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Fort Cox former student perspective on effectiveness of Problem Based Learning and student challenge group work approach

Catching up with Leah Mothiba an "Advanced Diploma in Animal Production graduate" who participated in "Climate smart, resilient forestry/Agriculture production landscapes" student challenge 

Following successful participation during the student challenge hosted by Nelson Mandela University at George campus in October 2022, Leah Mothiba, a Fort Cox Advanced Diploma in Animal Production graduate in an interview had interesting recollection to share about problem-based learning (PBL) and student challenge teaching and learning approach and as such, this information is critical for the students who will be partaking in the upcoming student challenge to be hosted at Fort Cox.

How did you perceive the problem-based learning approach?

LM: The problem-based learning (PBL) was a challenge as we had to think on our feet within a limited time and then present our results as a group.

How did you cope with the challenge and balancing it off with other pressing workload outside the challenge itself?

LM: During the Forest21 student challenge, I had to step out of my comfort zone, I had to be ready for anything. I had to juggle both the Forest21 challenge work and other the related school activities at once. It was a lot to deal with but manageable.

What were the moments when you felt pressured and empowered during the student challenge?

LM: When I was selected to be a group leader and to be interviewed during the Forest21 challenge by the group members, I was nervous and shy about it, but went for it. As we were taking the field trips and visiting the farms, we were taught on how their system works and how they deal with certain challenges. I have realized that the farming sector is the most affected by climate change; therefore, there is a great need to employ various climate smart practices to ensure sustainable production is achieved, Mothiba emphasized. The farming sector must be flexible and be able to adapt new techniques for them to continue producing and staying in business irrespective of the climate change phenomenon.

What were the most exciting moments for you that you will cherish for many years to come?

LM: The hospitality throughout the Forest21 challenge was perfect. It made adapting to the workload from the student challenge and other related school activities to be easily manageable. We had field trips and visited different farms; it was beautiful. Meeting with diverse people, socializing and interacting with them was exciting. The whole student challenge made me realize that there is more to life “soft life”, than what we are used to, I was and still encouraged to strive for greatness in life.

What specific problems were identified in your group concerning unsustainable agricultural practices and their impact in climate change?

LM: Agriculture practices cause leaching: such as the over fertilization of crops and grassland, excessive livestock numbers, inappropriate use of manure, exposure of bare soil during the winter drainage period and excessive use of chemicals. How does it affect agriculture? Economic costs (waste of money using fertilizer manure etc. incorrectly, huge cost in fixing the soil for next yield or crop plantations), changes the soil structure/composition, low yield, waste of water, possibly causes of disease, erosion, wash away seedlings all this makes negative impacts makes it a challenge for farmers to replace and fix soil. How leaching affects the environment? Pollutes rivers and water sources, effects aquatic life, cause eutrophication, contaminates ground water, erosion, spread seeds (alien), anaerobic conditions, endangers surrounding indigenous species (some may be endangered), washes away organic matter. Climate change and nutrient leaching: climate change causes increased rainfall which increases the risk of nutrient leaching. Nutrient leaching may runoff into water sources where eutrophication may begin, which then releases an increased amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (contributing to climate change).

What was your groups’ proposed solution to the identified problems in pursuit to mitigate the impact of climate change?

LM: The proposed solution is to make vermicompost (earthworm compost) using earthworms and organic waste compost to sell to small scale farmers to remedy leached soil. Vermicomposting is the scientific method of making compost, by using earthworms. They are commonly found living in soil, feeding on biomass and excreting the biomass in a digested form. Vermiculture means “worm-farming”. Earthworms feed on the organic waste materials and give out excreta in the form of “vermicasts” that are rich in nitrates and minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and potassium. These are used as fertilizers and enhance soil quality. Vermicomposting is an eco-friendly process that recycles organic waste into compost and produces valuable nutrients.

Problem-based learning and student challenge teaching and learning approach works.

By Local Coordinator and Fort Cox Dissemination Team

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Fort Cox Forestry Student Association Chairperson: Mr. Siyanda Mbadamana

Trip to attend 2023 IFSS in Germany 

Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute is pleased to announce that Mr. Mbadamana Siyanda, a chairperson of the Fort Cox Forestry Students Association (FCFSA) and a second-year student enrolled in a Diploma in Forestry at Fort Cox is on his way to Freiburg in Germany to participate in the 2023 International Forestry Students Symposium (IFSS) commencing on the 15th of August 2023 to the 02nd of September 2023. The Fort Cox Institute staff and students wish him a safe trip and fruitful participation as well as meaningful contribution during the symposium. We are eagerly waiting for his return wherein he will be expected share the lessons from the symposium with the entire forestry student cohort and the staff. "I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Institute's Principal and CEO, management, forestry and natural resource management staff members and forestry students who relentlessly supported and had faith in me to represent them (FCFSA) and fly high the flag of the Institute", Mr Siyanda Mbadamana said.    

Fort Cox preparing to host Forest21 student challenge

Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute multidisciplinary group of students embarked on a Forest21 student challenge that was hosted by Nelson Mandela University at George Campus for a period of two weeks from the 15th of October to 28th of October 2022 under the theme “Climate smart, resilient forestry/agricultural production landscapes”. The reflections of the students about the Problem-Based learning approach experience during the previous student challenges were solicited and from their feedback, it is quite clear that the student challenge platform provided an opportunity for the students to learn from their peers as well as share ideas in pursuit to finding solution to real life industry-based problems at their disposal. At the same time, the academic staff (mentors) were also exposed to the application of problem-based learning (PBL) as an effective approach to adopt in teaching and learning, in dealing with a complex and multidisciplinary sets of challenges. Having acquired PBL firsthand experience or exposure, the Institute's forestry and agriculture academic staff will now focus to jointly prepare for the upcoming Student Challenge taking place on the 28th of August to 08th of September 2023 at Fort Cox. The Institute is looking forward to welcoming students and mentors from local and international partners including Aalto University from Finland, Tshwane University of Technology and University of Venda from South African. This upcoming student challenge will be focusing on the following theme: “Optimal and appropriate forest business models for future management of state plantations earmarked for recapitalization”

The partners are ready and geared to participate in this student challenge. Most importantly, the challenge owners in Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment and Cata community are looking forward to participate and share informaton with the students. Other organization that will participate in this student challenge include the Border Rural Committee, Schenks Enterprise, Rance Timbers, SA Fine-Tuned Trading, University of Fort Hare and University of Pretoria as well as Forestry South Africa's land commission committee.

Forest21 Entrepreneurship efforts at Fort Cox

Remembering Forest21 Entrepreneurship Workshop at Fort Cox on 02-03 June 2022 

Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute hosted a two-day forestry entrepreneurship training workshop under the banner of Forest21 project on the 02nd - 03rd of June 2022. The purpose of this workshop was to train the academic staff to comprehend different approaches they could adopt to integrate the elements or concepts of entrepreneurship during teaching and learning in their respective courses or modules and to effectively inculcate the entrepreneurial mindset to students cohort. This workshop opened the minds of students by providing information on how they could alternatively make use of their knowledge and skills acquired during their studies to create opportunities for themselves and not to entirely focus on employment seeking option to engage in forestry practices and/or empower themselves economically. A lot of lessons were obtained from this workshop since the participants were exposed to various forms of entrepreneurship ideologies. Indeed, this opened the mindset of students and academics alike in how they viewed entrepreneurship had changed after the workshop. The workshop took a hybrid approach with Mr. Norman Dlamini from Forestry South Africa (FSA), project coordinator Dr. Eija Latinen from HAMK in Finland graced the workshop, an Associate Professor Patrick Shulist from Aalto University in Finland facilitated training. The local partners including Tshwane University of Technology and University of Venda virtually participated in this training workshop represented by both local coordinators, Prof. Puffy Soundy and Prof Patrick Adesoye, respectively. Most importantly, the Fort Cox Department of Forestry and Natural Resource Management through the Institute nursery arranged a tree planting wherein Dr. Eija Laitinen and Associate Professor Patrick Shulist planted one Wild Olive (Olea africana) each. While on the 04th of June 2022, a two-hour big tree and madonna and child waterfall hiking trail exercise at Hogsback with forestry academic staff and students completed. It was also an honour and worth mentioning that Fort Cox was the first local partner to get an opportunity to welcome the entrepreneurship specialist and undergo the entrepreneurship training. Hence, the Institute shall continue to cherish this moment while at the same time continuing to strongly pursue integration of entrepreneurship elements into the existing forestry courses as well as focusing on the development of forestry entrepreneurship course for effective implementation in 2025 academic year.

The Institute continue to participate and actively contribute to the Entrepreneurship core team activities.

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From left to right: Dr. Bethwell Moyo, Dr. Ratsodo Phillip Tshidzumba, Ms. Nosipho Vutela and Dr. Ntshangase 

Incubation and entrepeneurship programme induction

The 03rd of August 2023 was an extraordinary day to Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Training Institute as well as the incubation and entrepreneurship programme beneficiaries who participated in the induction programme and received motivational advices as well as getting the vision of the programme from Principal and CEO, Mr Mkhululi Mankazana. The Principal and CEO explained that the Institute had to take risk and therefore, put aside 1 million rand revolving fund to ensure implementation of the programme. The fund will be made available to the participant of the programme in the form of in house loan of which they are compelled to payback at the end of their training. Amongst the speakers, there was a former Fort Cox student Ms Nosipho Vuthela who is a young Entrepreneur in Agriculture (a young and successful farmer). She shared an interesting story of how she successfully ventured into farming citing and praising the Fort Cox Institute for the vocational or practical-based training that she was exposed to or acquired during her studies at the Institute. She also emphasized on the difficulties associated with farming while at the same time strongly citing the significance of hard work, patience and good attitude as a key to achieving success in agriculture. On the other hand, Mr. Mlungisi Bushula who is the CEO and founder of SA Fine-Tuned Trading also motivated the members or beneficiaries of Fort Cox Incubation and Entrepreneurship highlighting commitment and dedication as the key factors to success.

SHE is Forestry Award Winner

Award presented during SHE is Webinar on 03 July 2023h 

The forestry female students attended a SHE is Forestry webinar on the 03rd of September 2023 and have enjoyed listening to success stories of women in forestry. Noteworthy, the day turned to be more interesting and encouraging to all Fort Cox female students who witnessed and celebrated one of the Fort Cox Forestry female student, Ms Philasande Bhentshu winning SHE is Forestry award pocketing a whopping R15 000. Of the total amount she won, she will spend R5000 towards procuring items that will empower and promote girls who are doing science in any school of her choice.

The Institute is proud about the student' achievement and is looking for more of the female students to continue participating in SHE is Forestry competition. Read below the nomination letter that made earned Philasande an award:

Dear Selection Committee,

It is with great pleasure and immense admiration that I nominate Pilasande Bhentshu for the prestigious Undergraduate of the Year award. As a third-year forestry student hailing from Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Institute, Pilasande embodies the spirit of resilience and determination that we should celebrate.
Originating from the Mdantsane Township in the Eastern Cape, Pilasande experienced a major setback when she faced financial exclusion from the University of Fort Hare. It was a time of self-doubt and a feeling of failure, but Pilasande refused to succumb to defeat. Instead, she chose to embark on a new path—one that led her to a promising career in Forestry and luckily for her FP&Mseta awarded her a bursary.

Right from the outset, Pilasande demonstrated unwavering dedication to her studies and a resolute commitment to making a lasting impact in the industry. Her academic prowess is remarkable, but it is her exceptional leadership skills and unwavering drive to achieve her dreams and goals in the Forestry sector that truly sets her apart. What makes Pilasande truly extraordinary is her uplifting influence on others, consistently supporting and empowering those around her.

I have had the privilege of witnessing Pilasande's remarkable transformation. She has broken free from the confines of her comfort zone and emerged as a confident young woman who understands the power of her voice and the potential to effect substantial change in the industry. Notably, she was interviewed by Dr. E. Laitinen during her visit to her institution in June 2022 for the Forest21 Entrepreneurship Work. Then in October she was among the first undergraduates to participate in the prestigious Forest21 program in 2022, which is primarily open to postgraduates. This exemplifies Pilasande's readiness to shatter boundaries in her pursuit of leaving an indelible mark on the forestry sector.

Furthermore, Pilasande tenaciously secured an opportunity to undertake her Work-integrated Learning with one of South Africa's largest forestry companies, SAFCOL, in Mpumalanga. Her aspiration to be part of the movement that conserves and protects our invaluable resources for future generations is truly commendable.
Pilasande is deserving of this award because she serves as an inspiration to her peers at our institution. She exemplifies the belief that our origins do not define us; it is the culmination of our journey and how we choose to shape our destination that truly matters. She has the potential to be an exceptional role model for female students at our institute, emphasizing that one's background is inconsequential compared to the path one forges ahead and the limitless possibilities that lie ahead. Fort Cox Agriculture and Forestry Institute takes great pride in nurturing the very best, and Pilasande stands as a testament to this commitment.

Representation is vital, especially for young women who find themselves underrepresented in influential spaces. Pilasande's victory in securing this award would not only be a personal triumph but a triumph for all the female students at our esteemed institution.

In conclusion, it is my sincerest belief that Pilasande Bhentshu is an ideal candidate for the Undergraduate of the Year award. Her remarkable journey, unwavering determination, and dedication to fostering positive change make her an embodiment of inspiration. I wholeheartedly endorse her candidacy, and I am confident that she will continue to surpass expectations, leaving an indelible mark on the forestry industry and inspiring countless others to do the same.

Thank you for your consideration".

All thanks goes to the Forestry lecturing staff who contributed to Philasande's journey thus far. We wish you Phila the best in your future endeavor in forestry career. The sky is not the limit and you have shown others that is indeed possible for anyone. 


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