Dr Victor Chingwara, Acting Director of Crops in the Agricultural Research, Innovation and Development Directorate (ARID) of Zimbabwe’s Public Service Commission, graduated with a PhD in plant breeding that he believes will help him answer food security problems.
Supervised by UKZN’s Professor Julia Sibiya and Professor Edmore Gasura of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ), and funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Chingwara investigated the genetic and agro-morphological diversity of sweet potato and conducted genome-wide association studies in sweet potato accessions from Zimbabwe.
The research aimed to assist in closing the gap in breeding characterisation or conservation of available germplasm in the country. The study was a first and is important in identifying genetically diverse genotypes that possess farmer-preferred traits and are high yielding.
Chingwara was successful in identifying new potential sources of useful alleles for different traits to initiate a breeding programme.
Having completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture, his Honours and Master’s degree in Crop Science at UZ, Chingwara always wanted to complete his PhD to advance his career. He chose to enrol at UKZN because of its focus on innovation and academic offerings that were suitable for addressing the critical challenges in Zimbabwe and across the continent. He was also inspired by UKZN’s rich heritage of academic excellence and the high calibre of staff that motivate students to succeed.
His time at UKZN was enriched by the support he received from his supervisor and the hospitality and assistance from staff. Chingwara said he benefited from swift responses and a conducive learning environment where supervisors ensured that practical skills were taught alongside theory.
Chingwara said completing his PhD had improved his understanding of the world and his own personal and professional development, resulting in his appointment as the Acting Director of the Crops Research Department.
‘I feel empowered technically and emotionally, thus boosting my confidence level to contribute towards the development of my country,’ said Chingwara.
‘I now feel better positioned to set relevant research agendas in line with Zimbabwe’s developmental initiatives. My critical thinking skills have been enhanced in a way that helps me mentor my team members in our effort to develop technologies to meet the challenge of food and nutrition insecurity that is exacerbated by climate change.’
The process of his PhD studies heightened Chingwara’s breeding skills leading to plans to create a breeding team for strategic crops such as sweet potato and small grains that are better adapted to low input and stressed environments. He also took the opportunity to improve his writing, editing and presentation skills for his own benefit and that of the team he monitors, co-ordinates and evaluates.
Having created links with a network of researchers during his studies, Chingwara plans to further collaborative research with several institutes under his leadership to meet the challenges they are tasked to help solve.
Despite completing part of his PhD during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chingwara said he was fortunate not to have encountered major challenges. Aligning his research with the goals and activities of ARID enabled him to complete his research effectively alongside his other responsibilities. Scheduling his activities had made the task a manageable one while funding from AGRA alleviated any financial burdens.
He said his graduation was a ‘big accomplishment’ after what had been a challenging journey. Chingwara thanked Sibiya and Gasura for their guidance and support, UKZN and his colleagues, family and friends for their assistance, and AGRA for the funding that assured the completion of his studies.
He also thanked Ms Andile Mshengu at UKZN for her administrative assistance, and acknowledged ARID for affording him the opportunity to complete his degree.
Words: Christine Cuénod