It’s not every day that you find a 26-year-old who’s a PhD candidate, has been named as one of the top 21 young scientists and is listed in the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans. So, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Qinisani Qwabe is cut from a different cloth. FunDza picked his brain over a virtual cup of coffee and we got more than we bargained for.

Ndibulele Sotondoshe: Please tell us about Qinisani?

Qinisani Qwabe: I am an upcoming scholar and aspiring farmer. I come from a small village called eSihuzu in the outskirts of Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, where I was brought up by my grandparents. My passion centres on livelihoods development and the attainment of food security, hence most of my efforts are mostly driven towards contributing on these two key aspects of our social, economic and political issues.

NS: What was growing up in eSihuzu like?

QQ: My childhood was that of a typical black child that is brought up in a disadvantaged community. I mostly played with my friends. We climbed trees and played marbles among other things. I also used to play indigenous games with my cousins. Our community was marked by dusty gravel roads and water scarcity which is still the case to this day. Despite these challenges, they also brought invaluable moments. We used to collect water from the river and the conversations that we’d have while walking were quite refreshing.

NS: What kind of a learner were you at school?

QQ: I was a highly disciplined learner in the classroom; always the teacher’s favorite. However, I was the total opposite outside school premises. I won’t give all the details but I was quite naughty, as are most young boys (laughs).

NS: And then your passion for agriculture came about…

QQ: One of my childhood friends, Sizwe, recently told me that I used to be a very weird kid growing up. He recalls me gazing at a tree trunk and telling him about the radiant energy and multichromatic veins that I claimed to see inside the trunk. While we both do not know what that meant, he now correlates it with my chosen career – agriculture. My grandparents were farmers. I never really envisioned myself as a farmer or having any association with agriculture while I was still young. I mostly saw myself as a teacher because that’s the only profession I was exposed to at the time.

NS: And now you’re a 2nd year PhD candidate.

QQ: (Teary) I always tell myself that if I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn’t even dare dream of pursuing a PhD. The pain of having to stay up while others are sleeping, reading articles and confidently building your 60-page literature only to get one paragraph approved by your supervisor and everything else disregarded is quite daunting. And the fact that I am juggling between work and my PhD doesn’t help the situation. In short, the journey hasn’t been easy at all! But I am taking it one step at a time – for my own sanity. I also try not to repeat the same mistake of working as a cog in the machine as I did during my MSc. I now try to devise strategies to find a balance between both my professional and social lives.

NS: Congratulations on being named in the M&G list.

QQ: This was quite an achievement for me, I was super excited! At first, I couldn’t believe it, until those congratulatory messages started pouring in. Definitely a recognition that I will forever carry with pride.

NS: And ASAAF also gave you some bragging rights…

QQ: Being selected as one of the 21 young scientists by ASSAf also got me excited, although I felt overwhelmed with fear most of the time. The thought of presenting my research to professionals from first world countries like Russia and China gave me cold feet. However, I was happy with the feedback that I received from other professionals, more especially when Dagon Ribeiro from Brazil followed up with appreciation for my work.

NS: As far as agriculture is concerned, what South Africa do you envision?

QQ: As a livelihoods development and food security researcher, I would love to see every household in my country being food secure. And by this I do not just refer to food availability per se, but also healthy and nutritious foods. On top of this, it is my wish that we finally get to a point where we have an inclusive economic sector that is marked by a market industry through which small-scale farmers are able to participate and reap the same benefits as their commercial counterparts.

NS: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

QQ: Currently, I have a company called Ubuntu AgriRenaissance which seeks to contribute towards knowledge and livelihoods development through improved agriculture, youth and community engagement, research, as well as the promotion of indigenous knowledge systems. During my spare time, most of my efforts are driven towards nurturing this business. I would love to see it growing to being a recognized developmental power-house for the business of agronomy and community engagement. I also see myself as a Director of an institute and/or organization that promotes livelihoods development.

NS: Any last words for our readers?

QQ: My advice to someone who is at the brink of giving up on their dreams would be to keep moving, no matter how bumpy the road might be. Lower the pace if needs be but never stop. Eventually, you will see the flash of the lighthouse.


Read about the young man who’s working an animator here

Tell us: What did you learn from Qinisani’s story?