CAPE TOWN - Stellenbosch University (SU) graduate Dr Obvious Mapiye believes his passion for farming from a young age is finally reaping the rewards for him, including a PhD in AgriSciences specialising in Sustainable Agriculture at SU’s autumn graduation this week.
His achievements also include conceptualising the creation of a software solution to enhance small-hold farming systems. His PhD studies led to the development of digital advisory software called the Livestock Management Database System (LMDS).
This system is designed to help farmers access useful and data-driven agricultural information and guidance according to their specific farming activities.
The system, which can be accessed from any smart device, recently earned Mapiye a 2022 translational fellowship from Innovus, a division of the university that is responsible for technology transfer, entrepreneurial support and development, and innovation.
In addition to the fellowship, Mapiye's project also received a seed fund injection of R690 000 from the Technology Innovation Agency, an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation, for commercialisation of the LMDS.
“I am very excited. Honestly, graduating with a PhD at SU means much to me. I put in extra effort to complete (my studies) and faced many challenges, including a lack of financial assistance at the beginning of the course and the Covid-19 restrictions, which derailed the field activities. I had to carefully cultivate the skills of time management, self-discipline and multitasking into the whole research process," said Mapiye.
Mapiye, from the Mhondoro Ngezi farming district in Zimbabwe, said his upbringing inspired his academic career.
“I was involved in rearing cattle, chickens and goats, and helped to grow vegetables and grain crops at home. This background nurtured my passion for promoting the growth and development of small-holder farming systems through research and innovation. I planned my academic career accordingly."
Mapiye said he became more focused on developing solutions that could assist farmers with upscaling their production, and in 2015 he joined SU's MSc in Sustainable Agriculture programme. His interest in supporting farmers through technological innovations saw him join a multidisciplinary development team at SU's Faculty of AgriSciences.
“I realised that the development and introduction of innovations like the LMDS are possible. The use of such information and communication technologies will enable us to revolutionise existing extension systems by helping them deliver timely and appropriate advisory services with minimum costs being incurred," he said.
Mapiye plans to remain in Stellenbosch to further develop his project with Innovus. Firstly, a minimum viable product of the LMDS needs to be designed and tested in a real-life situation before the system can be commercialised. He said a digital tech developing company had already been identified to create the software of the LMDS.
“Deployment of the LMDS will present an opportunity to transform the South African agricultural extension model from largely supply-centred to demand-centred and participatory. The productivity and sustainability of farmers will increase, and subsequently employment creation and food security for the country and the region," he said.