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Hlengiwe Cele 
The WRC building careers across the water cycle

Providing food for the world’s ever-increasing population is a global priority. This is especially relevant in Africa where the highest levels of hunger occur. Sustainable agriculture is critical to the survival of all the people of the world.  Agriculturalists around the world have started focusing on sustainable intensification – that is, doing more with less. This involves long-term food security and export growth while preserving the safe water, clean air, natural ecosystems and biodiversity vital for our future wellbeing.

Agriculture is the largest single sector of the economy and employs about five million people in commercial and small-scale farming.  Agricultural activities include rearing livestock and growing crops.

There are numerous excellent careers in the fields of developing agriculture, research, project management, forestry, water resources, food production, consulting and environmental conservation. The business and management side of agriculture are also increasingly important.

The Water Research Commission (WRC) has long realised the importance of growing a strong, well-skilled water sector to tackle the country’s water challenges. Every year the Commission supports hundreds of postgraduate students through its research. Many of these students have gone on to lead their own research projects and become heads of water research institutions.

Ashiel Jumman

For example, Ashiel Jumman, a researcher (agricultural engineer), completed his M.Sc. Eng. at the School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2009, with  a bursary funding within the framework of a WRC project. The title of his thesis was ‘Framework to improve irrigation design and operating strategies in the South African sugar cane industry'.

At the 2010 South African Sugar Technologists Association Congress, Ashiel was awarded the Robin Renton Memorial Award for his paper entitled 'Deficit irrigation: A strategy to counteract escalating electricity tariffs and water shortages.  He was also award the prize for the best poster for 'Electricity tariff increases: the impact on irrigators?'

There is a variety of projects that Jumman would like to pursue in the future, including strategies to mitigate the high costs of electrical energy for pumping irrigation water and improving technology transfer and adoption of irrigation scheduling tools and decision support programmes.

Dr Michael van der Laan

Another researcher who was funded by the WRC as a student is Dr Michael van der Laan, who is assisting growers to farm more profitably while simultaneously reducing the ecological footprint of agriculture on the environment. Dr van der Laan also wants to delve into poverty reduction through agriculture.

The WRC supported Michael within the context of the WRC projects which he used for his Ph.D. thesis: ‘Development, testing and application of crop nitrogen and phosphorus model to investigate leaching losses at the local scale’ . The first of the two WRC projects on which Michael worked involved the development of a model to predict agricultural non-point source pollution from field to catchment scales, while the second looked at adapting the wetting front detector to the needs of small-scale furrow irrigation.

Mompati Baiphethi

The WRC has been instrumental in Baiphethi’s career to date.  His M.Sc. and Ph.D. Studies were funded through WRC research capacity building initiatives. For his Ph.D. (Agricultural Economics) he is looking at institutional determinants of the sustainable adoption of rainwater harvesting and conservation practices among resource-poor farmers in the Eastern Cape and Free State.

He was recognised as the best M.Sc. student in his graduating year and has also authored journal articles and assisted in the supervision of Masters students, thus gaining insights into the development of talent and skills in the water sector.

Guiding learners to make informed career choices

To assist school learners decide on their future career, the WRC has issued a second edition of the incredibly popular Water@work career uide, which offers information on no less than 62 career options in the water sector, not counting the various sub-disciplines. So whether a learner’s passion is microbiology, zoology, engineering, law or working with people, the water sector offers the promise of a fulfilling career. Below are examples of different careers that are available within the agricultural sector.

Agriculturalist – is a scientist who specialises in improving agricultural production, and may also be involved in agricultural research. An agriculturalist may specialise in irrigation, crop production, animals, or weed and pest control. If you are working in irrigation, for instance, you would investigate and solve irrigation problems and develop new and better ways to supply water.

Agricultural advisor – helps and advises farmers, agricultural businesses, rural industries, and government to produce, process and distribute farm products. Agricultural advisors specialise in areas such as water use, animal husbandry, crops, fruit production, farm economics, or land management.

Agricultural entomologist – investigates the reasons for insect infestations and researches ways to control them using integrated pest management, biological control, and chemicals.

Agricultural manager–studies agricultural economics. The main purpose of this field is to increase the management efficiency of farmers/managers to ensure sustainable and profitable agricultural production.

What can you do in this career?

Study the effects of agriculture on the environment by collecting and analysing samples of groundwater, soil, and plants.

·        Conduct experiments in controlled environments to develop better farming methods.

·        Give technical and scientific information to farmers and commercial firms that trade in agricultural goods and produce.

·        Help farmers to plan and monitor agricultural activities, and diagnose, treat, and manage problems that arise (e.g. nutrient disorders in plants and animals; weeds and plant diseases).

Agricultural engineer – knows about engineering science and technology (mechanical, civil, and electronic) as well as agriculture, and helps to solve problems to do with farming and managing natural resources. In this career, you could work indoors in a design office or laboratory, or outdoors on farms, in forests, or at a research station.  Similar careers include agricultural scientist, civil engineer, aquaculturalist, soil scientist, environment engineer, mechanical engineer and irrigation engineer. An agricultural engineer is trained to apply engineering science and technology to agricultural production and processes, for example, the equipment required for supplying water or planting and harvesting.

Agricultural microbiologist – identifies and controls organisms responsible for disease, and often works in specialised areas such as food technology and environmental management.

Agronomist – studies the influence of climate, soil, and different means of production on the way in which crops grow and develop.

Agricultural technician – is concerned with the practical side of agriculture such as designing farming implements, promoting good scientific farming practices, research, and helping agricultural engineers in such fields as crop spraying and harvesting equipment.

Other related careers include agricultural engineering technologist or technician; agricultural researcher; botanist; farmer; nature conservationist; poultry scientist; veterinary technologist; soil scientist; viticulturist; agricultural extension officer.

What can you do in this career?

Manage water resources by planning, supervising, and building systems to control irrigation, drainage, floods, and water resources. Design and manufacture agricultural machinery, equipment, and instruments.

·       Plan and construct agricultural buildings, such as greenhouses, nurseries, fish hatcheries, housing for animals, grain silos and dryers.

·       Carry out environmental impact assessments.

·        Research the work done on farms, research stations, and forests.

·        Analyse and develop methods for soil conservation.

·        Control water logging and soil salinity.

·       Supervise the preparation of soil, seeding, harvesting, spraying, processing, packaging and transporting agricultural products.

     Aquaculturist – aquaculture, also called aquafarming, is the cultivation of marine or freshwater plants and animals including fish, shellfish, water-blommetjies, crustaceans, and even crocodiles. These creatures are harvested for food, pets, aquariums, and for restocking wild populations. Aquaculturists usually work as farmers or technicians.

       What do you do in this career?

       Plan and manage the operation of hatcheries.

      Check and maintain water quality using oxygen meters, salinity meters, pH (acidity) meter, thermometers, and water chemistry analysis kits.

      Care for stock.

      Identify and control poisons and diseases.

      Assist with experiments on nutrition or methods to control predators, parasites, and other disease-causing organisms.

      Buy, sell, and transport fish and other aquatic stock.

      Keep records of farming activities.

     They work mostly outdoors, and their work often means that they get wet or dirty. Most aquaculturalists are expected to work overtime, particularly in the harvesting months. Like farming, stock needs to be cared for all the time, even over weekends and public holidays.   

      Although the formal products of the WRC are its research, it can be argued that the most important products  are the people who do the research. The WRC has a huge responsibility to produce the necessary human capacity that is needed by water management organisations such as the Department of Water and Sanitation, the water boards, municipalities and industry.

      Find more about water-related careers: the WRC's Water@work career guide can be freely downloaded from the WRC website www.wrc.org.za  under the Learning page.


Dr Michael van der Laan
Mompati Baiphethi
 Ashiel Jumman
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