the Trust’s requirements will result in disqualification and late or incomplete submissions will not be accepted.

Oppenheimer Memorial Trust
First Floor
No. 9 St. David’s Park
St. David’s Place
Parktown
South Africa
2193
Telephone: +27 11 551 9502
Email: CDigby@omt.org.za

Save the Date

Ukulinga Research Farm aerial

The Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium will take place on 22 & 23 May 2018


The University of KwaZulu-Natal will, in 2018, host the third instalment of the annual Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium. This Symposium is intended to showcase cutting-edge agricultural and related research, especially that taking place at the University’s Ukulinga Research Farm.
 
We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Howard Davis Farm Trust in their endeavour to see communities benefit from knowledge integration between higher education institutions and agricultural stakeholders.

2018's theme of ‘Agripreneurship and Developing Sustainable Agricultural Value Chains’ is intended to facilitate the exploration of themes relating to entrepreneurship in the agricultural sphere for job creation and the progression from subsistence agriculture to the marketplace. This theme is important for sustainable development in the agricultural value chain and for those whose livelihoods depend upon it.

Contact Christine if you'd like to get involved, and diarise the date to attend this exciting event in our calendar.
Christmas greetings
Kind regards,
 
Christine Cuénod
Networking Facilitator
cuenod@ukzn.ac.za
(w) +27 33 260 6557
(c) +27 83 314 3317
 
on behalf of
 
Duncan Stewart
Committee Chairperson
duncan@lima.org.za
(c) +27 82 491 1912
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Copyright © 2017 Friends of UKZN Agriculture, All rights reserved.


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