UKZN’s Ms Lerato Phali presenting her research at the European Commission Counterfactual Impact Evaluation week in Italy.

Agricultural Economics PhD Candidate Doing Research in Italy

Ms Lerato Phali, a PhD candidate in UKZN’s Discipline of Agricultural Economics in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, is doing a year-long research fellowship at the University of Foggia in Italy thanks to a Rotary International Global Grant.

Phali’s doctoral research focused on water economics and governance and is being supervised by Professor Maxwell Mudhara and Dr Stuart Ferrer. The work aims to expand knowledge on how to properly manage water resources and use them sustainably and equitably, particularly in the face of climate change and water scarcity.

‘Although South Africa has some of the best policies and legislature in terms of water, the potential lack of horizontal and vertical integration in water governance poses a problem for irrigation in agriculture, a key poverty solution particularly in rural areas,’ said Phali. She also pointed out that the lack of inclusion of informal institutions in strategies such as Participatory Irrigation Management inhibits the success of the decentralisation of these schemes.

‘My research takes a closer look at these issues and recommends how policy can be adapted and what interventions can be made to ensure the sustainable management of our water resources and ultimately, the productivity of our farmers,’ said Phali.

Her research forms part of a Water Research Commission project on the effectiveness of water policies and strategies in the governance of smallholder irrigation schemes in South Africa, and is multidisciplinary in nature; combining agricultural and resource economics with policy and governance issues.

Phali’s time in Italy is helping her shape her research career through gaining experience, knowledge and skills in policy development and evaluation, particularly in international trade and agriculture.

While in Italy, she has also attended summer schools such as the recent European Commission Counterfactual Impact Evaluation (CIE) week in Ispra, where she received training on CIE methods and participated in a workshop on Impact Evaluation in developed and developing countries, which included input from academics, researchers, and experts from international organisations such as the World Bank, European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

While at the workshop, Phali had the opportunity to discuss her research project on the topic of the impact of provincial growth and development strategies in South Africa; research that she is working on while part of the Agricultural and Food Economics Group at the University of Foggia.

Phali, whose master’s research was also undertaken at UKZN on the topic of the Impact of Food Prices on Household Food Security, has previously gained experience in her field through the prestigious Young Agricultural Professionals Programme for 2017-2018. She was one of only two South Africans selected for this programme, which enabled her to take part in a study tour in the United States; visiting Cornell University, the World Bank, International Food Policy Research Institute, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services, among other institutions.

Phali plans to continue working in the research space once she has completed her studies; and hopes to grow her non-profit organisation Grow-n-Live, which aims to implement research recommendations and interventions in agriculture, environmental and development studies as well as to draw more young people towards pursuing careers in agriculture.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied