At the Symposium are (from left) Professor Albert Modi, Mr Rod Stevens, Professor Festo Massawe, Ms Lungi Ndlovu, Professor Steve Worth and Mr Ashwin Seetal.

Partnerships for Resilience Explored during Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium

Developing resilience through partnerships and collaboration was explored during the annual Ukulinga Howard Davis Memorial Symposium hosted by UKZN at its Ukulinga Research Farm in Pietermaritzburg.

The event, a joint initiative between UKZN and the Howard Davis Farm Trust, is a multi-level Symposium which honours the educational legacy of Howard Davis, who died in 1916 during World War 1.

This year the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) co-sponsored the event.

The symposium brings together stakeholders from across the agricultural industry in KwaZulu-Natal and the wider South African agricultural community. The more than 200 delegates who attended this year included students, academics, scientists, small-scale and commercial farmers, and civil society members.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Professor Albert Modi, opened proceedings saying: ‘This Symposium is for the people – through it we are able to reach out to communities.’

Speaking on behalf of the trust, Mr Rod Stevens of the Howard Davis Farm Trust said: ‘One of the key factors we wanted integrated into the Symposium was to reach out to the community and we are really pleased that this has happened because it transfers knowledge that the academic programme has produced to upskill the community in agriculture.’

Keynote speakers at the event were Professor Festo Massawe, a Crop Science specialist at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, and UKZN alumnus Mr Ashwin Seetal, a strategic water management expert at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Smart Places.

Massawe, whose research focuses on underutilised crops and sustainable crop production, spoke about how to build a resilient and sustainable food system in a changing world, pointing out that current food systems are central to the current global food insecurity and health concerns. He discussed how to build a sustainable food system from food production to consumption, through balancing socio-economic, health and environmental demands, and moving away from disciplinary silos to collaborative partnerships.

‘Research and development activities on food systems must become more multidisciplinary, more participatory and more focused on interactions between the different components of food systems,’ said Massawe.

Seetal – a trans-disciplinary scientist and multi-disciplinary specialist with extensive strategic and operations experience in water and natural resources and its associated sectors – spoke about preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the integration of technology in the daily lives of humans, and how this will impact jobs of the future, agriculture and food, and agricultural inclusivity, particularly in Africa.

Oral and poster presentations covered a wide range of topics, including lessons learned by the URP in the various areas where it works, agro-ecology, perceptions of climate change in small-scale fishery communities, collective water management and agricultural resilience, and eco-system service production.

There were also success stories from farmer associations such as the Underberg Farmers Association and Future Farmers alumni working on a dairy farm and at the KwaZulu-Natal Poultry Institute.

Other groups represented were the Farmer Support Group (FSG), the Institute of Natural Resources, the Centre for Water Resources ResearchGreenHill Laboratories, and Illovo Sugar.

The event included discussion panels each day, allowing delegates to engage with presenters, and to discuss and share ideas.

Exhibitors included Future Farmers, the FSG, Agri-Enviro Solutions and Franchising Plus.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Ntokozo Dladla