PhD Candidate Attends Pan-African Soil Challenge in Ghana

PhD Candidate Attends Pan-African Soil Challenge in Ghana

Mr Misheck Musokwa, a PhD candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, recently attended the Pan-African Soil Challenge (PASCAL) High-Performance Computing (HPC) training programme at the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) in Accra, Ghana.

PASCAL, funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research with training through the ForschungszentrumJülich and its competence centres, aims to initiate a knowledge and technology transfer bridge (Science Bridge) between Germany and Africa in the areas of soil science, nutrition and hydrology.

This involves training in terrestrial modelling followed by an interactive “hackathon” in Africa. This enables African researchers to partner with German experts on site to discuss models and further develop software.

To meet the challenges the African continent will face with a booming population and climate change challenges, partners in the Science Bridge project hope that training offered in HPC technologies, specifically applied to hydrological and atmospheric simulations within terrestrial systems, will help equip scientists in Africa to meet challenges and ensure secure and sustainable food production for Africa. The programme supports early-career researchers and established scientists in this endeavour.

Musokwa is conducting his PhD on the topic of quantifying soil benefits and water use in agroforestry systems in South Africa. His PhD research involves investigating agroforestry as a sustainable or alternative technique to fertiliser use for smallholder farmers in South Africa to combat the widespread challenge of soil degradation and nutrient depletion.

He hopes this will improve land productivity through water use efficiency, improved and sustainable crop yields, environmental protection and diversification of farmers’ food and income. Initial results are proving promising, demonstrating improvement in biological and physical soil properties in agroforestry systems compared to current smallholder farming practices.

‘I want to provide smallholder famers and policy makers with a farming system technology that can cope with climate change so that food security will be ensured,’ said Musokwa.

Musokwa is interested in issues related to agroforestry, soil fertility, modelling of nutrients and water in agroecosystems and climate change. His PhD work, as well as his master’s research, is funded through the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) and forms part of a Water Research Commission (WRC) project on the topic of the water use of agroforestry systems for food, forage and/or biofuel production. Professor Paramu Mafongoya and Professor Simon Lorentz are supervising his research.

He hopes that after undergoing this training, he will be able to better implement an objective of his study that involves use of HYDRUS software to model soil water dynamics in an agroforestry system.

Musokwa is from Zimbabwe, where he completed his undergraduate and Honours degrees in Crop Science at Bindura University of Science Education. He also worked in the country as an agroforestry research officer for the Department of Research and Specialist Services at the Agronomy Research Institute in Harare, and as an agroforestry specialist development facilitator for Dzikwa Trust in Harare.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: ForschungszentrumJülich/Marcel Buelow