‘I am impressed that UKZN caters for candidates like me who want to be engineers in agricultural practices and offers such exciting study opportunities in the field!’
So says BSc Engineering (Agricultural Engineering) graduate and current intern at UKZN’s Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC@UKZN), Mr Thembelani Khumalo, who chose the University for his studies because it is close to his home and is one of the few South African universities which offer an Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)-accredited Agricultural Engineering degree.
Khumalo said agricultural engineering included studies in civil, electrical, mechanical and environmental engineering spheres, which increase employment opportunities for graduates. ‘Also covered are statistics, computer science and physical hydrology,’ he said. ‘That sparked my interest. Agricultural engineering is a scarce skill that offers great career opportunities.’
For his final year research project, Khumalo worked on the design of a peristaltic-driven liquid fertiliser applicator. ‘This is a mobile fertiliser sprayer that helps small scale farmers apply fertiliser proportionally in row crops,’ he said. ‘This machine limits fertiliser wastage and promotes the precision application of fertiliser to a designated area near the root zone of the crops with reduced labour requirement.
‘The machine aims to improve small scale farming in the area of food production by improving yields of the small-scale farmer,’ he said.
Khumalo believes his design has value. ‘Arable land is diminishing as are agricultural resources. It is important to use both land and agricultural resources efficiently and effectively.
‘If Science, Engineering and Technology can help in developing devices and techniques that are capable of predicting wastage of agricultural resources and promote efficiency through precision agriculture, then the life span of agricultural resources will increase.’
Khumalo plans to study further. ‘I believe it is important for me to do that,’ he said. ‘Most opportunities in life today rely on the skillset possessed by an individual. I need to grab all the necessary skills to improve my engineering career and toolkit.’
Khumalo paid tribute to his parents for their support. ‘There were difficult times in my journey,’ he said.
‘Sometimes I felt it was too much for me but my parents were always there for me.’ He also thanked his sponsor, Sasol Inzalo Foundation for their much-needed financial support and mentorship as well as the UKZN academics, in particular Agricultural Engineering staff Professor Jeff Smithers, Dr Alaika Kassim, Dr Aidan Senzanje, Mr Vincent van Erk and Professor Tilahun Seyoum. He also thanked friends Mr Avuyile Magaqa, Mr Malibongwe Ncoshe, Ms Bongiwe Mtshali and Mr Thubelihle Manqele. ‘My list is endless, so I wish to thank everyone else who added value.’
In his spare time Khumalo enjoys browsing through online videos on artificial intelligence and the internet of things to gain knowledge of how technology and technical systems work. ‘Doing this improves my knowledge of how some modules I did in my undergraduate studies are important in solving world problems, for example, in improving security and safety in our daily activities as human beings,’ he said.
Khumalo commented on the lack of knowledge about agricultural engineering among high school pupils. ‘Many do not know that it exists as a career choice,’ he said. ‘They lack knowledge of what agricultural engineering is all about and their chances of being enrolled in this programme.’
‘The academic journey is not easy in all disciplines. You need resilience and knowing what you want,’ said Khumalo. ‘Challenges exist and make you want to quit your studies but resilience helps and if you know that your team is behind you, then you will never go wrong.’
Words: Sally Frost