College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Mr Simon Gwara at ETH Zürich in Switzerland.

PhD Candidate Participates in First ETH Zürich Mentorship Programme

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Mr Simon Gwara, a doctoral candidate in Agricultural Economics and part of UKZN’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Research and Development (WASH R&D) Centre is one of four international PhD students selected for participation in a mentorship programme run by ETH Zürich’s Development arm (ETH4D).

Gwara’s PhD research, currently under examination, investigated the social acceptability, market feasibility and sustainability of human excreta reuse in agri-food value chains, and has resulted in the publication of three peer-reviewed articles with two manuscripts under review.

Joining Mr Jacktone Akelo from Kenya, Mr Parwiz Mosamim from Italy and Mr Prosper Takam Ngakou from Cameroon, Gwara is spending three months at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, hosted at the institution’s Sustainable Agroecosystems Group (SAE) led by Professor Johan Six and receiving technical mentorship from Dr Stephan Pfister at ETH Zürich’s Ecological Systems Design Lab, Dr Benabderrazik Kenza and Dr Ben Wilde in the SAE on sustainability assessment using methods of life cycle-based science.

Gwara is also an invited guest lecturer in ETH Zürich’s Agroecosystems Without Borders Masters class led by Kenza and Wilde, where he provides insight into the activities of the Rural-Urban Nexus: Establishing a Nutrient Loop to Improve City Region Food System Resilience (RUNRES) project in South Africa. He is also exploring collaboration with Switzerland’s Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FibBL).

On 25 March, Gwara presented a talk on the social acceptance of bio-based fertilisers (part of his PhD) at ETH Zurich’s FertiCycle project alongside two other speakers, Anne-Kristin Loes from the Norwegian Centre for Organic Agriculture in Norway and Brian Jacobsen from the University of Copenhagen.

He is also part of the National Sanitation Task Team providing technical support in the drafting of the National Sanitation Framework and the 10-year Faecal Sludge Management Strategy in South Africa. He has presented RUNRES work at national summits and meetings.

Gwara came across the ETH4D Mentorship Programme through the RUNRES project and Six at ETH Zürich and his team. The RUNRES project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s Global Programme Food Security, and led by Six together with Dr Alfred Odindo at UKZN, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Kigali in Rwanda, and Ethiopia’s Arba Minch University. It aims to establish a circular economy for resilient city region food systems in South Africa, Ethiopia, the DRC and Rwanda.

At each of the rural-urban sites in the DRC, Rwanda, Ethiopia and South Africa, RUNRES researchers are establishing solutions-oriented and transdisciplinary innovation platforms with collaborators from academia, the private sector, government, and local communities.

The project team in South Africa, coordinated by UKZN, includes researchers from the WASH R&D Centre, the Discipline of Development Studies and the African Cities of the Future Research Flagship, as well as representatives from Msunduzi Municipality.

Originally from Zimbabwe where he completed his Bachelor of Science and Master’s in Agricultural Economics, Gwara began his research career as a graduate research associate in socioeconomics at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), going on to work at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics before commencing PhD studies at UKZN, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the WASH R&D Centre.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied