Youth Month 2023: Zamancwane Pretty Mahlanza

Youth Month 2023: Zamancwane Pretty Mahlanza

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are advancing knowledge, transforming lives, and inspiring a nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us.

Ms Zamancwane Pretty Mahlanza is a PhD candidate in Food Technology at the University of Johannesburg. She is currently funded by the NRF for her studies.

How did your journey start?

I grew up in a small township called Kwandengezi just outside of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, with my parents and three siblings. I grew up in an area where opportunities were limited and not explored to their full potential and confidence. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household that is not only family-orientated but also goal and academically-focused.

My choice of studies was influenced by my childhood background and the challenges that I faced growing up. I grew up in an area where the majority of households were accustomed to living off one or two meals per day. My family was fortunate enough to obtain a small plot on a shared communal garden, where my father still grows and harvests vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, and beetroot.  This was my introduction to subsistence farming and hence my interest in food quality, food safety, and nutrition was born.

When I was in high school, I took Hospitality studies as part of my chosen subject to gain more insight and knowledge of food quality, food safety and nutrition. After completing my matric in 2015, I was lucky enough to enrol at the University of the Free State in 2016 for a Bachelor of Consumer Science (Food and Clothing) to broaden my knowledge in this specific field. I further registered for a Bachelor of Science Honours in Consumer Science (Food) at the same university to further my knowledge in different forms of food consumption, food sustainability, food systems, and food development.

My interest in the food industry did not just end there, so I further enrolled for a Master’s of Science in Consumer Science at the University of the Free State with a focused assessment on the kind of issues both consumers and manufacturers face in food resources and food development. For example, the challenges associated with allergens and also how indigenous edible foods can be reintroduced into the food system to improve human nutrition, diets, and food insecurity.

I’m currently enrolled for PhD in Food Technology at the University of Johannesburg, focusing on underutilised and indigenous crops, edible insects, and edible plants to improve human nutrition and health, diets, and food insecurity in a global and household perspective and also to provide essential information that will add value in targeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of 1:No poverty, 2: No Hunger, and 3: Good health and well-being.

I only started my journey with the NRF this year (2023) and I am excited to experience the benefits and support this will provide.

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

Like any other young enthusiast in the research field, there are various challenges and obstacles that you come across but with the help of close friends, family, and colleagues you manage to overcome them.  The first obstacle I’ve had to overcome is to have to explain to my family my career choice Food and Consumer Science. It was difficult to explain since it’s a very rare choice and an uncommon career field amongst the majority of African households like mine. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I managed to get them on board and make them understand the specific chosen career field.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

The title of my PhD thesis is The Development of Instant Food Products from Finger Millet and Cricket Flour with Added Spekboom Powder with the Application of 3D Food Printing.

The focus of my research is to include indigenous and neglected food crops, edible insects, and edible plants to improve human nutrition and health, diets, and food insecurity from a global and household perspective. The aim is to provide and introduce valuable information that will aid in food production that has to be doubled by 2050 in order to meet the growing population. Therefore, my expertise in food processing, food safety, food product development and research will help me to reach that goal in my PhD research.

How can your work/studies advance knowledge, transform lives, and inspire a nation?

I believe that my current work, research, and expertise will have a positive impact on food systems, especially the sub-Saharan food system, in the near future. The re-introduction of edible crops, edible insects, and edible plants into human diets can provide improved human nutrition and also provide many health benefits while reducing the ongoing depletion of food resources the agricultural sector is currently facing.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Some of my proudest achievements are:

  • International Hotel School Ultimate Cook-Off 2015 Top 10 Finalist.
  • FoodBev Seta Recipient (2016 to 2018/ Undergraduate).
  • Member of the International Golden Key Society since 2017.
  • Student Member of SAAFoST (South African Association of Food Science and Technology) and IFT (Institute of Food Technologists).
  • Invitation to a poster presentation at the SAAFoST Congress 2023 in August
  • Attending an exchange programme (Erasmus Mundus Exchange Programme) from 1st of June to 31 July.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My career aspirations for the future (in no particular order) include furthering my studies to a postdoctoral level and on an international level where I can potentially become an NRF-rated researcher in the near future, and potentially being in leading roles in government and a senior-level position in the food and beverage industry. I see myself venturing into NGOs that help improve food insecurity and malnutrition in rural areas.

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