The spotlight will fall on sustainable agriculture with Stellenbosch University’s (SU) new MSc in Sustainable Agriculture degree programme which was launched on Monday (10 February). The programme, with four students enrolled for 2014, will be presented for the first time this year and focuses on the scientific principles by which to manage land and food production systems in a sustainable way.

The degree programme, one of two in South Africa – with the other course offered at Free State University – is based on a systems approach. This derives from the fact that the farming landscape is a system which is a sum total of its components like land, water, soil, crops, animals, the environment and the capital investment and that these components should not be viewed in isolation. Importantly, human capacity, labour, gender and other social entities are also part of that holistic system.

The two-year programme developed by a team of academics from various disciplines, has both a taught and research component. Modules that will be covered in the first year include among others, an Introduction to Systems Thinking; Sustainable Soil Management; Sustainable Plant Production; Sustainable Animal Production; Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Sociology of Sustainable Agriculture; as well as Economics of Sustainable Agriculture. On completion of these modules students will undergo a work-integrated learning programme for 4-6 weeks where they tackle real life problems in Sustainable Agriculture.

In the second year, students are required to carry out a research project leading to a thesis.

Prof Raymond Auerbach, of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and also director of Rainman Landcare Foundation, was the guest speaker at Monday’s launch event. Auerbach, who served on the board to conceptualise this new degree, said the multi-disciplinary approach is a definitely advantage and will hopefully lead to new insights.

Professor Kennedy Dzama from the Department of Animal Sciences, who was closely involved with the development of this new programme, said on a previous occassion. that South Africa is lagging behind other countries regarding sustainable agriculture.

“We need to ensure that our agricultural industry is still viable for a number of years to come and that each generation leaves something for the next one. To do this, we have to be pre-emptive and protect our resource base i.e. the soil, crops, animals and our land for future generations. Sustainable agriculture means, for instance, that we now already have to ensure we do not maximise productivity in the short term but rather optimise and sustain productivity in the long run.”

  • For more information about the MSc in Sustainable Agriculture, please contact Ms Malgas at [email protected] and Prof K Dzama at [email protected].
  • Photo caption:  Students Zander Venter, Tshepo Morokong, Lezanie Coetzee, Prof Raymond Auerbach, Dr Heidi Hawkins and Busisiwe Mahlobo. (Photographer: Anton Jordaan