Ntombokulunga Mbuma, a lecturer in the department of plant breeding at the University of the Free State, says she wishes she knew years ago that studying agriculture did not mean that one will end up as a farmer.

In high school, she had the subjects Mathematics and Life Sciences. “After finishing school, I did not have a clear idea of the degree I wanted to study at the university, but I went to university and registered for the Microbiology degree. However, I did not like Microbiology.

“On my second year, I changed the degree and registered for the Biochemistry degree and took biochemistry and genetics as major modules. I enjoyed studying the genetics modules.

“In my final year of undergraduate studies, I saw a bursary advertisement from a sugar company, they were looking for someone who studied Genetics and interested in pursuing postgraduate studies in Plant Breeding. I applied and received the funding.”

She studied Plant Breeding from BScHons level until the PhD level. “After completing my PhD degree, I was appointed by UFS as a lecturer.”

Mbuma’s daily activities include teaching and supervising post graduate students, office activities as well as conducting research in the greenhouse, field and lab.

The highlight of her career is seeing her students become outstanding young plant breeders at crop production companies.

Simply follow the advice below to find out more about getting involved. Also check out many more careers to choose from in the agri sector on Food for Mzansi.

Okay, now it’s over to Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma, Lecturer in the Department of Plant Breeding at the University of the Free State:

Could you sum up your job for us?

My job is to teach and train students at an entry level as well as at senior level to become professional plant breeders. As the professional plant breeder my job is to improve crops yield and quality and to ensure that these crops are adapted to the continued climate changes.

Dr Ntombokulunga Mbuma, Lecturer in the Department of Plant Breeding at the University of the Free State.

So, what does the day-today of your job entail?

I spend my time teaching and supervising postgraduate students. I also conduct research which involves working in the greenhouse or field; I do lab research and office-based activities. We communicate our research finds by travelling, attending and give presentations in conferences, workshops and through publications or publishing articles internationally and locally.

What qualification do you need for this career?

You need a four-year agriculture degree as a start to become a plant breeder. Depending on the company needs in terms of knowledge and skills, most companies will encourage young plant breeders to pursue postgraduate studies.

What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?

Be innovative, passionate and goal-driven.

What subjects do I need to become a lecturer in plant breeding?

Mathematics and Life Sciences are compulsory subjects. Having Agricultural Sciences as a subject will be an added advantage.

What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?

Without agriculture where would all the food come from? The population is growing exponentially, and this means more food is needed. One of the biggest problems today is not knowing how we will feed the growing population tomorrow. A huge part of the agricultural sector is devoted to solving this problem, and if you are part of it, you may as well be making history.

Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments.

Seeing students who you have been teaching become outstanding young plant breeders in crop production companies and to hear that a course they took from me made the difference, it’s priceless.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I love spending time with my family and friends.

Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story here on Food for Mzansi Agri Career Fair?

Never ever underestimate yourself and if there is anything you would like to achieve, always go for it. The sky is the limit.

Where can I study to become a lecturer in plant breeding?

In South Africa, there are many universities that offer this qualification. You can register for a Plant Breeding qualification in the Faculty of Agriculture Sciences or Natural Sciences.