Professor Dharini Sivakumar’s academic career has been on the rise since she joined the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2010 as an associate professor.
Very few of her peers were surprised when she was recently awarded the DST-NRF SARChI Chair in Phytochemical Food Network in the faculty of science.
Her position as SARChi chair for second cycle, which she would hold from 2021-2024, will help to improve nutritional quality of food for consumers. Savikumar adds to an increasing pool of highly-rated women in STEM at TUT.
She is credited for developing the research area in post-harvest technology and the curriculum at the department of crop sciences. From 2010 to 2015, she has been actively involved in investigating the influence of pre-harvest agronomy factors on the post-harvest quality of fresh produce.
Within this specific research area, her work was more focused on the improvement and maintenance of dietary phytochemicals by manipulating agronomy and post-harvest practices or processing methods respectively.
She was first awarded SARChI research chair funding for the Phytochemical Food Network to improve nutritional quality for the consumer in 2015. The following year, she was appointed as an honorary associate professor at the Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), University of Queensland, Australia.
Sivakumar also works closely with the South African Avocado Fruit industry and has forged research collaboration with several academic institutions abroad. They include QAAFI, University of Queensland in Australia, Marche Polytechnic University in Italy, Texas A & M in the USA, University of Reunion in Reunion, Leibniz-Institut für Agrartechnik und Bioökonomie in Germany and the University of Greenwich in the UK.
She is also currently collaborating in research with other institutions such as Agricultural Research Council (Vegetable and ornamental plant Institute, Subtropical fruits Institute), DST-CSIR Nano Center, and Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Pretoria.
Sivakumar is also supervising eight Doctoral and 14 Masters’ students. Furthermore, she has authored book chapters, research articles, and industry research notes and farmers communications. Sivakumar’s field of expertise and research specialisation focus on:
- Implementation of standard operating procedures (SOP) for assessing levels of phytochemicals in the above-mentioned vegetable and fruit types.
- Establishing relationships between environmental and agronomical factors and phytochemicals.
- Maintenance: Quantification of loss of phytochemicals during storage/processing/packaging/ transportation
- Development of methods: product improvement and postharvest processing to maintain the phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables
- Diversifying diets with underutilising vegetables and fruits
- Formulating guidelines based on the outcome for the growers and marketers to maintain phytochemicals in the farm to plate chain.
According to her, the significance of this research is to benefit the growers in producing fresh produce in terms of cost and, in turn, benefit the consumers by improving their health and well-being.
“A healthy society can bring about significant savings in health-care costs compared to what is currently used by individuals and by the national treasury,” concluded Sivakumar.