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Grain research project to unlock SA plant breeding capacity

The Grain Research Programme has been established to directly engage with grain stakeholders in an attempt to initiate research that will support the sector by identifying future challenges and exploring solutions, including extension and disease/pest diagnostic services.

It was hoped that the programme would empower South African seed breeding companies to continue their breeding programmes and develop new seed varieties, tailored for the needs of local farmers, said Magdeleen Cilliers, research and policy officer at the South African National Seed Organisation (SANSOR).

She was speaking during the first series of Agri In Motion panel discussions at the inaugural Nampo Virtual event, which is being held from 9 to 12 September and hosted by Grain SA.

The panel also included Prof Bernard Slippers, director of the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria (UP); Dr Miranda Visser, director of strategy and partnerships at Innovation Africa at UP; and Dr Maneshree Jugmohan-Naidu, director of agriculture biotechnology at the Department of Science and Innovation.

Visser explained that the programme was developed by a team of multi-disciplinary grain researchers from different institutes and programmes at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), and elsewhere in South Africa.

The national programme would incorporate research networks from private and public institutions.

“Various seed companies do not have capacity to do their own research in-house because most of them are small companies. From the partnerships formed through the programme, universities are able to assist with capacity to conduct research, which could be accessed by industry,” said Cilliers.

“Currently, most research being done is on plant physiology, focusing on breeding and environmental stress, but there is a lot of research that is required to produce the best seed according to international standards, which could take the South African and global seed industry forward,” Cilliers said.

“We need proper biosecurity structures in place, where we look at pest and disease problems in other countries, and be prepared to react proactively to any unforeseen [threats].”

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