16 October 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Qinisani Qwabe, one of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans, considers it important to always reach out and contribute to someone's life, no matter how small it may be.

Looking back at 2020, most people will not have fond memories. But for Qinisani Qwabe, a second-year PhD student in the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension, 2020 turned out to be a good year.

On 10 September, he heard that he was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans in the education category. As if being elected as one of the prestigious group of young people is not enough, Qwabe added another feather in his cap when he was chosen as one of 21 young scientists by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in collaboration with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). 

When offered the chance to represent South Africa at a BRICS Conference in Russia, he seized the opportunity with both hands. At this virtual event, he presented a paper on a topic he cares about a lot – ecology. His paper, using a South African case study, was titled: The role of agrobiodiversity on environmental management and its impact on human ecology.

Sustainable resources

From an early age, growing up in a very isolated community called iSihuzu on the outskirts of Richards Bay, Qwabe worked hard. He not only reaped the rewards by seeing all his tuition fees paid, but he was also offered opportunities to make a difference in society. 

“I want to see a society that leads a sustainable life and values its natural resources. This is what wakes me up every morning. That is what I am working towards,” he says.

Qwabe has a registered organisation that, among others, seeks to achieve agricultural biodiversity, respect and value for local knowledge, sustainable development, as well as youth and community engagement.  

The organisation has two legs – one dealing with agricultural production and the other focusing on social entrepreneurship. “As part of this social entrepreneurship initiative, we are working with schools in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, where we do outreach programmes (e.g. donating school uniforms), and run projects driven towards sustainability,” says Qwabe.

But he believes that it is his voice on indigenous foods, together with his passion for research – complemented by community development initiatives – that contributed to his selection as one of Mail & Guardian’s top 200 Young South Africans. 

A greater vision

He is happy to be in the academia and believes that it will propel him towards his greater vision. 

“My vision for my future is to be well-known for my contributions on matters of environmental sustainability, and equally so, for community development. Parallel to my philanthropic undertakings, I envision being a leader in one of the leading organisations on environmental sustainability, such as the World Health Organisation's Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO),” says Qwabe. 

Here he would like to focus his energies on food security, nutrition, and food safety; sustainable management and use of natural resources and forestry; and institutional capacity building for the sustained management of natural resources and increased agriculture production.

The next generation

Qwabe believes he is making an impact and building a solid foundation for the upcoming generations to build upon.  He urges the youth of South Africa to strive to make a difference. “No matter how small it might seem,” he says.

“To borrow from the American songwriter, Michael Jackson – WE are the world. And that 'WEness' denotes that each one of us has a role to play.



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