Youth Month 2022: Dr Takalani J. Mpofu

Youth Month 2022: Dr Takalani J. Mpofu

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the youth of the NRF who are working towards achieving the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young NRF-affiliated researchers who are helping to ensure a sustainable planet for all.

Dr Takalani J. Mpofu is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Animal Sciences at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). He received funding from the NRF for his Honours (2012) and Doctoral studies (2018-2019), as well as a Knowledge Interchange and Collaboration Grant (2018) and a Postdoctoral Fellowship (2021).

This is his story…

I was born in a small village, Tshenzhelani Zwaluvhimbi, in Venda, Limpopo. I completed my primary and secondary education at the local schools, Tshenzhelani Primary and Tshikundamalema Secondary. I grew up in a family that relied on farming to cover all our living needs and expenses. Being born into a “farming mad” family, I used to take part in farming activities such as ploughing and herding goat, sheep, cattle, donkeys and horses. My late father became my first teacher of “Animal Production Sciences” – from his work, I knew I would pursue Animal Production Science as a career.

Tell us about your academic journey

In 2009, I graduated with a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of Venda. I obtained my Honours and Master’s of Agriculture at the University of Limpopo in 2013 and 2017 respectively. Before enrolling for a PhD at the Tshwane University of Technology in 2017, I worked as a Natural and Life Sciences educator at the New Generation Girls Academy and also as a Livestock Manager at Elimark farm.

During my PhD studies, I assisted as a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Animal Sciences at TUT. During this time, I received an Erusmus+ mobility grant where I visited and studied at the Warsaw University of Lifesciences (WULS) in Poland.

My love for goats earned me the name “The Goat King”. Whenever my friends come across goats, they think of me. If I won the lottery, the first thing I’d buy would be a goat.

When I was growing up, I once wanted to be a radiographer, thinking that a radiographer is a radio presenter!

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

My academic journey on its own has been a funny one with one obstacle after the other. I always had a dream to complete my PhD the first time I set my foot on a University Campus. Before I started my second year at the University of Venda, my father passed away and he was the sole breadwinner and the one who was responsible for my academic expenses. Things went from bad to worse, as at first I didn’t realise the value of such an old man as a father. To complete my junior degree it became so hard that I had to survive on the Old Age Grant (SASSA Grant) of my father’s eldest wife (Vho-Flora) with the assistance of my eldest uncle.

Fast forward, I completed my degree in 2008 and didn’t join the graduation ceremony as I lacked the funds to cover the graduation expense. I consoled myself that I would graduate again as I subsequently registered for an Honours degree at the same university. Unfortunately, things went south. I passed all my coursework with good grades (all my grades were above 72%) but I didn’t complete the mini dissertation research. This was due to the fact that my Honours project had been changed about four times and I fell out with my then research supervisor. I had to leave the university with my tail between my legs as I encountered my first failure at school.

I joined the Elimark Farm around May 2010. I was depressed and I worked on the farm for a few years as I was trying to regroup and regain my strength to further my studies. In 2012, I registered for an Honours again but at a different university (University of Limpopo). A year later, I was teaching in a private school (New Generation Girls Academy) where my learners encouraged me to register for a Master’s degree, which I subsequently completed in 2017.

What is your research focus/area of expertise?

My research focus is on the genetic resistance to diseases and parasites in livestock.

The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure “…a better and more sustainable future for all…” by 2030. Which of these goals are you addressing through your research, or in your personal life?

To this end, my research focus strives to achieve several SDGs: Goal 2: Zero Hunger, Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing, and Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

Briefly, my research would certainly benefit the farming industry through the development of a new testing kit and, furthermore, contribute knowledge towards the development of effective programs that will improve the productivity of goats in rural and peri-urban areas, as well as the livelihoods of the targeted beneficiaries (goat farming communities in South Africa).

Thus, the approaches for sustainable goat productivity developed in my research focus would directly (i) contribute to development through the enhancement of sustainable food security for the most vulnerable populations in South Africa; and (ii) contribute to innovation by integrating local practitioners and researchers’ scientific knowledge in joint research (co-creation) in order to generate new knowledge and insights that add new value to goat farming services, technologies and policies that would readily be available to the South African agricultural sector, markets and society.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Some of my greatest achievements thus far include the following awards:

  • 2021: Doctoral Student of the Year (2019/2020), TUT.
  • 2018: Best Scientific Oral Presentation – TUT Faculty of Science Research Day.

I’m also proud of attaining a PhD in Science (Animal Production) and publishing scientific articles from both my Master’s and PhD studies. Here are the links to some of the articles:

I’m also proud of being the first and only PhD holder from my village, Tshenzhelani, and my schools, Tshenzhelani Primary and Tshikundamalema Secondary.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

I want to obtain an NRF-rating soon. I also want to impact society by instilling the love for small stock, goats in particular, and nature in the younger generation from villages like my own and to serve the community through science using existing institutions of higher learning. I also aspire to head the South African Society of Animal Sciences (SASAS) and also be the Vice-Chancellor of one of my alumnus universities. Once I retire, I will be farming goats full-time.

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