UKZN agriculture professor a finalist in Billiton Awards

2014-07-08 00:00

PROFESSOR Albert Modi, dean and head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), was a finalist for the TW Kambule Award, part of the prestigious 2014 NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards.

The NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards were handed out at a ceremony in Johannesburg last week. They are the flagship project of the largest and most prominent multi-stakeholder representative forum for Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) in South Africa, and are designed to encourage and reward excellence in scientific research, technological innovation, education, capacity building, communication and, more specifically, for contribution to research and its outputs over the past five to 10 years.

“As someone who works in the field of agricultural and environmental sciences, I was pleasantly surprised that I could make it to the top 10 of close to 100 shortlisted persons and many more nominees,” said Modi. “To me, this means that my field of research is highly recognised by peers from other fields of science and engineering. It means that I must continue to pursue my efforts to encourage the youth to study science and my dream to have agriculture as a pillar for rural economic development in South Africa.”

The nomination came in recognition of Modi’s contribution towards research, as well as his dedication in translating his science to create a positive impact on the lives of South African communities. “The approach of combining science with community engagement has led to good research outputs on indigenous crops and drought tolerance,” said Modi.

This also led to the establishment of Ezemvelo Farmers Organisation (EFO) near Umbumbulu “who were the first subsistence farmers to introduce organic amadumbe (taro) to commercial supermarkets, initially Woolworths and Pick n Pay”.

Modi’s participatory research approach, working with poor rural people, is seen as having a potential to alleviate food insecurity and create agricultural employment in the rural areas.

“About 38% of the South African population lives in rural areas [up from about 53% in 1960], because they believe that life is better in the urban areas,” said Modi. “It is necessary to come up with better ways of food production in the rural areas to combat climate change effects, while we meet the food needs of the growing urban populations.

“My research is meant to show that agricultural science and ‘ethnoscience’ [indigenous knowledge] can be combined to come up with an ecologically healthy and sustainable agriculture.”

The winner of the TW Kambule NRF-NSTF Award was Professor Lyn Wadley, honorary professor of archaeology in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at Wits University.

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