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The South African forestry sector’s use of pesticides poses only a low risk to human and environmental health, according to a ground-breaking Nelson Mandela University doctoral study.


HIGH ACHIEVER: Dr Noxolo Ndlovu (left), receives her degree from Dr Muedanyi Ramantswana, department of forestry senior lecturer; Dr Ndlovu is congratulated by George Campus Senior Director Dr Kaluke Mawila. 

PhD graduate Noxolo Ndlovu has shown that foresters continue to protect communities, the soil and aquatic organisms found within and adjacent to forestry plantations through their careful pesticide usage.

A junior research scientist at Kwazulu-Natal’s NCT Forestry, Dr Ndlovu this month graduated from Mandela University’s George Campus with a doctorate in nature conservation – an appropriate achievement given the campus’s niche in terms of sustainability studies and practice.

Her thesis, ‘Towards understanding the soil and water fate of pesticides (active ingredients) used operationally in South African forest plantations’, sought to study the impact of forestry pesticides.

“With pesticides being chemical compounds that have a likelihood of causing harm to the environment, it was important to understand whether their use could be causing detrimental impacts,” Dr Ndlovu explained.

The good news was that the risk is low, due to a combination of factors: pesticides are used in line with product label recommendations; they are not the main method of pest and disease management and they are applied at low rates and frequencies.

The study was a positive development for growers, SA Forestry Online reported, since they are restricted in terms of the number of pesticides approved for use, and under increasing pressure from environmentalists, consumers and certification bodies to decrease usage of chemical pesticides.

Conducted over a 26-month period at NCT’s Ingwe plantation in the KZN midlands, it covered an area typical of a South African forestry, situated on a steep site with a stream nearby, which therefore represented “a worst-case scenario in terms of pesticide residue and run-off,” the report said.

Data obtained from Dr Ndlovu’s study was significant, because there was scant research on the environmental impacts of pesticide use in South African forestry conditions.

Another positive development was that the research team used the findings to create a “generic decision support tool” to help guide pesticide use specifically in a South African context.

Trees in her blood

Born in Kwazulu-Natal’s Tugela Ferry in 1993 to single mother Weziwe Mthembu, Dr Ndlovu was an only child with a passion for nature and education.

“My love for life sciences and natural sciences was inspired by my high school biology teacher, Mrs Gevers, at Greytown High School. Her passion created in me a curiosity about, interest in, and love for the subject.”

Joining the University’s George Campus was a natural next step. She obtained a National Diploma and Bachelor of Technology in Forestry in 2014 and 2015, followed by an MSc in Forestry two years later.

“The George Campus has a reputation for offering an excellent forestry education, with lecturers of the highest calibre,” she said. “The manner in which all staff embody the University values of excellence, responsibility and respect was inspirational!”

Her current NCT Forestry role, under the leadership of the Tree Farming Manager, involves managing the tree improvement programme and engaging with stakeholders and industry partners to meet the research needs of NCT members.

SUSTAINABILITY STUDIES: Dr Noxolo Ndlovu working in the field. Credit: Forestry South Africa

Forests: follow the science

Given the lack of pesticide research in a sector committed to sound environmental practices, Dr Ndlovu’s study has filled a much-needed gap in knowledge.
“One cannot manage what is not measured,” she said. “Appropriate action cannot be taken to protect people and the environment from any negative impacts associated with pesticide use unless there is information or data regarding the impacts of industry-specific pesticide use.

“The industry has a mandate to ensure that all activities that occur within forest plantations do not compromise environmental values.

“The observations and recommendations stemming from my work directly feed into the sustainability and conservation goals of the industry, South African environmental protection legislation and international sustainability goals.”

Dr Ndlovu is living her life’s work, which encapsulates a long-term vision for a country with a sound sustainability backbone.

She loves nothing more than being in nature – particular around Table Mountain and the Outeniqua Mountains, home to the George Campus - but is also looking forward to a softer, self-focused approach to the next few years, with plans to settle down and start a family.

“South Africa is a beautiful and rich country with so many possibilities. I wish all people realised that and took pride in, and care of, our precious country and its resources.

“I wish people were educated and mindful of the impact of their activities to the environment - from littering, to poaching, and even to corruption.” 

For all your graduation content across your social media platforms, please use #MandelaUniGrad24. We would love to collate, share and celebrate this amazing achievement with you on official University platforms.

Contact information
Mrs Debbie Derry
Deputy Director: Communication
Tel: 041 504 3057