Mrs Adelaide Kumirai nee Mhlanga received her MSc degree in Agricultural Engineering at UKZN’s Spring Graduation ceremony for the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science.
Kumirai hails from Macheke, a small farming community some 100km from the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare. She attended Macheke Government Primary School and Murewa High School and completed a postgraduate degree in Agricultural Engineering at Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) in 2013 before embarking on her master’s studies at UKZN in 2016.
‘I came to UKZN as I knew it is one of the few universities (if not the only one) in South Africa offering Agricultural Engineering at postgraduate level and also that it has the best academics to supervise postdoc studies,’ said Kumirai.
She added that the two major projects she undertook at CUT influenced her academic and career paths. With the help of the Institute of Agricultural Engineering (IAE) in Zimbabwe, Kumirai designed a solar power drip irrigation system as well as a sunflower decorticator.
‘When I was called by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) for an interview for a master’s student to research the drying kinetics of mopani worms, I saw it as a huge opportunity to continue to fulfil my desire to empower small to medium scale farmers and entrepreneurs. The study’s findings would later feed into the design of a small-scale mopani worm solar dryer,’ said Kumirai.
Her study, Convective Hot Air Drying Kinetics of Mopani Worms, focused on the effects of temperature, relative humidity and pre-treatments on the drying kinetics of mopani worms as well as on the worms’ quality parameters.
The low levels of female representation in the agricultural engineering sector and the need to address the marginalisation of small to medium farmers and entrepreneurs in agriculture motivated Kumirai to pursue her master’s degree in this field.
‘My research feeds into some of the information required to design a mopani worm solar dryer for small to medium harvesters and entrepreneurs. This will help to ensure hygienic drying, shortened drying periods, and improved quality of dried mopani worms, therefore, alleviating the problems harvesters have been experiencing while using open sun drying methods,’ she explained.
Kumirai faced many obstacles on her journey to success, but overcame them by gaining new skills such as time management, how to take criticism well and learning how to be independent and take direction from her supervisor, while also defending her own ideas.
‘I am so grateful to the many people who believed in me during my studies including my husband, Mr Tichaona Kumirai, my mother Mrs Savie Mhlanga, my supervisors Professor Seyoum Workneh and Dr Moses Marenya, my mentors Drs Russel Mhundwa and Sipho Sibanda, and my friends and colleagues,’ she said.
‘I would like to express my great appreciation for financial support from the ARC, the European Union through the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) and UKZN. Your support was instrumental in my success today.’
Kumirai is currently impacting the lives of young people as a lecturer at a FET college in Pretoria where she teaches courses such as Engineering Drawing, Engineering Science, Power Machines, Strength of Materials and Communication for Engineers.
‘My future plans are to pursue my studies and do a PhD as well as to continue bringing solutions to the marginalised in the agricultural sector,’ said Kumirai. ‘I also see myself working hand-in-hand with both research institutions and universities and imparting the knowledge I have acquired and will acquire in the future for a better nation and nations at large.’
Words: Zolile Duma
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan