In as early as the year 1919, the Faculty Board of the Faculty of Agriculture recommended that Dr JE Holloway is appointed temporarily as Lecturer in Agricultural Economics even though he was not an agricultural economist. The Faculty Board ratified the recommendation.
In 1925, it was decided to request a Chair for Agricultural Economics at the University. This request was granted in 1928, and Prof HD Leppan, Head of the Agronomy Department at the time, was appointed as Professor.
Prof Leppan resigned in 1938 when he accepted a position at the National Marketing Board. His departure was a great loss to the Department. During 1934, a part-time professorship was created by the Agricultural Co-operatives. This post was filled from the beginning of 1935 by Prof JFW Grosskopf. He held his position as Officer at the Department of Agriculture throughout this time. Upon his retirement as State Official in 1945, he also gave up his professorship at the Department.
Dr FR Tomlinson of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Stellenbosch replaced Prof Leppan in 1939 as the Head of Department. Dr Tomlinson had completed his initial studies at the University of Stellenbosch and then had furthered his education at the Cornell University, where he completed his PhD in 1933. In 1937, he became the first person to obtain a DSc(Agric) degree in Agricultural Economics in South Africa, at the University of Pretoria.
Prof Tomlinson was involved in a number of commissions of enquiry for the Government. He became especially well known as the Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry into the Socio-economic Development of the Bantustans in South Africa.
In 1956, Dr D JG Smith replaced him as Head of Department. Dr Smith had been a student at the Department and had been involved with the Department since 1949. Dr Smith had obtained his MSc degree in 1953 at the Iowa State College. He then earned his DSc at the University of Pretoria in 1963. He was promoted to Professor in the same year. In 1963, he also made a significant contribution when he was appointed as a member of the Commission of Enquiry of Co-operative Affairs, and the Commission regarding university education at non-white university colleges. He resigned in 1968 and was succeeded by Prof JA Groenewald.
Prof Groenewald obtained his BSc(Agric) degree in 1954, and his MSc(Agric) in 1958, both at the University of Pretoria. He then received his PhD from Purdue University in the USA in 1967. He was initially employed by the Department of Economics and Markets from 1954 to 1957, after which he worked at the Letaba and Zebediela Estates during the years 1957 to 1960. In 1961, he accepted an offer at the University of Natal as Senior Lecturer; a position he held until 1967 when he was appointed Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria.
In 1995, Prof H J Sartorius von Bach succeeded Prof Groenewald as the Department Head. Prof Sartorius von Bach obtained his BSc(Agric), BSc(Agric)(Hons), MSc(Agric) and PhD degrees all from the University of Pretoria, the last being in 1993. Before his appointment at the University of Pretoria he was employed by the Namibian Department of Agriculture. Prof Sartorius von Bach resigned from his post at the University of Pretoria at the end of 1995. A new Head of the Department was finally appointed in July 1996. Prof Johann Kirsten, a grandson of the late Prof Tomlinson, was then appointed as Head of the Department. Prof Kirsten joined the Department as Lecturer in 1992 after spending five years in the Department of Agriculture as agricultural economist. Prof Kirsten obtained his BSc(Agric) and BSc(Agric)(Hons) at the University of Stellenbosch and his MSc(Agric) and PhD in Agricultural Economics at the University of Pretoria.
Following the appointment of a new Head of Department in 1997 and in response to national and international trends in agriculture and in higher education, the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development adapted its training and research programmes to respond to these trends and the challenges it poses. Merging market needs with expertise within the Department resulted in the establishment of a number of focus areas or programmes in which our activities are organised. There will naturally be a considerable overlap between the different focus areas, but the advantage of this categorisation is that our comparative advantage can be exploited to the full. This enables us to develop centres of excellence in each of the focus areas. The main programmes or fields of expertise within this Department are:
- food and agricultural policy;
- environmental economics;
- agricultural and rural finance;
- rural development;
- agribusiness management; and
- agricultural extension.
These new focus areas created a lot of energy and activity around the drivers of each separate programme. Substantial growth regarding external funding, research projects and postgraduate students took place in environmental economics, agribusiness management and agricultural and rural finance.
The environmental economics programme was converted to a centre in 2001 and is now known as the Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy for Africa (CEEPA). The major sponsors for the centre are the Rockefeller Foundation and SIDA. ABSA Bank sponsors the Chair in Agribusiness Management with R1 million over five years while Standard Bank has been funding the Chair in Agricultural and Rural Finance since 1998 for a similar amount. The Land Bank has recently taken over the sponsorship of this programme.
At the time of the merger, the Department of Agricultural Extension had four academic positions (one support staff), and the Department of Agricultural Economics also has four (one support staff). The entire permanent academic staff component of the Department is now 12.
The Department's academic activities are also assisted by a number of research fellows and extraordinary professors. Also, the Department has used various external funds and project funds to appoint a total of 10 staff members on a contract basis. Their roles vary from teaching and research to purely administrative positions. Finally, the French organisation CIRAD has now seconded three researchers to the Department.
In addition to the abovementioned, one can also add the research assistants appointed within the Department. All of them are funded by research funds and play a vital role in our research output. At any time of year, the Department, therefore, houses around 40 people.