11 May 2021 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Supplied
Dr Hlami Ngwenya believes that the UFS has a key role to play in Africa.

Dr Hlami Ngwenya, Lecturer in the Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development at the University of the Free State (UFS), describes herself as a social scientist and global citizen – having worked in more than 50 countries, with more than 30 years of experience. 

She is equipping students to make a difference in their communities, whether it is here in South Africa, or in other countries in Africa where they reside and beyond. Dr Ngwenya joined the UFS in 2015, teaching the Advanced Diploma on Extension for Sustainability and the Master’s Programme on Sustainable Agriculture and Extension: Theory and Practice. 

Investing in farmers’ human capital globally

She has made major contributions to the field with her research work. In 2020, she contributed a chapter on ‘Food and Agriculture’ in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on COVID-19 Rapid Emergency Needs Assessment for the most vulnerable groups. In addition, she was part of a global study titled, Investing in farmers: Agriculture Human Capital Investment (AHCI) strategies, conducted in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO Investment Centre).  

The latter study was conducted in nine countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The aim was to improve the understanding of AHCI. The study also provides lessons learned from successful AHCI models around the world, with recommendations and guidelines for future investment that enhances the human capital of agricultural producers.

This year, she is working on a research paper titled, Demystifying facilitation of systemic change and the role of agriculture extension towards sustainable development and resilient food systems: analytical, conceptual and theoretical underpinnings.

Her input is also valued by paramount bodies in the industry, such as the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS). Dr Ngwenya is a member of the GFRAS Consortium for Education and Training, and she is playing a significant role in terms of agricultural extension and advisory services at a global level. 

Global tool with local relevance 

She is also one of the faces behind the globally developed New Extensionist Learning Kit. Commonly known as NELK, this GFRAS product was created as a tool to augment and equip agricultural extension personnel with the functional skills relevant to managing the complexities of agricultural innovation and food systems. 

The UFS Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development is one of the leading institutions globally that has adopted and adapted NELK as part of its curriculum. The South African Society for Agricultural Extension (SASAE) has also adopted the kit to contribute towards the continuous professional development of extension personnel. 

On the African continent, Dr Ngwenya has been a resource person for the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS) and supported the development of agricultural extension and advisory services fora at regional and national levels. 

Here on home soil, she continues to be involved with SASAE, supporting them in facilitating their strategic planning processes and professionalisation activities.

Spreading her wings beyond extension 

Beyond her active involvement in the agricultural extension field, Dr Ngwenya is a role player in other areas of agriculture globally. This includes agricultural policy, agricultural research, as well as agricultural education.  She brings all this knowledge and skills to benefit her students and the university. 

In her lifetime, she has had the opportunity to moderate more than 300 multi-stakeholder engagements, including strategic planning sessions, organisational development, team building, training, and conferences. These include high-level policy dialogues at United Nations level, the African Union Commission, and other continental and regional level organisations. 

Humbleness is empowering 

Although she had the chance to travel the world and engage at the highest level, she believes that it is important to be humble. She makes an effort to respect and cherish people for who they are, their cultures, and different systems. 

“One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt through engaging in many African countries, is that there is not necessarily co-relation between a country’s strong economy and human capital.” Despite the socio-political challenges that many countries go through (including ours), there are many genuine, hard-working, and intelligent people out there,” she says. 

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