The University of the Free State’s (UFS) re-configuration of three of its departments had been undertaken to its continuation of contributing to global efforts by promoting food security systems. It is anticipated that the merger of these departments will enhance its capacity to explore and conduct research into these.
In future, the Department (Dept) of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences would be known as the Department of Animal Science, while the merger of the Consumer Sciences Department (CSD) and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE), would become the Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development.
Sustainable food systems
Professor Johan van Niekerk, head of the newly formed Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development, said both the CSD and CENSARDE largely contributed to food systems studies. He added that the two merged entities “create a natural link that provides the potential for training, development and research from a food systems perspective to benefit the local and national agri-business sector”.
According to Prof Van Niekerk, food systems can be defined as the processes involved in providing food, fibre and fuel products. These include growing, harvesting, processing, preparing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption and waste management. In terms of the academic structure at the UFS, the processing, preparing and packaging of food resided within the CS, while the growing, harvesting and food production was part of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. The newly established Dept of Sustainable Food Systems and Development holds the potential to combine the academic expertise of two separate entities into an inter-disciplinary body that focuses on sustainable food systems from a holistic perspective.”
Head of the new department of animal science, Professor Frikkie Neser, said it is a worldwide phenomenon that animal science and all its related disciplines are classified under the name animal science. The changes mean that meat science and wool science will still be presented within the department. Meat scientist, Professor Arno Hugo, and dairy scientist, Dr Koos Myburgh, and their support staff are now part of the new department.
According to Neser, the changes will also lead to more changes including the setting up of a Meat and Dairy Unit, an Animal Breeding Genomics and Bioinformatics Unit (ABGB), and a Dairy Processing Unit. The latter will be hosted on the Paradys Experimental Farm outside Bloemfontein.
Professor Neser said the changes also bring with them some benefits to the department; it will simplify the curriculum without compromising the quality of the content or the professional registration of animal science students.
As for students, according to Neser, “they will be exposed to the full value chain in meat, dairy, and wool and research and product development can be conducted in our own fully equipped facilities.”
According to Neser, there will also be an improved service to the industry such as testing quality as well as chemical and microbial composition of meat for the whole meat industry. The same service will be extended to the dairy industry, added Neser.
He further said that the ABGB Unit will provide a statistical and analytical service to the university and the industry. “With the unit, it is possible to create a research facility that can co-ordinate and enhance all animal breeding research in the country, which will help South Africa to remain relevant on a global scale,” he said.
Although it will have a global footprint, the department will still play a pivotal role in the local industry, according to Neser. He said the department will present short courses in all disciplines for both commercial and emerging farmers, as well as the community as a whole. “We will also continue to build on relationships with other universities, research and government institutions,” added Neser.