Stepping into the shoes of an agricultural engineer takes more than just applying knowledge of engineering technology and biological science. Just ask 30-year-old agri-engineer Chikondi Dlamini. She believes that nothing beats the feeling of getting things done before the real agricultural work starts.
Dlamini works for an engineering consultancy company called EVN Africa Consulting Services (Pty) Ltd where she designs structures and oversees the construction of agricultural projects and every now and then puts on her project manager hat.
Following in her father’s footsteps, Dlamini gives us a rundown of what it takes to be an agricultural engineer.
1Sum up your job:
I get to work on various types of projects that requires different engineering principles. I specify in agricultural machinery and equipment, design irrigation and water supply schemes along with structures for crop storage, animal handling, agro-processing, and the supervise the associated construction processes.
2So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?
Agricultural Engineers apply a variety of engineering principles (civil, structural and mechanical) to agriculture and other bio-based industries, including the management of natural resources.
My specific experience and current role as a consulting engineer includes design, project management and construction supervision of agricultural infrastructure projects. My projects have included dairy farms’ steel structures and water pipelines, sawmill steel structures, boreholes, dip tanks and some small agro-processing facilities. I assist clients with sourcing contractors and oversee agricultural projects from feasibility studies to completion.
What qualification do you need for this career?
A bioresources or agricultural engineering degree.
4What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?
An interest in solving problems and passion for learning – there are so many aspects to agric engineering. You need to keep researching and understanding how policy, climate change and economics could affect the agricultural space.
5Have you always worked in the agriculture sector?
I have always worked as an agricultural engineer. However, some projects have been more civil engineering than agricultural.
6What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?
I love the impact that agricultural projects have, they can benefit communities and whole food chains. Agriculture is an industry that sustains the livelihood of every living person somehow, so you always have a sense that you are making a significant impact.
7Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments?
Being selected as part of the National Council for the South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers and chair of their KwaZulu-Natal branch. I am in my second year on the council and all the planning of 2019 is finally going into action. It is quite great to be part of a group that is actively looking at how to improve our industry and support agricultural engineers in the country.
Also, nothing beats the feeling of having a design get built to completion. From the small refurbishment for a tannery owned by a livestock association, to the 250 ha irrigation scheme finishing off this year – my proudest moments are inspecting construction, running site meetings and getting things ready for the real agriculture work to start.
8What do you do when you’re not at work?
I crochet to destress, spend time with my great friends and family and public speaking. I love being in front of a crowd and sharing what I know, because one life impacted is a miracle.
9Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story? Be willing to do more than the minimum required, wherever you are. Learn more, ask more questions and engage people around you because mentors can be found in the most unusual spaces. If you want to become a leader in any specific industry, find a way to learn one skill that is critical in that area, don’t wait for someone to hand it to you.