15 February 2021 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo istock
The Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences has reorganised three of its departments, and as a result the Departments of Animal Science, Microbiology and Biochemistry, and Sustainable Food Systems and Development have been established.

In a continuous effort to inspire excellence and transform lives, the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) has reorganised three of its departments. The entities that were affected include what was known as the Department of Consumer Science; the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences; and the Division of Food Science.

The Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences has changed to Animal Science, while the Department of Consumer Science and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development, and Extension (CENSARDE) merged to become the Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development.

Sustainable food systems

Both the Department of Consumer Science and CENSARDE are major contributors to studies on food systems. According to Prof Johan van Niekerk, Head of the new Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development, the two academic 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. 

Prof van Niekerk elaborates: “Food systems can be defined as the processes involved in providing food, fibre, and fuel products. These processes 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 Department of Consumer Sciences. The processes of growing, harvesting and food production, on the other hand, resided within the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. The newly established Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development holds the potential to combine the academic expertise of two separate entities into an interdisciplinary body that focuses on sustainable food systems from a holistic perspective.”

Relevant on a global scale

According to Prof Frikkie Neser, Head of the now Department of Animal Science, it is a worldwide phenomenon that Animal Science and all its related disciplines are classified under the name Animal Science.

As part of the changes in this discipline, Meat Science, Dairy Science, and Wool Science will again be presented within the department. Meat scientist, Prof Arno Hugo, and dairy scientist, Dr Koos Myburgh, and their support staff also joined the department. 

According to Prof Neser, the changes will also lead to the establishment 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.

Prof Neser says that changes to the department will simplify the curriculum without compromising the quality of the content or the professional registration of Animal Science students.

“Students 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,” says Prof Neser.

The changes will also lead to a better service to the industry. “Quality as well as chemical and microbial composition of meat will be tested for the whole meat industry. A similar service will also be provided for the dairy industry,” he says.

“A consulting service will also be available,” adds Prof Neser.

Furthermore, he says 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 coordinate and enhance all animal breeding research in the country, which will help South Africa to remain relevant on a global scale.”

As much as it will have a global footprint, the department will also add value on a local basis by presenting 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,” says Prof Neser.

Changes to Division of Food Science 

Another significant change that took place in the faculty was in the Division of Food Science. With the changes taking place in the Division of Food Science, the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology is now known as the Department of Microbiology and Biochemistry.

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