College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Dr Sithembiso Ndlela with his supervisor Professor Steve Worth.

PhD Graduate Cultivates a Career in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management

Dr Sithembiso Ndlela is celebrating completing his PhD research that emphasises the importance of responsible natural resource management while simultaneously increasing small-scale farmers’ agricultural production capacity.

His interest in this topic sprang from Ndlela’s master’s research that concluded that promoting self-reliance and sustainability among small-scale farmers begins with developing human capital through capacity building. His own observations coupled with reviews of the literature led him to his thesis topic.

‘I realised that most development interventions globally and especially in South Africa focus on improving agricultural production to improve national food security and combat poverty, with less attention placed on sustainable management of natural resources,’ said Ndlela.

He applied development theories to his research, which suggest that the sustainability of any agricultural intervention depends on striking a balance between optimum production and natural resource management.

‘LandCare is a public programme that works directly with issues related to natural resources, and my research focused on understanding the role of agricultural extension and the LandCare policy in building farmers’ capacity to manage natural resources,’ said Ndlela.

‘While a lot of effort is invested in growing more food, it is likely that future generations will not be able to grow enough food if natural resources are not managed correctly,’ he said.

His study made recommendations and proposed a framework to better contextualise agricultural extension in LandCare in terms of building capacity, and how LandCare policy could be improved for consistency with the principles and theory of capacity building.

Despite the challenge of not having funding for his research, with support from his supervisor Professor Steve Worth and a sustenance bursary from UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, Ndlela’s dissertation was a success, with an international examiner accepting it with no corrections.

‘Work, study, family, contract lecturing, publishing – he’s done it all. If anyone does, he inspires,’ said Worth of Ndlela.

Ndlela’s academic career at UKZN began when he enrolled in the Bachelor of Agriculture (BAgric) extension programme run by the University with Cedara College of Agriculture. Despite having dreamt of a career as a chartered accountant, when Ndlela was accepted to agricultural extension he discovered a love for the subject and chose to pursue a vocation in this field.

Joining in the BAgric’s second year of existence, Ndlela completed the programme and went on to complete his BAgric honours and his master’s at UKZN, graduating cum laude with both and completing three degrees in five years.

‘It did not only train me for a job but expanded my thinking capacity which has impacted my life and career in many positive ways,’ he said.

Ndlela’s first work experience came as a tutor at UKZN during his master’s studies. He also worked for the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria, and while completing his PhD he worked as an agricultural advisor for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in Ermelo for more than two years. He is currently a contract lecturer in Agricultural Extension and Rural Resource Management (AERRM) at UKZN.

‘I decided to pursue my career at UKZN because it is one of the best universities in South Africa and has the best agricultural extension programme in the country,’ said Ndlela.

He is also exploring his interest in setting up a business offering training to agricultural practitioners working for the government and non-governmental organisations, and farmers, and plans to work as a freelance consultant in agricultural extension and rural development.

Ndlela thanked Worth for his support and supervision, and the AERRM team at UKZN for their moral support and faith in him. He expressed appreciation to Mrs Karen Worth, Mr Jeff Mthwalo, officials from the national and KwaZulu-Natal provincial LandCare offices, extension officers and smallholder farmers in the UMkhanyakude, Ugu and Amajuba districts who participated in the study, and Miss Ntombenhle Blose. He thanked his friends Stan, Kaptein, Mayor, Razoh, Mabheshu, Ozzie and Black for their motivation and support, and his family, particularly his mother Ms A P Ndlela and father Mr E Ntuli.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Sandile Ndlovu