College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Rural Upbringing Triggers Interest in Food Security Studies

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Doctoral graduate, Dr Nthabeleng Tamako grew up in the Mount Fletcher area of the Eastern Cape where subsistence farming is widespread.

Her parents grew and sold vegetables and kept livestock to earn money to pay for necessities, including school fees for her and her siblings.

The value and impact of the rural farming experience in her early life spurred Tamako’s love for agriculture and motivated her to continue her studies in that field after earning an MSc degree in Food Security cum laude.

She was keen to learn more about food production to advance her knowledge of farming and to transfer that knowledge back to her roots.

Her years of hard work, which culminated in a PhD in Food Security, are not the end of her academic story. She plans to continue with postdoctoral research and engage in projects that aim to empower and transform smallholder farmers to gain access to markets to improve their livelihoods.

Tamako has also launched her own crop production project, Green Leafy Veggies, which she hopes to expand in the near future.

Having previous knowledge about the dynamics of social capital within farming societies, Tamako was keen to understand why some farmers could solve local farming issues and progress while others failed to do so even though they were in close proximity. Her research focused on exploring how agricultural knowledge systems impact on the empowerment and food security of farmers.

She wanted to assess and understand knowledge systems in a community of smallholder farmers, and identify the opinion leaders among them and measure the extent to which they influence/improve the knowledge of their colleagues. She also analysed the effect of agricultural knowledge systems with regard to farmers’ empowerment levels and food security.

Tamako’s research results – significant given the current COVID-19 pandemic – clearly indicate that local food systems need to be overhauled, especially where smallholders operate. She also found that the knowledge systems’ strengths and weaknesses are dynamic and valuable, especially in the delivery of transformative knowledge to improve the food security of farmers. ‘It is important to assess these weaknesses and strengths as they affect the extent and effort applied to achieve the activity. It is necessary to build resilient and transformational systems of agricultural information for effective and efficient information delivery to farmers.’

She attributes her success to the constant support and encouragement she received from her entire family. She also thanked her supervisors, Professor Joyce Chitja and Professor Maxwell Mudhara; her mentors, Dr Vongai Murugani and Mr Denver Naidoo; and her friends from Food Security and other departments at UKZN who all advised and guided her throughout her academic studies.

She thoroughly enjoys taking long walks and hikes to rejuvenate herself and uses it as a way to stay mentally healthy.

Speaking about some of the many things she has learned during her studies, she said: ‘As difficult as it can get, the end result is always worth it, one simply needs to be patient and trust the process.’

Words: Nicole Chidzawo

Photograph: Supplied