Meet the team
Prof. Frans Swanepoel
Principal Investigator and Director: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Professor Frans Swanepoel is a Research Fellow in Residence at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship. With a PhD in Animal Breeding and Genetics (graduate coursework completed at Texas A&M University, USA), his early research career spanned more than a decade. During this time, he did pioneering research in beef production science and obtained international recognition, as confirmed by his South African National Research Foundation (NRF) rating. His research interest advanced to smallholder agricultural production systems, agricultural education and training, and agricultural research and innovation leadership in Africa. In this context, during the past 15 years, he has worked extensively in a leadership or advisory capacity with several African actors on agricultural research and capacity development on the continent.
Research interests:Advanced to smallholder agricultural production systems, agricultural education and training and agricultural research and innovation leadership in Africa.
Prof. Claire Quinn
Prof. Claire Quinn Co-Director and Co-Investigator: FSNet-Africa (University of Leeds)
Claire Quinn is a professor in Natural Resource Management at the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds. She is an Environmental Social Scientist with over 20 years of experience working on interdisciplinary projects in Africa, Europe, and Asia. Her research advances understanding of social-ecological systems and focuses on (i) smallholder livelihood vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience; and (ii) knowledge and governance for climate-smart agriculture.
She is interdisciplinary in her approach, drawing on theories and methods from both natural and social sciences. Her research has improved our understanding of the roles played by natural resources and institutions in smallholder livelihoods and adaptation to climate change. It has also advanced practice in stakeholder engagement and knowledge exchange.
Research interests:The interface between social and agricultural dimensions of environmental change and sustainability.
Dr Tshilidzi Madzivhandila
Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator: FSNet-Africa (FANRPAN)
Dr Tshilidzi Madzivhandila is the Chief Executive Officer of FANRPAN. He has over 20 years’ experience in research, policy analysis, and monitoring and evaluation, with a particular focus on the food, agriculture, and natural resources sector. An excellent communicator with strong intellectual and analytical skills, Dr Madzivhandila has served in senior positions in national research institutions, government, and international development organisations. He holds a PhD degree in Economics from the University of New England, Australia, specialising in public policies and programme evaluation. Dr Madzivhandila is a member of various professional associations, including the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA), the South African Monitoring and Evaluation Association (SAMEA), and the Pool of International Experts for the Food and Business Applied Research Fund of the Dutch Research Council’s science division.
Prof. Lindiwe Sibanda
Strategic Partnerships Liaison: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria). Director: ARUA-SFS
Prof. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is a recognised leader, transdisciplinary scientist and esteemed advisor with a career spanning 30 years. She has served in numerous leadership capacities at management, trustee, and advisory levels.
Prof. Sibanda currently serves as the Director and Chair of the African Research Universities Alliance – Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Food Systems (ARUA-SFS) at the University of Pretoria where she leads a team of research experts in transdisciplinary research on Africa’s Food Systems. She is also hosted by the University’s Centre of Advancement of Scholarship as a Senior Research Fellow.
Prof. Sibanda is an SDG12.3 Champion among the SDG Target by 2030 Champions on Reducing Food Loss and Waste and also sits on the Nestle, World Vegetable Centre and the One CGIAR boards.
In previous roles, Prof. Sibanda has served as the Chief Executive Officer and Head of Diplomatic Mission, Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and has also held senior positions at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Prof. Andy Dougill
Executive Dean of the Faculty of Environment (University of Leeds)
Prof. Andy Dougill is the Dean of the Faculty of the Sciences, University of York, York, United Kingdom. He is a dryland environmental change researcher who has developed research approaches that integrate various disciplines, including soil science, ecology, climate change, development studies, and environmental and social sciences. He has led the design and implementation of interdisciplinary problem-based research projects focused on environmental sustainability issues in a wide range of developing world contexts, focusing on African agricultural systems.
His research projects have gained significant external funding from a wide range of sources, including GCRF, National Environment Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, Leverhulme Trust, Royal Geographical Society, British Council, and Department for International Development. His work has developed innovative research methodologies for using scientific approaches together with local participation to ensure locally relevant research outputs in both dryland Africa and the UK uplands.
Research interests:Environment and development; soil science; African agriculture; climate change adaptation; climate services.
Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee
Senior Researcher and Network Learning Lead: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Dr Melody Mentz-Coetzee is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (University of Pretoria, South Africa).
Dr Mentz-Coetzee has worked for a number of years as an independent monitoring and evaluation consultant undertaking projects at national, pan-African, and international levels. She focuses on theory-based mixed-methods evaluations and the evaluation of higher education initiatives, research capacity building, and leadership, with an emphasis on gender and agriculture in the context of development in Africa.
Research interests:Theory-based mixed-methods evaluations, and the evaluation of higher education initiatives, research capacity building and leadership.
Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire
Network and Research Manager: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Currently the Network and Research Manager for FSNet-Africa, Dr Elizabeth Mkandawire has a PhD in Rural Development Planning. Her research and publications have focused on integrating gender in nutrition policy, and especially on men’s involvement in maternal and child health.
Over the past several years, Dr Mkandawire has been involved in numerous food security and nutrition-related activities, including research work for the Feed the Future Food Security Policy Innovation Lab at the University of Pretoria. As part of the Lab, she led the gender and nutrition case study conducted in Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Ntcheu, Malawi, where she researched men’s involvement in maternal and child nutrition. She has also contributed to the CAADP process in several African countries. She played a central role in preparing a scoping report for Malawi for the International Food Policy Research Institute Compact 2025 initiative.
Research interests:Gender, food security, and nutrition.
Ms Esley van der Berg
Administration & Communication Liaison: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Ms Esley van der Berg graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and Psychology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She continued her studies at the University of the Free State, obtaining two honours degrees with distinction – one in Psychology and another in Practical Theology. She further honed her language editing skills by completing a copy-editing course through the University of Cape Town.
Before joining the FSNet-Africa team, Esley worked as an independent contractor specialising in language editing of research and academic texts as well as offering research support services such as assistance with qualitative data analysis, data capturing, desktop research, transcription, translation, and general administrative and project management support.
Dr Nadia Fouché
Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Dr Nadia Fouché is a Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (University of Pretoria). She has several years’ experience working as an independent research consultant, with a special interest in quantitative data analysis and the analysis of big data. In her capacity as a quantitative analyst, she has worked on numerous research and evaluation projects in collaboration with universities and private companies across South Africa.
Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa
Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa (PhD Agricultural Economics) is a Postdoctoral Fellow with FSNet-Africa at the University of Pretoria. She previously worked as a Researcher for the Centre of Collaboration on the economics of agricultural research and development. Colleta has been part of an inter-institutional team of scientists analysing the Land Reform’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy farms. Part of her experience to date includes investment analysis and research project management.
Research interests:The agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers, agricultural input investments and impact assessment.
Dr Eness Paidamoyo Mutsvangwa-Sammie
POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOW: FSNET-AFRICA (University of Pretoria)
Dr Eness Paidamoyo Mutsvangwa-Sammie (DPhil Agricultural Innovations) is a Postdoctoral Fellow with FSNet-Africa at the University of Pretoria. She has been awarded several fellowships, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Future Africa Early Career Research Leader Fellowship (ECRLF). Eness has previously worked as a Senior Lecturer at Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (MUAST); Interim Programs Coordinator at WaterNet; and Scientific Officer at the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)-Bulawayo. She is passionate about training and capacity building, especially for livelihoods empowerment in rural communities. This entails making use of innovative interventions to promote inclusive economic growth and improve the welfare of marginalised people and communities.
Research interests:Agricultural development, food security, resilience, climate change and natural resource management.
Mr Jonathan Tager
Financial Administrator (University of Pretoria)
Jonathan Tager works in the International Strategic Partnerships office at the University of Pretoria as a Research Assistant and as Executive Assistant to Prof Frans Swanepoel. Since 2020 he has been seconded to spend half his time working within the broader UP sustainability portfolio, including sustainability reporting and the UN Sustainable Solutions Development Network (SDSN). He holds a BA in Linguistics and French and a BA(Hons) in Applied Linguistics. He is currently a Master’s student in the Unit for Creative Writing in the Department of English at UP.
Ms. Marilie Pretorius
Postdoctoral Research Fellow: FSNet-Africa (University of Pretoria)
Ms. Marilie Pretorius is a postdoctoral fellow with the Food Systems Research Network for Africa (FSNet-Africa) at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She holds a PhD in Zoology, with the focus of her doctoral study being on the effects of environmental degradation due to metal pollution on the African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus) and its associated parasite species (Lamproglena clariae) from the Vaal River, South Africa.
Marilie’s research interests include animal health, parasitology, zoology, entomology, and agricultural ecology. She has previously studied ectoparasite tolerance between Bos indicus and Bos taurus cattle in South Africa and completed an internship with the Brahman Breeders Association of South Africa. She grew up in a multigenerational farming family, resulting in respect for and interest in the natural world. In her spare time, Marilie is a nature enthusiast that enjoys camping, hiking, and spending time on her family’s farm.
Ms Zethu Mkhwanazi
ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT: FSNET-AFRICA (UNIVERSITY OF PRETORIA)
Ms Zethu Mkhwanazi is a PhD student in the Humanities Faculty of the University of Pretoria and is also an administrative assistant for FSNet-Africa. She is interested in plant production, plant protection, sustainable agriculture, agricultural extension, as well as food safety policy and governance.
Her research focuses on understanding the gaps and weaknesses in the food safety governance structure. She has a particular interest in understanding the roles of different stakeholders in shaping and influencing food safety policy outcomes.
Ms Andrea du Toit
RESEARCH ASSISTANT: FSNET-AFRICA (UNIVERSITY OF PRETORIA)
Andrea du Toit is a PhD student in Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. She works as a research assistant at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship and as the Managing Editor of ESI Press. Previously, she has worked as an assistant lecturer in the Department of Political Science and as a research assistant in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension, and Rural Development. She is passionate about understanding the socio-economic challenges that plague society and working towards overcoming these challenges through research and innovation. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters.
Ms Rachel Mkandawire
Policy and Research Analyst for Food Agriculture: FANRPAN
Rachel Mkandawire has just completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Pathology from the University of Pretoria. She also holds a Master of Science in Crop Protection from Ghent University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture from Bunda College of Agriculture. Her interests lie in agriculture research and development. She has over 15 years of experience working in food security, farmer participatory research, disaster management, designing and carrying out experiments, writing technical reports, writing policy reviews, opinion pieces on science and development, policy and communication, and agriculture extension in low-resource communities. She is currently working as a Policy and Research Analyst for Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) where she is working on the Food Systems Transformation for One Health Project (FoSTA- Health) and ARUA-FSNET initiatives and is actively involved in Policy and stakeholder engagement for four countries (Malawi, South Africa Tanzania, and Zambia). She is also involved in policy and advocacy in shifting the region’s focus towards Food Systems’ approach.
Research interests:Agronomy, Crop Protection, Biosecurity, Climate Change, Participatory Research, Science and Communication and Policy and Advocacy.