Agri Careers: Want to become an agricultural researcher?

Qinisani Qwabe is an agricultural researcher at the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s (MUT) Institute for Rural Development and Community Engagement.

Qinisani Qwabe is an agricultural researcher at the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s (MUT) Institute for Rural Development and Community Engagement. Photo: Supplied

Every year, compelling agricultural discoveries are made in Mzansi. These discoveries are seldom stumbled upon, they are made through thorough research conducted by some of our country’s leading agricultural researchers 

The 26-year-old Qinisani Qwabe is one of those researchers leading agricultural projects for the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s (MUT) natural sciences faculty.  

But being an agricultural researcher takes more than just documenting and recording information. Qwabe says, “It’s about conducting research that develops the agricultural sector and improves people’s livelihoods, especially in disadvantaged communities.”  

1Sum up your job: MUT is comprised of the engineering, management, and natural sciences faculties. Each faculty is assigned a project leader from the office of the Institute of Rural Development and Community Engagement (IRDCE), which is the directorate I serve in. These project leaders are researchers who deal with the registration of projects, source funding for these projects and monitor their progress. 

Personally, I coordinate projects from the Faculty of Natural Sciences (FNS) – most of which are more on agriculture, sustainability and the broader green economy. Part of my work also involves immersing myself in community development based research which is aimed at improving peoples livelihoods, more especially in disadvantaged communities.   

2So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?
My daily activities include conducting research. MUT as an academic institution is mandated to contribute to the body of knowledge and that is one of our focus areas at IRDCE. I also meet regularly with project leaders from the FNS to discuss the progress of the projects how they could be sustained within the communities from which they are implemented.  

Qinisani Qwabe is also a soybean farmer and advocates the importance of indigenous crops.


What qualification do you need for this career?
One needs to hold a Master’s Degree that focuses on community based research. However, that is currently being revised. A PhD  qualification  will also be mandatory. 

4What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?
You need to be passionate about community development and working with people. You need to have good leadership skills to interact with people from different sectors of the economy.  
Being an attentive listener and well-spoken helps.  Sometimes you work for extended hours, therefore working hard is a must. This means that you need to be flexible, reliant and dependable as you have to meet a lot of deadlines within a short period of time. 

5Have you always worked in the agriculture sector?
Mostly, yes. I have worked as a Cooperative Development Intern at the national Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) in Pretoria. After that I worked as an associate lecturer for almost two years at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. I also worked for the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation as a Researcher 

 6What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?
First and foremost, it’s a very healthy environment. The team I work with is more like family and this is something truly appreciate because of the toxic space I found myself in before joining MUT. Secondly, I am very passionate about agriculture as  both theoretical and applied science, and IRDCE focuses on both through research and project implementation.  

Qinisani Qwabe pictured with his granny, Agnes Mngomezulu.

7Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments?
Hahaha, well in 2017 when I had just joined the Nelson Mandela University, I participated in a Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) which was streamed live across the globe. I had no idea about this. To my surprise, the entire staff from my department of agriculture and game ranch management was watchingincluding the HOD, Mr. Retief CelliersAbout 10 minutes after my presentation, Dr Musa Khapayi, a senior lecturer in the department came to congratulate me 
At that time, my supervisor, Dr Timothy Pittaway had scooped me a job as a student assistant. What they didn’t know was that I could barely make ends meet and I was squatting with a friend, Athabile Xuba, who allowed me to sleep on his floor for six months. 
The following day after the 3MT, my HOD called me to his office and assured me that when I returned the following academic year, one of the offices would have my name written on it and that I’d serve as a lecturer, and it was indeed so. 

8What do you do when you’re not at work?
Well I’m still pursuing my PhD, so when I’m not at work I work on building up my thesis. When that gets boring, I watch television or simply go to the gym for an exercise. 

9Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story?
I’m not sure if it was Zakes Bantwini who once said dreams delayed are not dreams denied. But I’d like all young people to always respect time. When your goals seem to be hard to reach, do not give up – keep pushing. No matter how rough the sea!  
One of my career-based mantras for this year is “if you don’t play, you don’t win.” So keep taking chances, pitch to organisations if you have to, capitalize on the limited resources available to you to start a small business, and in the midst of it all – never forget to educate yourself, because that is how you will grow your impact.