Graduate Reflects on Journey to Horticulture Master’s

Mr Mawande Shinga, who graduated with his Master of Science in Agriculture in Horticultural Science this year, reflected on his journey through degree focus changes to attain a qualification that enabled him to contribute to knowledge of postharvest techniques for protecting citrus fruit against disorders.

Shinga, who attended Mvuthuluka High School in southern KwaZulu-Natal, began his studies in the field of Crop Sciences after developing an interest in agriculture thanks to the agriculture-dependent households he observed in his home village of Mswilili near Port Shepstone. He spent part of his days in his family’s food garden planting, fertilising, irrigating or harvesting crops to contribute to his family’s survival. He took agriculture as a subject in high school, developing his passion for the field.

‘Agriculture will never go out of fashion; it only gets more interesting year after year,’ he said.

Shinga chose to study at UKZN because of its strength in agriculture. Balancing his academic work with athletic activities including jogging and playing soccer, Shinga kept his mind fresh for the demands of long days, assignment submissions, tests, laboratory practicals and more.

After completing his BScAgric in Crop Science, Shinga decided to diversify his knowledge of agricultural plant sciences. He registered for a Master’s in Horticultural Science, aiming to do research in postharvest technology to gain experience both in the field and the laboratory and taking up chess as a hobby to train his mind to focus more sharply.

Supervised by Dr Asanda Mditshwa, Professor Lembe Magwaza and Professor Samson Tesfay, Shinga investigated techniques that could predict rind pitting disorder in “Marsh” grapefruit and reduce the fruit’s susceptibility to this disorder.

He experimented with using carboxy methylcellulose, encapsulated with coatings made from edible moringa leaf extracts, to inhibit the occurrence of postharvest citrus disorders, saying this technique is known to enhance fruit quality.

Using visible to near infrared spectroscopy (Vis/NIRS) to predict possible postharvest citrus disorders, Shinga suggested this research could aid South African citrus farmers in predicting disorders without destroying fruit, a beneficial tool in an industry where according to Shinga more than 75% of citrus produced is exported.

While making the change from Crop Science to Horticultural Science for his Master’s was challenging, Shinga said he was able to adapt successfully thanks to support from his colleagues and supervisors. He thanked everyone who contributed to his project.

Shinga hopes to one day proceed to PhD studies, despite personal circumstances not allowing this at present. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have made finding employment a challenge, but driven to keep his mind sharp and to be productive, Shinga has been exploring ideas for self-employment.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied