Research into the conditions under which retailers store amadumbe secured Mr Demian Mukansi an MSc degree in Agricultural Engineering cum laude.
Mukansi’s research involved studying the effect of different storage conditions on the quality of amadumbe corms (Colocasia esculenta) as well as flours and starches extracted from stored quantities of the vegetable.
Statistics on food losses and scarcity in Africa motivated Mukansi to pursue the research to find ways to reduce food losses.
Mukansi says he found that the current storage method used by retail outlets to store amadumbe leads to excessive quality losses. He therefore recommends that storage of the vegetable for long periods should be at high chill temperatures.
After matriculating from Volkrust High School, Mukansi completed an Agricultural Engineering degree at UKZN – the only institution offering such a degree accredited by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).
Supervised by Professor Tilahun Seyoum Workneh, he went on to complete his Master’s degree in Agricultural Engineering, expanding his expertise in food related work.
During his postgraduate studies, Mukansi was elected as the College Representative of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on the Pietermaritzburg campus in 2020 and 2021. ‘Considering the fact that this was during the time where we had COVID-19 restrictions, leading students was very challenging and we had to adapt and be dynamic in our approach as student leaders,’ he said.
‘My story goes against the narrative that student leaders don’t do well academically, or that you can’t be a Science student and be involved in student governance,’ he said. ‘I do encourage every student who wants to serve through governance to do so without any fear because it’s possible to excel in both. But always remember that your primary focus should be learning or research.’
Mukansi won the Engineering Industry Impact Award and was placed second in the Best Oral Presentation section at the 2021 Postgraduate Research and Innovative Symposium (PRIS).
Mukansi thanked God, ‘who I believe has blessed me with knowledge of all kinds of literature’ and his family and friends for supporting him during his academic journey. He also thanked his Science teacher at Volksrust High School, Ms M Smit, for her assistance and support. ‘Growing up I wasn’t the smartest kid around, so I will forever be grateful to her for motivating me from being a 50% student in Grade 9 to an A student in matric. It was this inspiration that changed my academic journey.’
Mukansi is now busy reading for his PhD at UKZN. ‘The next time I share my story I will be wearing a red gown as I am now busy with doctoral research into floods,’ he said.
Words: Leena Rajpal
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal