UKZN’s Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa has been named by Food Tank – in honour of World Soil Day – as one of 13 Soil Scientists to watch globally.
Muchaonyerwa, who has researched soil ecosystem function and health, and sustainable agriculture across several African countries for the past 15 years, is currently a member of the Soil Science Society of South Africa (SSSSA) and the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS).
Muchaonyerwa said he was honoured by the wider recognition, which also emphasises the importance of Soil Science as a discipline that underpins various other fields that improve humanity’s wellbeing.
‘The contribution of soil science to food, fibre and timber production and in environmental aspects such as climate change and attenuation of pollutants, is undervalued,’ said Muchaonyerwa.
He highlighted that the rate of soil degradation was more rapid than its formation, necessitating well-trained experts to address resulting global challenges. He says soil scientists trained in South Africa should be of a high calibre to contribute to tackling challenges unique to South African soils.
‘Major issues facing our soils globally include degradation (physical, chemical and biological) and desertification, with the impacts worsened by the effects of climate change,’ said Muchaonyerwa.
He emphasised that phenomena such as soil erosion, compaction, crusting and hard-setting were serious environmental challenges that reduced the productivity of land and water bodies.
‘Like other tropical and subtropical countries, soils of South Africa are either too acidic, with low nutrients, or too salt affected,’ said Muchaonyerwa. ‘Wastes from anthropogenic activities, including mining and other industrial activities, reduce the quality of some of the best potential soils.
‘Effective management of soil resources requires a clear understanding of these resources and how they interact with other biophysical and socio-economic factors, as well as collaboration between researchers from across disciplines working with resource users.’
Muchaonyerwa conducts research into soil productivity and organic waste management for food and fibre production and environmental sustainability. His current research projects include carbon stocks and productivity of humic soils in South Africa; nutrient recovery from agricultural wastewater using duckweed and the fertiliser value of the macrophyte biomass; phosphorus and potassium management in agriculture; gully rehabilitation for sediment retention and carbon storage, and organic wastes and biochar for soil productivity improvement.
Muchaonyerwa joined Soil Science in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) at UKZN in 2011 after seven years at the University of Fort Hare, before which he worked at his alma mater, the University of Zimbabwe.
Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod