Food Security Academic Appointed Agricultural Research Council Deputy Chair

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Dr Joyce Chitja of the African Centre for Food Security (ACFS) in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) has been appointed Deputy Chairperson on the board of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) for a three-year term.

Chitja, an ARC board member for two previous terms, said she was honoured to be appointed to the new role.

‘I feel positive in my new position despite the grand challenges agriculture is facing in the country and globally. The ARC team I serve alongside are capable and highly committed – some of the country’s best scientists are working in the ARC,’ she said. ‘I see it as a serious responsibility as the ARC is a state-owned entity responsible for agricultural research and for upholding food security in the country, in every sphere of agriculture.’

Chitja’s responsibilities will involve supporting the strategic goals of the ARC, while also filling a second role as Chair of the ARC’s Research, Development and Evaluation Committee.

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Professor Albert Modi, and Acting Dean of SAEES Professor Onisimo Mutanga congratulated Chitja on the national recognition for her work in the area of food security.

Chitja completed her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in Horticultural Science and a Master of Social Science in Community Resources at UKZN, before graduating in 2008 with a PhD in Food Security, the first woman in South Africa to do so. She went on to hold a post in the Department of Land Affairs, returning to academia at UKZN in 2010.

Chitja is an experienced agricultural development scientist and food security expert with a rich understanding of agriculture in South Africa, especially challenges in the small-scale farming sector. Chitja has published more than 21 peer-reviewed journal articles and has graduated more than 17 masters and PhD students and many more at honours level.

Chitja was the second runner up in the emerging researcher category in the Department of Science and Technology’s Women in Science Awards in 2012 and has published peer-reviewed articles in esteemed publications, and contributed to book chapters and other publications.

She was a visiting scholar at Cornell University in the United States in 2011 and continues to host Cornell research students for focused research visits among smallholder farmers. She is also a visiting scholar at the prestigious Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Studies (STIAS) where she intermittently visits and works with an international team of senior researchers of smallholder farming in southern Africa.

Her current research explores smallholder farming systems in the areas of value chains, land and water use security and access, livelihoods, vulnerability, household food security, gender and empowerment.   She has been awarded multi-year and multi-million rand research projects from the Water Research Commission, enabling the studies of her postgraduate students.

Chitja says her current focus and a source of great joy is her supervision of postgraduate students – two of whom graduated cum laude this year, and have continued into doctoral studies. Her student team are examining small-scale agriculture and food security, steadily earning recognition for the good quality research they produce by publishing and presenting at national and global conferences.

Chitja is also part of an international team on the organising committee for the third International Conference on Global Food Security taking place in Cape Town this month, where she will chair a theme and has been involved in selecting papers.

Words: Christine Cuénod