KZN youngster excelling in climate change research
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DURBAN - LULEKA Dlamini, 26, a PhD climate change candidate researcher at UCT, may be the youngest in her field, but for the Mandeni born and bred woman, the sky is the limit.
Dlamini was one of the speakers at the KwaZulu-Natal climate change and sustainable development council, held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Centre, in Durban on Wednesday.
Despite having lost her parents a few months apart, between 2015 and 2016, she said she found comfort in her studies and her loss developed her hunger to study further.
Although her parents never lived to witness any of her graduation ceremonies, she said her siblings and her relatives were proud of her.
Dlamini’s passion for the agricultural sector was inspired by childhood memories of visiting her extended family in rural Mandeni, where she would enjoy the abundance of sugar cane.
“I grew up loving sugar cane so much that I always looked forward to visiting my rural home. Growing up, I became interested in wanting to know why the sugar cane that I grew up eating was no longer thick and with a high sugar concentration. I was curious to know why such agricultural crops differ,” she said.
Dlamini then enrolled for a BSc in Environmental Sciences at UKZN.
Because of her family background, she studied through the assistance of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for her undergraduate studies. Despite having achieved excellent results and being at the top of her class, she never obtained any scholarships.
However, she did not despair and continued with her studies and enrolled for her honours degree at the same university, for an atmospheric science honours project, looking at the impact of drought on sugar cane fields in KZN.
Excited about the opportunity, Dlamini was also awarded a scholarship, which meant that she no longer had to worry about her university fees.
“My parents were still alive when I graduated for the first time, but were too ill to attend. I remember that my father was in hospital and I went to visit him straight after the ceremony, still in my graduation gear.
“He was so happy. I could see that although he was sick, he was proud. My mother was at home and unable to walk,” she said.
Her parents had died by the time she graduated with her honours and masters degrees in Environmental and Geographic Sciences.
Now doing a joint PhD between UCT and Wageningen University, and research in the Netherlands, where she attends classes for three months a year, Dlamini said the journey had not been easy.
Her study looked at climate-smart agricultural options for small-hold farmers in data-limited areas.
Although her research is funded by the Eastern Cape, she appealed for funding in order for it to reach her home province of KwaZulu-Natal.