From hand holes to vent holes: what’s next in innovative horticultural packaging?
Inaugural lecture delivered on 2 February 2011.
Umezuruike Linus Opara was born on 1 July 1961 in a rural subsistence farming and hunting village, Umunam, in Imerienwe, Imo State, Nigeria, where he lived and obtained his primary and secondary education. He attended Upe/Umunam CMS (Anglican) Primary School, Upe Primary School and Umunam Central Primary School, receiving most of the first three years of classes in nearby rubber plantations, tree shades and other makeshift shelters during the Nigerian Civil War. At the end of his primary education in 1974, he baby-sat for one year before attending Owerri Grammar School, Imerienwe. He completed the West African Examination Council School Certificate examination in 1980 and won the annual Senior Essay Competition of the School for his essay entitled 1980 – The year of changes, in which he prematurely and naively predicted a sudden end of apartheid in South Africa. After high school, he travelled to northern Nigeria and joined his parents in Yola, the capital city of present day Adamawa State in Nigeria, where he worked for two years at UTC (Nig.) Ltd, rising from the position of Sales Assistant to First Sales/Storekeeper. During this period, he used his weekends for self-study and in 1982 sat as an external candidate and passed both the General Certificate of Education examination and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board examination, and gained admission to study Agricultural Engineering at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in the same year. Based on his first-year results, he was awarded the University of Nigeria Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship for Academic Merit in 1983, which he successfully retained throughout his undergraduate studies. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering in 1987 with first-class honours (cum laude) and received the Department Prize for Best Graduating Student. He was an elected member of the University of Nigeria Students Union Senate (Upper House) and president of the National Association of Ngor-Okpala Local Government Students. In December 1987, he was awarded the prestigious Prize for Academic Excellence by the Mezie Owerri national community development organisation in Nigeria. For his National Youth Service Corps assignment, he spent one year as agricultural engineer at the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization, Ilorin. He returned to the University of Nigeria in 1988 with a Federal Government Postgraduate Scholarship and completed his master’s degree in Agricultural Engineering (cum laude) in record time in 1989. The results of his BEng honours thesis on Nomograph models for selective agricultural mechanization and his MEng thesis on Computer-aided model for selective agricultural mechanization (CAM-SAM) provided major inputs for the Agricultural Mechanization Study component of the 1989–2004 National Agricultural Development Strategy of Nigeria, of which he was co-leading author with the late Prof UGN Anazodo and Dr Taiwo Abimbola. In 1988 he was awarded a New Zealand University Grant’s Committee PhD Scholarship reserved for local students who made first class. He commenced his PhD studies in Agricultural Engineering 3 4 at Massey University 1990 and completed in 1993. His dissertation on Studies on stem-end splitting in apples under the supervision of Prof Cliff Studman and Prof Nigel Banks provided the first scientific evidence linking the development of stem-end splitting with a precursor internal ring-cracking. Through the combination of engineering knowledge of the physico-chemical properties of fruit and horticultural science, industry guidelines were developed and disseminated on practical measures to predict and reduce the incidence of fruit-splitting damage. He subsequently held the position of postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Agricultural Engineering from 1993 to 1994. He joined Lincoln Technology in Hamilton briefly as Postharvest Research Engineer but returned to Massey in 1995 as lecturer in Postharvest Engineering, was promoted to senior lecturer in 1999 and to program director for Engineering Technology in 2001, and was a founding member of the Centre for Postharvest and Refrigeration Research. He held several management and administrative positions, including that of coordinator of the Agricultural Engineering programme and coordinator of the BApplSc (General) programme. In 1993 he was awarded the inaugural Dean’s Prize for Meritorious Contributions to the Affairs of the Faculty of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences. He was an elected member of the Massey University Governing Council (1993–1997), representing all internal and extramural students, and served on several council committees, panels and other university-wide committees, including the University Disciplinary Appeals Committee, chaired by the chancellor, and the panel for the appointment of a new vice-chancellor (1994– 1995). He was also the residential community coordinator (1995–2001) responsible for mentoring and overseeing the welfare of students living in on-campus university accommodation. He was executive committee member of the Africa Association of New Zealand, president of the African Students Association, elected member of the Massey University Students’ Association Executive, and president of International Students. He is a chartered engineer (UK), currently chair of Section VI: Postharvest Technology and Process Engineering and executive committee member of the International Commission of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (CIGR), vice-chair of the Roots and Tuber section of the International Society for Horticultural Science, section chair for Engineering and Information Technology of the International Society for Food, Agriculture and Environment, and former vicepresident (Postharvest Technology and Biotechnology) of the Asian Association for Agricultural Engineering (AAAE). He is a life member of the AAAE and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, and member of several international and national scientific societies. At the 80th anniversary of the CIGR and the World Congress in Quebec in 2010, he received the CIGR Presidential Citation for significant contributions to the advancement of agricultural engineering in Africa. He is founding editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Postharvest Technology and Innovation and member of the editorial board and regular reviewer for several international peer-reviewed journals. He has published over 60 articles in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, co-edited three special issues of the International Journal of Engineering Education documenting recent advances in agricultural and biological engineering education, was the editor of two conference proceedings and made over 150 oral presentations at international conferences, including keynotes and invited lectures. Prior to joining Stellenbosch University, he worked at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman (2002– 2008), where he held the positions of associate professor of Agricultural Engineering, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, assistant dean for Postgraduate Studies and Research, and acting dean during summer periods. During this period, he also developed a new research programme and courses in postharvest technology and received the university’s Distinguished Researcher Award in 2006. He also served in many university and national policy and advisory committees, including the university’s Academic Council (Senate), he was a member of the University Quality Audit Committee, which prepared the first quality audit report, and is a certified quality auditor of the Oman Accreditation Council. He is active in the international development arena, serving as visiting expert on postharvest technology at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) in Rome (2000–2001), agricultural mechanisation expert in Iraq for the FAO/UN (2001–2002), FAO expert panel on microbial safety of green leafy vegetables (2008), FAO expert on postharvest and marketing systems and member of the technical panel that developed an agricultural development strategy for Timor-Leste (2009) as well as a member of the International Advisory Board of the USAID Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program (Hort CRSP). Prof Opara holds the South African Research Chair in Postharvest Technology at Stellenbosch University, and his current research programmes focus on cold chain technologies, non-destructive technologies for quality measurement and mapping and reducing postharvest food losses. He is married to Gina and has two daughters, Ijeoma (15) and Okaraonyemma (13), who both enjoy playing the piano and watching their dad play football.