Environmental scientist Andiswa Finca did not picture agricultural research as the field she would dedicate her life to when started her tertiary studies. But that was before 2006, when she secured a position at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).
“I only got into agriculture after I was employed at the Agricultural Research Council. Before that I had not dreamt of it. Working in a space where one can produce knowledge that can greatly impact people’s livelihoods and contribute to the food security of rural communities motivated me to continue with agriculture as my career.”
In 2019,Finca was able to successfully argue the merits of her PhD thesis, ensuring her graduation from the Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland in 2020. Her PhD research was focused on investigating access to and management of communal rangelands in the Eastern Cape, and how that affected the condition of the rangeland, the quality of the livestock, and the well-being of rural farming community.
Her research took her to both the Netherlands and Ireland, and she was able to use the results to open up conversations between different groups of people in rural farming communities in the Eastern Cape. She found satisfaction in how the research was able to paint a picture of what was happening in the community.
“Working with the communities themselves, doing participatory activities with them, I found that is actually something that I like to see, how the different pieces come together to tell a story of what is happening on the ground.”
Finca says her work in the community is not yet done. She sees herself in the agricultural space for a long time yet, and hopes to make more strides in the communities she works in.
“I’m mostly interested in in finding ways to make sure that our people understand, or do not lose interest in, agriculture or that agriculture does not die out in the rural areas, and that young people get onto the wagon of agriculture. I have not achieved those things yet. So, that means that I would actually be here for a long time, making sure that that people still see agriculture as something that’s valuable.”
Finca gave us the following insights into what it is like to be an environmental scientist in the agricultural space:
Could you summarise for us what it is an agricultural researcher does?
We have different fields within agriculture, which makes our activities very different. For example, for someone like me, my work involves collecting data either by going to the veld or using remote sensing platforms, interviewing or doing participatory activities with farmers and other stakeholders. [Other scientists] might spend their days in the lab or in front of the computer working on different models. But what we all share is that we need to read a lot of articles for our research, write proposals for funding, reports and articles, while reviewing student proposals and work done by other colleagues in the field. In addition, we write and submit abstracts for conferences, prepare short conference papers, posters and presentations. What is most vital as a researcher is to interact and collaborate with researchers from other institutions and countries.
What qualifications does one need to go into your field?
Since my background is not agriculture, I do not know much about the undergraduate degrees in agriculture. But I know there is management, extension and economics. These are at a diploma level. But you can also start off like myself, as a research assistant.
What, in your opinion, are the characteristics someone should have to excel in a role like yours?
Passion, patience, and a learned spirit. [You should also be] hardworking and resilient. There is also a level of flexibility that is needed, and most importantly, you should be able to see the bigger picture. [In other words,] how the different pieces all fit together. Respect others in their fields and respect their contribution in the co-creation of knowledge. Always surround yourself with like-minded individuals, whether they have the same or different expertise.
Do you have any advice for students, or anyone really, who would like to pursue a career path like yours?
They must really love agriculture, love people and be willing to learn. Most importantly, they must do their research about the field. Agriculture might not be glamorous, but it is fulfilling.