Having grown up on a small farm outside Harare in Zimbabwe and seeing his father working with livestock, Prof Kennedy Dzama became interested in the science and biology of these animals.
“I was very interested in science as a young schoolboy and, as I advanced in my school years, I started seeing the link between livestock production and the science behind it. And it just fascinated me. We have a rich heritage of African livestock. These animals have never really been studied, or rather properly studied. It’s only in the last 100 years, maybe 50, that people in commercial livestock production realised the value of these animals. So, we are out there answering questions and seeing ways to use those animals to improve food security and to improve the livelihoods of their keepers.”
Dzama’s fascination with animal science continued throughout his schooling years. He later went on to study animal science at the University of Zimbabwe and completed his Master’s and PhD degrees in Animal Genetics at Texas A&M University in America.
Instead of staying in America after completing his studies, Dzama felt that it was important to return to Africa and plough back his years of research and knowledge into the continent. “I had a lot of opportunities to stay and work in America, and it was a very easy decision for me. I turned down everything and said I must return to Africa. I will be much more useful there. I knew I was going to an environment where I could do a lot, stretch myself and link up a lot of things with my studies in livestock genetics. So I decided to come back and try and do something to uplift the continent.”
After spending a few years teaching at universities in Zimbabwe and Malawi, Dzama made the move to South Africa, starting first at the University of Fort Hare and then moving to SU in 2006. In 2012, he became chairperson of the Department of Animal Sciences and, most recently, was appointed a vice dean in the Faculty of AgriSciences, responsible for research, innovation and postgraduate studies.
“Moving into this new position feels like a natural progression for me. I would be unfulfilled if I continued doing the same things over and over and not use my experience at a higher level. What also brought me into this space was seeing the academic challenges. I feel like I have logged a lot of experience I can share and, hopefully, there’s someone out there who can benefit from it.”
Dzama also hopes to help bring younger people into the field of AgriSciences, especially young black scientists. “You have a lot of older scientists getting out of the system and it’s important to get young people in there. So, create a succession pipeline. We’d like to attract top matric students into this field; it’s a very difficult field to study if you don’t have a good matric certification. We’d also like to attract young black students into this space, as there are very, very few out there.”
Every day of our lives, we encounter issues about the production and consumption of food. Dzama believes that, if we make the study of AgriSciences and Animal Sciences more practically accessible to young people, more would be interested in this field, especially since it forms such a valuable part of our daily lives.
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