College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Agrometeorology PhD for Botswanan Academic

A lecturer at the University of Botswana (UB), Dr Nicholas Mbangiwa, graduated with a PhD in Agrometeorology following research on the evapotranspiration over rainfed/dryland maize and soybean, quantifying their water use by means of micrometeorological methods, the AquaCrop model and remote sensing.

After encountering micrometeorological experiments as a master’s candidate in Agrometeorology at UKZN, Mbangiwa, who enjoys doing experimental work, expanded on his experience using surface renewal and eddy covariance (EC) to study the energy fluxes of a mixed species grassland at the Ukulinga Research Farm for his degree.

His PhD made use of UKZN’s new state-of-the-art EC equipment that measured all the energy balance components directly, including carbon dioxide fluxes.

Mbangiwa’s PhD formed part of a Water Research Commission project on the validation of the variables (evaporation and soil moisture) in hydrometeorological models, working alongside experienced researchers including Professor Colin Everson and Dr Michael Mengistu.

His experiments were carried out at Baynesfield Estate and results obtained during a period of water shortages owing to erratic rainfall in South Africa indicated that maize was more water efficient than soybean.

Mbangiwa presented results from his PhD research at UKZN’s Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium in 2013, receiving an award for the best oral presentation which enabled him to present at the 17th WaterNet/WARFSA/GWP-SA Symposium in Botswana in 2016, where he received the Best Young Water Scientist Award for his poster presentation. In 2015, he also presented a poster at the 95th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in the United States, funded by a poster prize he received at the first Global Change Conference in 2012, hosted by the Department of Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation and the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Mbangiwa has also published results from his PhD in the international journal of Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, the top journal in his field.

Mbangiwa began his journey at UKZN in 2001 in its Science Foundation Programme, being a member of a cohort sponsored by the Botswanan Government. After completing his BSc in Applied Environmental Sciences and remaining unemployed for two years, he sought opportunities in South Africa, and found himself back at UKZN as an Agrometeorology Instrumentation Technician. He received training from Professor Michael Savage and several other postgraduate students including Mengistu, Dr Michael Abraha, Dr George Odhiambo and Dr Eltayeb Sulieman Nile, who he credited for creating a friendly and supportive environment. He was able to complete his honours degree and his master’s cum laude while in the position.

His experience and collaboration with UKZN Agrometeorology staff have contributed to his work at UB. Facing a shortage of instrumentation and suitable equipment when he began teaching agrometeorology, electronic instrumentation and other related atmospheric courses in 2014, Mbangiwa approached his supervisor, Savage, for ideas. This resulted in an agreement through which UKZN’s Discipline of Agrometeorology loaned its equipment to UB when not in use. He has since secured funding that enabled UB to purchase equipment to ensure that their experimental courses run optimally.

Mbangiwa, who said he fell in love with agrometeorology through Savage’s presentation of the concepts in second year, is excited about contributing to his field and to society.

‘I am now giving back to the community, mentoring other emerging scientists and continuing with research in the field of agrometeorology for the benefit of humanity especially during these challenging times faced with climate change effects,’ said Mbangiwa. ‘There are very few agrometeorologists locally and regionally – so today I have joined the ranks of the very few thanks to Prof Savage.’

Mbangiwa gave especial thanks to Savage for his mentorship, encouragement and guidance.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Gugu Mqadi