Dr Alfred Odindo (left) and Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi with their awards.

Crop Science Researchers Recognised by WRC for Contributions to Water Sector

Honorary research fellow, Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi and senior lecturer in Crop Science, Dr Alfred Odindo – both of UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences – have received Research Knowledge Tree awards from the Water Research Commission (WRC) in recognition of their contributions to policy and decision-making and to human capital development in the sector.

The awards were presented to Mabhaudhi and Odindo by Stockholm Water Prize winner, Professor Jackie King, at the fourth WRC Symposium gala dinner. The Knowledge Tree Awards – in line with the WRC’s strategic planning approach to research impact – recognise excellence in the water science domain in seven categories.

Mabhaudhi won in the category “Informing Policy and Decision Making” for a project he led that investigated emerging lessons to assess the state of the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus for South Africa, a project that was deemed to have provided appropriate evidence-based information to guide decision-making. Through a systematic assessment of South Africa’s WEF nexus status, potential, challenges and opportunities for WEF nexus planning, the project developed a WEF nexus framework for South Africa and a research agenda to guide future WEF nexus research, development and innovation.

Mabhaudhi has worked on several successful WRC projects over the course of his career, completing his PhD and master’s degrees on WRC projects that involved drought tolerance and water use of selected South African landraces of taro and Bambara groundnut and responses of maize landraces to water stress compared with commercial hybrids, respectively. He is currently Components Director on the uMngeni Resilience Project, and Agriculture Lead on the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) programme, He also heads a new WRC project on drone applications in smallholder agriculture. Mabhaudhi adopts a multi- and transdisciplinary approach to his work; focusing on crop responses to abiotic stresses, water use and crop-climate modelling, as well as food systems, global environmental change and the WEF nexus.

Odindo, also an Adjunct Professor at the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences, won in the category “Human Capital Development in the Water and Science Sector: Emerging Researcher”.

Through his work and other WRC projects, Odindo has trained more than 50 postgraduate students – about 10 in the water sector.

The award recognises projects supporting the training of postgraduate students in their focus to train and mentor new research leaders.

A Crop Scientist/Agronomist having earned his PhD in Crop Science from UKZN in 2008 and whose current research interests fall within the emerging field of sustainability science, Odindo focuses on understanding the interactions between engineering (sanitation innovations), agriculture and social systems, and their application in seeking practical solutions to the global challenges of water, energy, food security and environmental pollution.

He is currently leading a WRC project investigating sustainable waste and wastewater management practices that allow plant nutrient recovery and their agricultural reuse, exploring the integration of sustainable agricultural production in the design of low cost sanitation technologies by using plant nutrients and wastewater recovered from human excreta-derived materials (HEDM). This project operates in the local communities in Vulindlela in the Msunduzi Municipality to generate information on HEDM fertiliser value and impacts of using HEDMs on the atmosphere, soils, surface and groundwater. The project is generating information for developing guidelines for integrating sustainable agricultural production in the planning and design of low cost sanitation technologies for social housing schemes not connected to centralised sewerage systems.

Odindo is Principal Investigator for the South African component of the Swiss funded project titled: The Rural-Urban Nexus: Establishing a Nutrient Loop to Improve City Region Food System Resilience. This project, using a transdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder development process, aims to establish a circular economy for resilient city region food systems in South Africa, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda by applying waste-recycling and small-scale processing innovations.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photographs: Water Research Commission