The Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension at the University of the Free State (UFS) has awarded 48 master’s degrees and one PhD at the June 2018 graduation ceremonies. According to the Head of the centre, Dr Johan van Niekerk, the centre strives to be the MBA of agriculture in the SADC countries. “We want to provide the cream of agriculture with a high-quality degree to enable them to make a difference where they are.”
In the past five years, the centre has awarded between 40 and 50 master’s degrees to graduates annually. Three PhDs were awarded on average, and according to Dr Van Niekerk this number is growing every year.
When asked about the secret of their success, he indicated that the centre’s small staff complement have compelled them to make use of external study leaders from institutions such as the Agricultural Research Council and the national Department of Agriculture. Training are of a high quality and only 50 of the 300 students who apply for postgraduate studies at the centre annually, are successful.
An example of someone who has made a difference where she is working, is Dr René Bastian.
Dr Bastian, who already has a PhD (Plant Biology), received her master’s degree from the centre at the recent graduation ceremonies. She wanted to do a practical degree in agricultural extension and approached the centre for another postgraduate degree.
Working at the Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape, Dr Bastian is in charge of a number of land-reform projects. This includes a very successful project on a government-bought farm. Workers on the farm are empowered with skills such as sheep and wheat farming, as well as the successful running of a guesthouse and wedding venue.
About her training at the UFS, Dr Bastian said: “The module equipped me to better assist upcoming farmers. With the focus of the module on agriculture and also being practical, I can better advise upcoming farmers, which contribute to their growth and development.”
Contributing to the centre’s success story is the PhD that was awarded to Dr Awonke Sonandi. Currently working as Director of Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services in the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform in the Eastern Cape, Dr Sonandi’s research for his thesis was on the topic: Determining the nutritional status of children from agri-business families in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. His study dismisses the myth and long-held belief that children of agri-business families are automatically nutrition-secure and have elevated nutritional status by virtue of being dependents of food producers. He found that food production and food availability are key to addressing individual food and nutrition insecurity and good nutritional knowledge. His work contributes to the availability of the much-needed national data on nutritional status, with a view to updating dietary references for the intake of children.
Dr Johan van Niekerk, head of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension speaks on the value the UFS is adding to South Africa in delivering graduates of this caliber, the contribution of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension to the land reform debate, and a message of encouragement to graduates from his centre here
Source University of the Free State