26 February 2021

Professor Mlambo says that the rating is an affirmation of the progress he has made as a researcher. He believes that an NRF rating is a validation of the relevance and quality of his research agenda and output.

“It is the recognition of my international standing as a researcher, a reputation that is most desirable in the pursuit of international collaborations. It tells me that my peers, at home and abroad, acknowledge that I have engaged in novel, high quality, impactful research that modifies disciplinary thinking and influences policy and practice.”

“This new rating is an improvement on my previous C3 rating. It’s a thumbs-up to my collaborators, my postgraduate students, and the University of Mpumalanga for the support rendered,” he says.

In his research, Professor Mlambo designed and evaluated feeding strategies designed to reduce competition between animals and humans for food. This includes valorisation of agro-wastes, which would otherwise be discarded to the detriment of the environment, as animal feed.

This approach does not only alleviate food and nutrition insecurity, but it also contributes to the attainment of sustainable development goals of environmental protection and energy efficiency by moving away from first-generation waste disposal methods. Most of these non-conventional feedstuffs/agro-wastes contain bioactive compounds with beneficial antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

“Early-on in my research career, I was fascinated by the influence of plant secondary compounds, such as proanthocyanidins, on parameters such as nutrient digestibility, enteric methane emissions, blood parameters, growth performance, and animal product quality,” he says.

“The conundrum that characterizes the nutritional effects of proanthocyanidins in ruminants is the backdrop against which several of my notable contributions to the science of animal nutrition have been made.”

“While every researcher strives to produce their best work and thus might have a very high regard of their output, it is always good to get an independent party’s perspective. Such esteemed independent parties in research do not come more highly regarded than the NRF within the South African context. As such, I see the C1 rating from the NRF as a message from fellow scientists, affirming that my scholarly outputs are of high quality.”

Professor Mlambo is currently engaged in a project with Dr MJ Madibana of the Marine Research Aquarium, and the Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries. They are working on nutritional interventions designed to reduce the cost (economic, environmental, and social) of fish farming in South Africa.

“Our focus is on the carnivorous dusky kob (Argyrosomus japonicus) whose farming faces several nutritional challenges. We will investigate the potential of insect meals and other terrestrial animal proteins as fishmeal alternatives for this economically important fish,” he says.

Professor Mlambo’s career began at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria as a Junior Professional Officer followed by a stint at the University of Eswatini where he was a lecturer and Faculty Administrator for four years before taking up a post at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Barbados. He spent three years here before joining North-West University, where he was the Director of the School of Agricultural Sciences. He joined UMP in 2018 and was appointed Professor in the School of Agricultural Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

“Despite the relatively short period that I have been with the institution, several milestones have already been reached. We have been able to introduce a Diploma in Animal Production and an MSc in Agriculture (Animal Science) while we await the approval of a PhD in Agriculture. Research facilities are under development, starting with state-of-the-art laboratories that are nearing completion. We have put into operation the postgraduate student management processes within the faculty and we expect the first MSc students to graduate in 2022. We have also successfully linked the School of Agricultural Sciences with Harper Adams University under the Erasmus+ Staff and Student Mobility programme,” he says.

Some of his roles at UMP include being the chair of the Faculty Postgraduate Studies Committee and the deputy Chairperson of the Animal Research Ethics Committee, and a member of the University of Mpumalanga Institutional Committee for the Evaluation of Applications for NRF Rating and other Grant Funding Organisations.

Professor Mlambo has successfully mentored three postdoctoral fellows and supervised 13 PhD and 25 MSc students while producing 105 journal publications. His former students have gone on to become influential Animal Scientists in their own right. He is also co-editor for Animal Feed Science and Technology – a discipline-leading journal published by Elsevier with a five-year impact factor (IF) of 2.7.

“I am also an associate editor for the South African Journal of Animal Science (IF = 0.60). I am a member of the Pool of International Experts for the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and an invited Expert Advisor for the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS).”

“I serve as an external examiner (PhD, MPhil, and MSc theses) for various universities in South Africa (the University of Fort Hare, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Pretoria, University of Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch University, University of South Africa and University of Johannesburg) Botswana (Botswana University of Agriculture & Natural Resources and University of Botswana) and the Caribbean (University of the West Indies), among many others.”

His advice to scholars and postgraduate students is that it is important to set oneself goals, a process that is somehow made easier by reviewing the reward and personal promotion policies of most Universities because they specify what achievements one needs to demonstrate to move through the academic ranks. He says when training postgraduate students, it is vital to provide them with a framework that allows them to develop their skills beyond the superviros’ capabilities.

“This approach also ensures the growth of the supervisor as an academic. Make it a habit early on to always publish high-quality research in reputable journals because your reputation as a researcher/academic depends on it. There are no shortcuts, no easy targets, the investment of time is a must. A successful academic career requires deliberate, effortful, and orderly planning,” he concludes.

@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures @ChrisPLPhoto