Professor Albert Thembinkosi Modi, the acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES), has been elected Deputy Chairperson of the National Agricultural Research Forum (NARF).

‘It is a great honour to be appointed as NARF Deputy Chair,’ said Modi. ‘This role will allow me to make a significant contribution to the development of South African Agricultural Science and Technology, and in addition, to pursue the strategic objectives of UKZN.’

During his two-year term, Modi will – according to a UKZN statement – provide leadership to the NARF and its Secretariat, and monitor the implementation of the programme of work approved by the NARF in Plenary. This will involve providing leadership and guidance in the achievement of strategic objectives and goals, representing the NARF formally in agricultural research bodies and strategic gathering forums, monitoring implementation of the NARF Plan of Action, chairing NARF meetings and reporting to plenary sessions on the progress and operations of the NARF. The statement said the role demands ability and commitment to lead agricultural research and technology development to enhance the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and contribute to economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Members of the NARF deliberate on research issues affecting the agricultural sector such as drought, climate change and variability, and their impact on agricultural production, adaptation and mitigation. The NARF promotes and advocates the use of science, technology and innovation in the agricultural value chain as key enablers for food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, growth and socioeconomic development.

Modi is a Crop Scientist, championing sustainable agriculture and the value of indigenous knowledge in informing scientific research. A graduate of the University of Fort Hare, he received his masters from the then University of Natal and studied under a United States Government Fulbright Scholarship at Ohio State University (OSU) for his PhD in 1999.

Modi has served as Dean and Head of the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) from 2011.

He has dedicated his career to improving the lives of rural South Africans – he served as founding Chief Executive Officer of the Moses Kotane Institute, and as Chairperson of the South African Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Association (SAALSDA). He is the Associate Editor of the South African Journal of Plant and Soil (SAJPS), and has been in various leadership positions in the South African Society of Crop Production (SASCP), including President from 2007-2008.

His principal research has been focused on indigenous-traditional crops as they relate to science and technology, crop physiology, agronomy and sustainable agriculture. He has published over 90 peer-reviewed science articles in these areas and served as principal supervisor or co-supervisor for 28 MSc students and 13 PhD students.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod