Three African Agriculturists Graduate Together with PhDs
Three students from different African countries graduated together with PhDs in Agricultural Extension and Resource Management (AERRM).
They are Dr Tsion Kidane of Ethiopia, Dr Kessawa Payandi (Gopal) Pillay of Mauritius, and Dr Kamal-Abdu-Raheem of Nigeria.
All three, supervised by Dr Steve Worth of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), hope to use their research to improve agricultural strategy, training and capacity-building in their home countries.
Abdu-Raheem, whose thesis comprised mainly published papers, investigated how coherence can be established in terms of policy development and the harmonious implementation of food security and biodiversity conservation. His work effectively positions agricultural extension to realise these presently dichotomised objectives simultaneously in the country.
‘His study recommended a re-alignment of policy and structures to enable agricultural extension to simultaneously pursue food security and bio-diversity conservation,’ said Worth. ‘It was remarkable because all three of his examiners recommended awarding the degree with no corrections, which is almost unprecedented.’
Kamal, who lectures at Ekiti State University in Nigeria, is passionate about understanding rural lifestyles and the various means of livelihood available in them, spurring him on to specialise in AERRM. He studied Animal Production and Health Sciences in his BAgric Honours degree at the University of Ado-Ekiti in Nigeria, and then obtained his B.Inst Agrar and M.Inst Agrar certificates in Agricultural Economics at the University of Pretoria.
Abdu-Raheem was inspired to study at UKZN because of its sound academic standards and its provision of financial relief to postgraduate students; qualities he says are rarely simultaneously found in any of the sister universities in South Africa.
Abdu-Raheem’s study has implications for dealing with constraints to agricultural extension in the simultaneous promotion of food security and biodiversity conservation. The study also provided the relevant Departments of Agriculture managing the South African public Agricultural Extension with an objective model of potential synergies in achieving food security and biodiversity conservation concurrently.
Abdu-Raheem credits the support of his academic parents as well as that of his wife, for the motivation to complete his degree. He also said: ‘The wealth of experience and the inquisitive nature of my supervisor kept me challenged, and provided me with the needed push to pull through the research struggle successfully.’ He intends to conduct a similar study in his home country and pass on the knowledge he gained while under Worth’s supervision.
Kidane’s thesis also comprised mainly published papers, which needed only minor corrections to the use of English, despite the fact that English is not her first language. One examiner said that the quality of her work was ‘comparable to benchmarks for similar research at other leading universities around the world’.
Kidane’s study determined key contributing factors, in particular, teacher and student attitudes and what influences them to explore why agriculture, as a subject of study, experiences one of the highest failure rates in secondary schools.
Kidane recommends improving agricultural education by establishing open information-sharing and networking between policy-makers and implementers, improving the quality of the curriculum, creating awareness about what influences teacher and student attitudes, and making learning more experiential, including providing appropriate infrastructure in high schools.
Kidane completed her MSc degree at the Department of Rural Development and Agricultural Extension, College of Agriculture and Environmental Science, Haramaya University in Ethiopia. She chose to study at UKZN because of its status as the top University for research in Africa.
Kidane’s masters research focused on the effectiveness of farmers training offered by the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research by considering three different agricultural centres.
Kidane hopes to continue her research in order to develop an efficient practical system which will assist in producing Agricultural Science knowledge at different levels. She believes the knowledge acquired during her postgraduate studies will enable her to promote applied research targeting wide audiences including farmers.
Pillay, who holds both a diploma and a BSc Honours from the University of Mauritius in Agriculture and Sugar Technology, obtained his Masters in Agricultural Extension from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.
Pillay, who is about to celebrate his 60th birthday, persisted with his research despite a period of ill health and completed his thesis on the productivity gap between large corporate planters and small-scale planters in the sugar cane industry in Mauritius. He explored factors which contribute to this gap, including a lack of access to research for small-scale planters.
‘The research was conducted in Mauritius, so briefing sessions, consultations and editing were done largely through Skype to reduce travelling costs,’ said Worth. ‘It was late night work for both the candidate and the supervisor. We held weekly two-hour meetings via Skype for nearly a year, which is quite a feat.’
One examiner said: ‘Given the complexity of the subject and scope of the field of research, this is a well-structured and well-presented thesis…there are some valuable key findings.’
Pillay said he was grateful to his supervisor, Dr Worth, for all the support, guidance and commitment. He also thanked his family members for their understanding and patience.
Pillay’s interest in extension studies hones in on its provision of opportunities for capacity-building of extension practitioners so that they can accompany small farmers in their quest for improved livelihoods.
‘Extension and research must actively involve the farmers in each step of the research process,’ said Pillay. ‘There is urgency to review and change the structure and process of engaging research and extension with one another, as well as both individually and collectively with the farmers. Farmers must be engaged at all stages in the research cycle – not just at the beginning and the end.’
Pillay chose to complete his PhD at UKZN because of its suitability for his research and the facilities it offers in terms of proximity, costs and research coaching. He plans to use the experience accumulated during his studies to contribute to improving the livelihood of small-scale farmers.
‘I sincerely hope that the findings of my research will prove useful to those who will continue to strive to improve the livelihood of the small sugar cane planters in Mauritius and elsewhere, be it at the level of research, extension or policy making,’ said Pillay. ‘For myself, in the future I hope to contribute to the empowerment of young scientists who devote their careers to the field of agricultural extension and rural development.’
- Christine Cuénod