International Collaborations: Addressing common concerns on South African Soil

As the articles for the second edition of TIP-Mag start coming in, we thought we would give you a glimpse of one of the up and coming opinion pieces and the author behind it, TIPWG and NCT Forestry funded PhD student Noxolo Ndlovu.

Silviculture/Environmental Management PhD student Noxolo Ndlovu is currently in the third year of her studies at Nelson Mandela University under the supervision of Professor Keith Little, “I started implementing trials at the NCT Forestry Ingwe Estate in January of this year” Noxolo explains with a wry smile, going on to mention that “while COVID-19 has not prevented me from my research and I am currently collecting data, it certainly has made life more challenging!

Noxolo’s PhD aims to determine the environmental fate of key pesticides used within South African forestry plantations, “the aims of the project are three-fold”, she explains, “I have already performed a desk-based evaluation of the environmental fate of key plantation pesticides using data from both local and international forestry plantation and agricultural trials. I am now following this up with trials to determine the environmental fate and risk of pesticides on soil and aquatic environments based on SA forestry usage patterns and environmental conditions. Finally, I will develop a risk model framework that will aid in underpinning pesticide-related decision making.

Noxolo’s research is the first of its kind in South Africa, “currently there is no information on the environmental fate and associated risks of pesticide use in SA plantation forestry, although similar studies have been done in New Zealand.” The hope is that Noxolo’s work can be used in the same way the New Zealand studies have been, to inform pesticide-related national legislation and fulfil certification requirements. “For both the forester on the ground and the Industry as a whole, I believe this work will provide a suite of environmental fate information that can help inform pesticide management decisions and, where risk exists, mitigation measures,” Noxolo continues.

Key to the success of Noxolo’s project is the international collaboration underpinning it. Her co-supervisors include Dr Carol Rolando (Scion, New Zealand) and Dr Brenda Ballie (Northland Regional Council, New Zealand) both pesticide environmental fate experts who bring both a practical experience in studies like this and suite a knowledge-based skill sets that complement those of her South African supervisor. “International collaboration is important,” she explains, “it ensures a more holistic approach when considering common challenges or issues, bringing experts with different experiences, competencies and perceptions together and pooling their ideas. Many of the challenges we face in forestry are global, by pooling financial resources, facilitating global planning and implementation international processes we can find solutions more efficiently and rolling them out more effectively.”.

It is this need for international collaboration when addressing the common challenges global forestry sector faces – reducing the sector’s reliance on pesticides or the threat posed by climate change – that forms the basis of her opinion piece for TIPWG.

When asked whether Noxolo has faced any challenges with her research, other than the obvious ones brought by COVID-19 restrictions, she is quick to respond. “The greatest challenge for me has been overcoming self-doubt. I understand the importance of the work I am doing and the opportunities it presents me. At times, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by this and the feeling of not being good enough. I have been able to get past the often crippling fear of failure thanks to my belief in God and his affirmation of my worth which is not founded on academic success, as well as the mind-blowing support I have received from my supervisors, sponsors, Roger Poole (TIPWG Chairman) and the forest managers at Ingwe. All of whom have gone out of their way to ensure my study is a success and I am grateful to them all.

Noxolo’s inquisitive mind, dedication to her studies and humble, yet determined, approach to life is certain to see her flourish in the Forestry Sector. “Once I finish my studies, I hope to be involved in operational forestry research, although I don’t see my career going in any one particular direction”, Noxolo says thoughtfully, “my PhD has taught me the importance of flexibility in forestry and the need to evolve with the science, conditions and circumstances.” However, she does not see this as her ultimate calling, “I am a teacher at heart,” she enthuses passionately, “ultimately, once I have acquired the experience, I would like to go back into an academic setting to impart the knowledge and experience I have gained onto the next generation of young foresters, empowering them the way my supervisors have empowered me.

/ Getting to know TIPWG