MUT’s Department of Community Extension to conduct joint research with US organisations

From left, Dr Terry Hofecker; VC and Principal, Professor Marcus Ramogale; DVC: RIE, Professor Nokuthula Sibiya; and Acting DVC: Resources and Planning, Dr Johan van Koller, and, standing, MUT staff

True to its nature – as the university of technology, MUT, together with its partners, continue to strive to find solutions to socio-economic problems that beset communities. Very soon the University’s Department of Community Extension, together with the MUT, Soil 1 LLC, Ohio State University will be conducting extensive research in some parts of the KwaZulu-Natal province on the condition of soil, the chief aim of which is to improve the soil condition so that it will be able to yield health production. Both Dr Eric Mthembu, the Head of the Department, and Soil 1 LLC’s representative, Dr Terry Hofecker, who, together with MUT, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 10 August 2023, said “the  MoU establishes the basis for a relationship under which MUT and Soil 1 LLC will work together for the purpose of potentially using Soil 1 proprietary soil testing technology, and other agriculture related expertise to be integrated with the University curriculum, and to advance regenerative, sustainable land use, and carbon conservative agricultural practices at MUT”.  Dr Hofecker said that what was philosophical with the project is: a healthy soil, a healthy product, and healthy people, which was their end goal.

Dr Mthembu further said that the aim of the MOU was to provide for cooperation on academic and industrial activities of the three institutions – MUT, Soil 1 LLC, Ohio State University, that will strengthen mutual understanding, foster friendly co-operation, and to promote sustainable and productive academic and practical collaboration and exchange between staff, students, and research of all the parties.

The MOU will also have a positive impact upon the department’s academic offering and the larger public. Dr Mthembu also said that there would be plan for cooperation and research among MUT, Soil 1 LLC and Ohio State University where knowledge sharing on research, teaching and learning curriculum, community and farmer development, will be realised for mutual benefits of the three institutions. “To achieve this there will be joint research projects involving staff, students, and farmers conducted in South Africa and USA,” said Dr Mthembu. Staff and students exchange will be done to realise this, Dr Mthembu added. Dr Hofecker said the research would be conducted in farms in KwaZulu-Natal.

The agreement also means that the knowledge produced by our staff, students will be available at international platforms and at global stage and be shared with international community as there will be academic papers to be written and published. The research will also inform the department’s programme qualifications.

The aim of Dr Hofecker’s visit was to have discussions with relevant MUT experts about Research Strategy and to develop some groundwork for joint research among MUT, Soil 1 LLC, and Ohio State University. Dr Mthembu made a presentation in which he explained to Dr Hofecker some important aspects of the department.  The  presentation also highlighted the root causes of low agricultural productivity in South Africa that are leading to challenges of food and nutrition security and environmental challenges. The presentation indicated clearly that low organic matter content of the soils of South Africa form the basis for present low agricultural productivity in the country. The presentation further emphasised that agricultural practices that result in the improvement and increase of soil organic matter are important for soil fertility, soil health, and soil quality improvements.

As they concluded the meeting, Dr Mthembu said that: “Our Research Strategy must focus on agricultural practices and land use systems that will improve organic matter content of the soils”.   Dr Hofecker indicated that he was looking along the same principles, and highlighted in the Presentation for Research Strategy and said “therefore we are on the same page”.

Dr Mthembu also pointed out what the MOU meant for him personally: “I feel so excited about this MoU because through this Agreement involving Cooperation with International Institutions and Industry, our students, including staff through research, will acquire relevant skills that will assist them contribute meaningfully to issues related to climate change, sustainable agriculture production, environmental sustainability, and sustainable food and nutrition security which are part of National Priorities in South Africa and the Global World.

Mbali Mkhize, Senior Director: Department of Marketing and Communications, said the meeting between the two organisations could not have come at a better time when the University was busy with international engagements. “Last week we had international guests from the US’s Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU); they visited us to talk about preparations for the EnergyWaterFoodClimateNexus Summit, that will take place from 1-4 July 2024, and will be hosted by MUT. This week we hosted another guest from the US, who also discussed with our colleagues possible solutions to climate-based problems. This is a clear indication that our academics have a lot to give to benefit the communities. What is even more pleasing is that there will be students involved in the project. This is a long-term investment for all concerned,” said Mkhize.