James Mukombwe recently completed his Master’s in Agricultural Economics and was part of the 2022 Autumn graduates. We spoke to him about his studies and research.
Why did you choose Agricultural Economics?
I chose to study Agricultural Economics because I am interested in pursuing research and I felt this programme can offer me the necessary research skills. I worked in the food security and nutrition sector before setting out to complete my Master’s, which is how I ended up in food and agricultural policy. I also believe this area is getting a lot of attention globally and in our nation. With malnutrition rates being high in countries around the world, including Zambia (where child stunting is at 35%), I strongly feel that researching food and agricultural policy presents an opportunity for me to contribute to eliminating all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
What is your research topic and how did you choose it?
My research topic was “The effect of the last mile on food security and nutrition in rural Zambia”. I chose this topic after learning about the last mile in a food policy module taught by Professor Sheryl Hendriks. I decided to relate the last mile to my home country, Zambia, which is vastly rural.
Can you briefly explain the topic and your findings?
The “last mile” refers to individuals who are considered “hard to reach” and are usually households that are located far from public facilities such as roads, markets, health centres, schools and urban areas. The general objective of the study was to determine how distances from these public facilities influenced food security and nutrition. The results showed that the prevalence of underweight was reduced among children (under the age of five) that lived closer to food markets. In other words, child nourishment improved with increased proximity to food markets. The results also suggested that proximity to food and farm input markets improved food security. The coefficients were, however, very small implying that in practical terms, food security was not significantly influenced by the proximity of households to food and farm input markets. The results also found that the commercialisation of farming can be a driver for increased food production.
Why do you think this research is important?
This research is important because it feeds into global and national priorities. For example, one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 9 is to increase the proportion of people living within two kilometres of an all-weather road in an effort to address poverty, food security and nutrition and other aspects of sustainable development. The results from this research could be used at global and national levels to advocate for establishing food and farm input markets closer to households as a way to address underweight and other forms of malnutrition in children, which is a target of SDG 2. Additionally, the results on commercialisation suggest that government can make progress towards the long overdue graduation of smallholder farmers into medium-scale and commercial farmers by promoting commercialisation in farming.
Did you enjoy your studies?
Yes, I enjoyed my studies. The University of Pretoria is indeed one of the best universities worldwide. I loved the practical aspect of learning. Having been a graduate of agriculture extension at a bachelor’s degree level, I did not study econometrics which is essential for agricultural economics. I was very glad, therefore, to have the practical sessions which were very helpful to me and other students that had not studied econometrics at an undergrad level.
How does your degree prepare you for your future?
I can see a massive difference in my skills between my undergraduate studies and now. I can perform most of the work independently and I can now relate to and understand issues concerning policies on food security, nutrition, agriculture and rural development. I have also noticed that people take me more seriously during meetings which is something I never saw before studying.