Ag Fac’s 60 years of service to farming

2008-11-28 00:00

SIX decades of alumni had the chance to take a trip down memory lane yesterday when the University of KwaZulu-Natal celebrated 60 years of agricultural training and research by showcasing its achievements and facilities and inviting agricultural experts to share their ideas on the future.

Although the “Ag Fac”, as it was fondly referred to, no longer exists as a result of institutional restructuring, current agricultural disciplines still represent, according to head of the School of Agricultural Sciences and Agribusiness, Professor Sheryl Hendriks, the “widest range of agricultural offerings at any university in Africa”.

Guests who participated in tours of the university’s facilities were exposed to some of the research areas currently being probed. These range from how to ensure that a tray-full of avocado pears all ripen at the same time, to a portable test-kit for malaria.

Speaking at a symposium held yesterday as part of the celebrations, president of the Southern African Fresh Fruit Exporters, Justin Chadwick, praised the calibre of students produced by the faculty, saying they are a “cut above the rest”.

Himself a product of the local faculty, graduating with an MSc in agricultural economics and now executive officer of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa, Chadwick described the citrus industry as “world class”.

Chadwick said South Africa is the second largest exporter of citrus after Spain and constitutes 10% of global citrus exports. Citrus is South Africa’s biggest earner of foreign exchange when it comes to agricultural produce.

Dr Lindiwe Sibanda, CEO of the Food and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, told the audience that globally speaking, there is a renewed focus on agriculture, partly as a result of what is being called a “global food crisis”.

Tracking the history of agricultural policy from 1948 to today, Land Bank policy analyst Dr Moraka Makhura said future policies may be characterised by greater state involvement.

For Hendriks, the need for agricultural experts has never been greater. “Never before has the world needed competent scientists grounded in well-integrated theory and practice to solve problems in agriculture, infrastructure, economics and society,” she said.

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