Like humans, animals also need to consume balanced diet that contain all the necessary nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fluids, to mention a few. Livestock farmers spend millions of rand on feedstock to make sure their animals are adequately well nourished, fresh and healthy to produce quality meat or milk.
Professor Monnye Mabelebele is one of the young women scientists involved in this strategic and highly specialised field of animal science. She holds a PhD in Animal Nutrition from University of New England in Australia. She was recently awarded an Y2 National Research Foundation (NRF) rating as having the potential to scale up the ladder as an established researcher. Her main objective is to find creative ways in which local farmers can reduce their feed costs. This includes, among others, the use of alternative ingredients such as insects, sorghum, millets, amaranth and chia which are locally available.
Her recent research has been into the utilisation of novel feed ingredients and medicinal plant extracts in livestock production and reproduction. Her research sets out to identify the metabolite profiles of possible feed ingredients for potential use in animal diets. Professor Mabelebele also focuses on the health benefits associated with medicinal plants in livestock and the reproductive and digestive physiology of farm animals. In addition, her work also looks into meat and egg quality parameters and cost-benefit analysis as it applies to the use of novel feed ingredients.
To be rated by the NRF is every budding researcher’s ultimate dream and Professor Mabelelebe was naturally excited to receive such an accolade. “I am more than overwhelmed because this is an indication of the impact my research has in the field of agriculture (animal science). This rating has potential to open many doors of opportunity for me as an emerging researcher,” says Professor Mabelebele who is also a rural farmer herself.
The NRF rating
The NRF Y-rating gives recognition to young researchers who have held a doctorate or equivalent qualification for less than five years at the time of application. It also recognises academics with the potential to establish themselves as researchers within five years after evaluation, based on their performance and productivity as researchers during their doctoral studies and or early postdoctoral careers.
Professor Mabelebele attributes her achievement to her “several C-rated mentors”, who she says were her pillar of strength and source of inspiration throughout her academic journey. The first two are Professor Norris (vice-chancellor at the University of Botswana) and Professor Ngambi (Full Professor in Animal Science at the University of Limpopo). The duo supervised her while she was doing her Master’s degree. The third eminent academic who also provided support to her is Professor Paul Iji, her “PhD promoter” who was based in Australia where she obtained her PhD. He is currently dean of the School of Agriculture at Fiji University.
Providing answers to daily problems
But above all, according to Professor Mabelebele, her primary influence was her father who is also a seasoned farmer. She says she always wanted to lend a hand in finding day-to-day solutions to problems they face on their father’s farm. “This desire made it easy for me to focus on agricultural research,” she says. Professor Mabelebele intends to use her position to contribute to the creation of knowledge and information savvy society.
To achieve this, Professor Mabelebele will intensify her research outputs and also ensures they continue to be impactful. Some of her other achievements include being the sub-editor of the South African Journal of Animal Science as well as being a Postdoctoral Fellow at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.