Agric & Innovations Editor
The late geneticist and renowned wheat breeder Dr Ephrame Kudzaishe Havazvidi earned his respect in the field and is widely credited for laying the foundation for the growth of the wheat industry in Zimbabwe and the region.
Following his death last week, tributes from the Seed Co group, plant breeding and farming community, scientists and business people have poured in, showing his importance to the sector.
Dr Havazvidi, one of the world’s pioneering wheat breeders, collapsed and died at his Mt Pleasant home on Saturday last week.
He was 68.
He was described as an intellectual giant who became an international symbol of the power of the human mind in wheat breeding innovations.
Dr Havazvidi, a renowned seed and crop scientist, helped to advance the understanding of wheat breeding and its role in the growth of the economy.
Mr Terrence Chimanya, managing director for Seed Co Zimbabwe, said he learnt about the sudden death of Dr Havazvidi with deep sorrow and sadness.
“Our most sincere condolences to the Havazvidi family, our thoughts and prayers are with you during this devastating period. Dr Havazvidi has left a dent on our hearts. The Seed Co family is in grief and mourning, for we have suffered a great loss.”
Mr Chimanya said Dr Havazvidi will be remembered for all the advances he made towards wheat breeding in Zimbabwe and beyond. Dr Havazvidi served Seed Co for more than 40 years.
He joined Seed Co as a seed production research agronomist in 1980 and rose through the ranks to become a wheat breeder, head of Rattray Arnold Research Station and finally as the global head of research for the global seed giant.
“He was truly a man of determination and great courage,” Mr Chimanya said. “Dr Havazvidi spearheaded the wheat breeding programme from scratch and in the process released more than 25 wheat varieties since joining Seed Co until retirement.
“An innovative pace setter. He was the brains behind the first and only wheat variety registered in Zimbabwe for rain-fed conditions, SC Sahai and the Seed Co flagship wheat variety, SC Nduna, which is now grown in several Southern African countries, including Zambia and Zimbabwe. He was truly an outstanding breeder and scientist.”
Mr Chimanya said Dr Havazvidi was a leader in the field of seed research.
“Seed Co stands as a leader in novel wheat breeding efforts and this we owe it to Dr Havazvidi’s hard work and determination to the Seed Co brand,” he said.
“He has left a great legacy, very big shoes to fill for the upcoming breeders and scientists. We celebrate his life and achievements, and it was such an honour to have been able to call him one of us,. Today we are in mourning, Seed Co, the Havazvidi family, friends and the nation at large have lost a mentor, a teacher, a big brother, a father and a grandfather. As Zimbabweans let us never forget that the bread we enjoy with our meals, was born out of the brilliance of this hard-working brother of ours.”
Since 1982, Dr Havazvidi released more than 28 high performing varieties of wheat that have significantly impacted wheat productivity in Zimbabwe and SADC countries.
His pioneering wheat breeding work led to the development of high performing spring wheat varieties used under irrigated cultures in Zimbabwe and beyond.
These include the SC Scan, SC Septre, SC Scope, SC Scholar, SC Superb, SC Stallion, SC Nduna, SC Sky, SC Nonsprout, SC Serena and others that helped Zimbabwe to occupy top position in the world up to 2014.
Most of the wheat varieties that Dr Havazvidi developed are highly tolerant to pre-harvest sprouting under early summer rains and some possess strong dough properties for gristling, helping the country to cut on imports of hard red wheats from abroad.
He also developed numerous plant crop varieties and oversaw all farm activities at Rattray Arnold Research Station.
In 2020, he was named among the top 20 most influential in the field across Africa.
His name was on the Southern African Plant Breeders’ Association list which had 20 internationally renowned plant breeders.
“It is with a heavy heart that the ZPBA has learnt with shock of the untimely passing on of an esteemed Zimbabwe Plant Breeders Association member and highly decorated wheat breeder Dr Ephraime Havazvidi,” said Dr Frank Magama, president of ZPBA.
“May the Lord be with the family and the plant breeding community during this difficult period.”
Tendai Madanzi, a plant breeder, said Dr Havazvidi was a giant and colossal figure in wheat breeding.
“He had a brilliant and extraordinary mind,” he said. “He mentored me and we would argue at times over plant breeding issues. He loved his cigarette and laughed a lot.”
Said Tinovonga Gonhi, another plant breeder: “I’m shocked to learn about his death. It’s a huge loss to the plant breeding community and the nation at large. Dr Havazvidi was passionate about the Seed Co wheat varieties. I will miss his jovial character.”
Throughout his career, Dr Havazvidi he worked closely with several local, regional and international wheat researchers and many varieties were released during his lifetime which continue to be grown and successfully marketed worldwide.
At the time of his death, he was in the process of developing wheat, maize and groundnut modules for the Department of Research and Specialist Services as a consultant scientist for the Excellence in Breeding (EiB) project.
He mentored a number of students who have now become successful in their own careers.
“His enthusiasm for wheat breeding was contagious and his passion for teaching and mentoring his students served as a true role model for us all. Words cannot express our deep sorrow at losing such a gifted and experienced plant breeder,” said a Harare-based plant breeder who was mentored by Dr Havazvidi when studying for his masters’ degree.
His enthusiasm for science and wheat breeding will be missed by many.
Dr Havazvidi was born in Masvingo on September 22, 1954.
He did his Ordinary Levels at Berejena Mission in Chivi and later completed his Advanced Level studies at Goromonzi High School.
After passing his A levels, he enrolled for a crop science degree at the then University of Rhodesia (now University of Zimbabwe) in 1974.
He majored in plant breeding and biometrical genetics.
Dr Havazvidi received his PhD from the Faculty of Agriculture at the UZ in 2003.
A memorial service was held at a Catholic church in Mt Pleasant on Monday this week Dr Havazvidi, who was laid to rest at his rural home in Zaka.
He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, four children – Kennedy, Happiness, Charles and Rumbi and several grandchildren.