Name: Julian ATUKURI
Host Institution: Stellenbosch University
Course: MASTER OF SCIENCE IN FOOD SCIENCE
Thesis: APPLICATION OF POSTHARVEST CHEMICAL TREATMENTS TO ENHANCE STORAGE AND SHELF LIFE OF POMEGRANATE FRUIT (CV. WONDERFUL)
My experience studying at Stellenbosch University has been nothing but an interesting journey of resilience and persistence. On receipt of the news that I had received the opportunity to pursue my postgraduate studies in South Africa at Stellenbosch University under the prestigious Intra-ACP Sharing Capacity to Build Capacity for Quality Graduate Training in Agriculture in African Universities (SHARE) scholarship and research support from the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), I was absolutely ecstatic. I had dreamt of this for years and my dream was finally becoming a reality. I had always dreamt of travelling out of my home country having had no opportunities to do so before. So when I got this opportunity, it did not even think twice. I actually don’t think I slept the night before my flight, from all the excitement.
My arrival in South Africa was smooth thanks to the organization of the SHARE coordinators who made sure everything was in order and taken care of, surely they made my stay in a new country very comfortable. I enjoyed every bit of the study period. However, it was an easy journey. My master’s degree took a little longer than expected and this was because we were delayed by one fruit season. This was quite a challenging time both emotionally, mentally and financially. But with support from the SHARE team, my supervisor (U.L. Opara), co-supervisor (Dr. O.A. Fawole) and my family back home, I was able to keep pushing until the end. I must say these people greatly helped me throughout my study period and surely am forever grateful to them. I would like to thank my dad and mum for the enormous support, words cannot describe my gratitude. With all this help and support, I was able to successfully finish my studies with two publications in peer reviewed journals, which was an achievement for me as a researcher. Having published two papers, this master’s was a push in the right direction.
I worked with the postharvest team under the South African Research Chair Initiative in Postharvest Technology (SARChI) under the leadership of Prof. Umezuruike Linus Opara who is an accomplished distinguished professor at the university. His guidance, astute counsel, motivation and mentorship throughout my stay had an enormous impact on me, both as a researcher and a person. The positive environment improved my research deftness and I gained skills in critical thinking, creative thinking, analytical proficiency, team work, broadened knowledge, talent and personal development. For this I am deeply grateful.
My stay in South Africa was not only beneficial academically but socially and culturally too. I was able to experience a new culture, very different from that back in my home country. I experienced South African culture from boerewors to braais to Kaapse Klopse to Xhosa and Zulu culture (the clicks were not an easy one though). Hiking the beautiful table mountain was a liberating experience. Being a rainbow nation with many cultures infused in one country, it was indeed a great experience. The beautiful mountain hikes, Camps bay, Robben Island, the Karoo, sea point, the beaches, among others surely South Africa is a beautiful country. I was also able to meet and interact with many people from different countries across the globe. The postgraduate and international office was quite helpful in assisting us international students settle into the new environment with very helpful orientation programs. For example through the international food evenings, I can say that I travelled the world through my tongue. Through the international diversity of the university, I interacted with students from all over the world with different cultures and nationalities which has broadened my learning and multicultural diversity. Research has always been a passion and this was indeed a remarkable learning experience for me.
My research in postharvest technology focused on reducing postharvest losses, which is a big problem in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa in particular. Most farmers are small scale with limited education, skills and access to resources. Reducing losses after harvest reduces food loss thereby improving productivity and ensuring more food available to populations and may eventually ease the food insecurity and hunger problem that has become part of the African identity. This may ultimately ensure a less hungry and subsequently more productive population. I intend the use the experience and skills I have acquired to be part of the solution to one of Africa’s biggest problems. We need to change the story of Africa and it begins with us.
Special appreciation to the scholarship coordinators who ensured we were comfortable and always willing to assist with open arms. Mrs. Dorcas Loga Okello, Ms Chernelle Lambert, Mr Christopher Muller and Mrs Carmien Snyman, Thank you.
I would like to acknowledge Dr. O.A. Fawole, my parents and siblings for their tremendous encouragement and support. Once more special thanks go to SHARE, RUFORUM and study leader Prof. U.L. Opara for the opportunity. I am forever grateful.