Professional Natural Scientist and Agronomist, Dr Siphiwe Felix Mkhize challenged students to come up with innovative ways to reinvigorate the agricultural sector as a viable and income generating field. Dr Mkhize, was honoured by the Faculty of Natural Sciences on Tuesday, 19 April for his expertise and contribution in the fields of Agriculture, Extension and development at various levels in South Africa. He is currently the Head of Provincial and State Owned Entities’ performance monitoring at the KZN Department of Agriculture and Rural development.
In his address, he said the attitude on agriculture is that it seems to be relegated to the level of an unimportant activity, “one that warrants attention only as a pastime in the twilight years of a person’s life. Yet the facts point otherwise. Farming – agricultural activity as a matter of fact – is a vital human activity that ensures the survival and continued existence of life on this planet – I commend you the insight to study agriculture and embarking on this incredible journey of ensuring and guaranteeing human survival.”
He continued: “Creating jobs in agriculture will not be easy. It will require credible programmes, sound implementation, significant resources and stronger institutions such as agriculture departments in local and provincial government. The effectiveness of extension officers depends on performance, capacity and level of priority given by provincial agricultural departments. “
Mkhize said the provincial agricultural department has adopted a new strategy to develop farmers. “The new strategic focus is based on the premise that ‘agriculture is a business and agriculture is science;’ to achieve this we have developed a commodity approach to agricultural development – to ensure optimum use of resources.” He explained that farmers must be at the centre of the new knowledge transfer and there must be a great deal of commitment from farmers themselves which means that “farmers must take the risk and the collective responsibility.”
Dr Mkhize, who was accompanied by the MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, Cyril Xaba committed that the provincial government will work closely with MUT to reposition the institution “in responding to the dynamic provincial and national developments and as we continue to purify our core functions. I therefore promise that our department will join hands to make these aspirations a reality.”