The African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child” is apt in the life of Master of Agriculture in Food Security graduate Ms Noxolo Thabethe.
After losing her mother – who was her pillar of strength – when she was about to write her matric examinations, Thabethe was surrounded and supported by her community.
Her teacher and principal from Edendale Technical High School helped pay first-year registration fees at UKZN while her family and members of the Smero community assisted with the necessities of life, especially during her undergraduate years.
Thabethe excelled at UKZN and was awarded funding by the Moses Kotane Institute for all her undergraduate studies. Meanwhile, counsellors from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science helped her cope with her work and adjustment to university life.
Thabethe encountered the subject of Food Security in her third year when she undertook the Food Security 360 module and thoroughly enjoyed it although it was something she had never learned or heard about before. She decided that given the opportunity, she would pursue the subject at postgraduate level.
Now she has obtained her Master of Agriculture in Food Security degree cum laude!
Thabethe’s supervisor, Professor Joyce Chitja made her aware of the importance of market access for smallholder farmers and how vital “women empowerment” was for the agricultural sector.
Thabethe believed she could make a contribution to the empowerment of smallholder female farmers through her research by shedding light on how crucial it is for farmers to be market-orientated and how vital women’s participation in the agricultural value chain is.
She noted that farmers, and especially female smallholder farmers, were vital in improving household food security in South Africa as they were usually the ones who engaged in agricultural activities, making their empowerment and improved access to markets of outmost importance. ‘Helping smallholder farmers reach a commercial level is one of the significant goals for the agricultural sector,’ said Thabethe. ‘My research addressed factors contributing towards achieving this goal.’
Thabethe thanked Chitja, who not only supervised her work but helped fund her coursework tuition and living expenses from her Water Research Commission projects. ‘She saw potential in me that I did not even realise I had. She instilled and equipped me with new skills and confidence which improved my self-esteem,’ she said.
Dr Ojo Temitope also contributed significantly to her work. ‘He was a big help in my analysis,’ said Thabethe. ‘My fellow students also motivated and helped me, and we kept encouraging each other to do our best and to get good results.’ She also thanked her cousins Ntombenhle and Bongani Ndawonde, the TFCK Church and God.
Thabethe plans to work as an agricultural economist or a researcher so that she can continue contributing to improving the smallholder agricultural sector. She plans to do her PhD in Food Security.
To other students, especially those facing hardships, she said: ‘Help is out there, never give up.’
Words: Nicole Chidzawo