When animal scientist and farmer professor Lindiwe Majele Sibanda was pursuing a BSc in animal science at the University of Alexandria in Egypt, she was the sole woman in her livestock production-focused class.
On Friday, Sibanda departed for France, the headquarters of the largest agricultural innovation network in the world, CGIAR, to begin her new position as chair of its system board. She is the first African, first woman, and first candidate from the global South to hold this position.
When asked where she will be based, the 59-year-old, who was the director of the African Research Universities Alliance’s Centre of Excellence in Food Security hosted by the University of Pretoria until her appointment at CGIAR this month, laughs. Will it be in the Montpellier headquarters?
“In an airplane,” she jokes, “CGIAR operates in 33 countries to conduct public good research on key commodities, including edible livestock, maize, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, beans, potatoes, and trees and forests as part of agro-forestry, in addition to water systems, climate, and biodiversity.”
She is familiar with CGIAR, a global network of 15 research institutions dedicated to enhancing the quality and quantity of food production while protecting the environment. She has served in various positions at five of the centers since 2009.
In 2021, she served as a member of the CGIAR’s system board, which controls the 15 research centers’ independent boards.
“My entire career as a researcher and advocate for good policies has been in the fields of food, agriculture, and natural resources,” she said during a Wednesday virtual interview from her farm in Zimbabwe, her home country.
Sibanda stated that research centers realized they required a unified approach, vision, goal, and board three years ago.
“They gathered together and have spent the previous three years putting together a single system board. I have been on the board for the entirety of 2021.”
Last year, she was appointed chair. Prior to joining UP in 2018, Sibanda was vice president of the Nairobi-based Alliance for Africa’s Green Revolution. Sibanda, whose grandparents and parents were farmers, took an early interest in agriculture.
“In Zimbabwe, the majority of my generation attended school in the city, traveling to the countryside on weekends and during school breaks.
“We would join our grandparents in agricultural production,” she recalls with fondness, adding that she and her siblings and relatives would occasionally number twenty at her homestead.
“During those times, the village produced food that was transported to the city.” When I first arrived in South Africa, I noticed that people relied on stores.
“In Zimbabwe, we relied on the village for food for many years. The city would receive dried meat, beans, and milk. We would transport our own ground maize meal to the city. The only things we would require are sugar, salt, and other non-producible items.”
The government granted her a scholarship to study in Egypt. She selected livestock production from a list of 15 areas of expertise.
“When they asked me why a girl would want to study a field that requires castrating animals and spending time in the wilderness, I explained that my grandmother rationed the meat to one small piece per day, so I want to learn how to grow meat so I can eat as much as I want.”
“I went on to earn a master’s degree in England in pasture management, and my PhD on goat production was the first goat-related PhD in Zimbabwe. I had to register in England because I was informed in 1989 that no one was supervising me in Zimbabwe. No one had earned a doctorate in goats. It was considered backward and primitive, and there was little literature on the subject, but in England they were already working with milk goats, so I was required to register there.
“Being on a farm calms me down.”
Professor of animal science and agriculture Lindiwe Sibanda.
The professor and mother of three Lindiwe Sibanda enjoys spending time on her farm. Even days before assuming her new position, she admired her handiwork.
“One thing that calms me down is being on a farm. She states, “I raise cattle and, when I believe the rains are favorable, I produce maize.”
“Sometimes farming involves nothing more than being on the farm, sleeping on the farm, and hearing the cows moo in the background. It offers me a sense of fulfillment that I cannot find elsewhere.”
This year, she began planting corn in November, at the beginning of the planting season.
“My crop looks great,” she says. “There’s nothing more complicated than feeding agricultural employees. If you limit their access to food, you limit their production. So it is usually a good thing when they can consume as much pap as they desire. Therefore, we continually seek to cultivate our own.
“However, over the past few years it has been impossible to plant due to climate change.” The previous year, many planted as late as December and January due to the unpredictable and delayed rainfall. I decided not to plant, and I believe I made a sensible decision because 80% of Zimbabwean farmers who grew maize did not have a good yield,” she says.
How much meat does she consume on a daily basis?
“I have become a staunch advocate for sustainable health systems, and as you age, you begin to be wary of quantities.” Despite what the world says, I continue to be a strong proponent of meat consumption. Meat contains micronutrients that are more beneficial to the body’s development than synthetic food or crop.
“I now understand why my grandmother gave us 40 grams of meat per meal.”
“I’m still a good meat eater, but I’m mindful of amounts and I want a varied diet. You must have a variety of foods on your plate because no single dish can provide a healthy diet. I was never a huge fruit eater, but now I make sure to have my daily five servings. “It’s all about quantity and variety,” she asserts.
Later in the year, Sibanda will celebrate her sixtieth birthday with friends and family at a grand celebration.