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Studies aid food security

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With Prof. Maryke Labuschagne (middle) of the University of the Free State (UFS) are two PhD students who are working on maize bio-fortification, Nakai Matongera and Nyika Rwatirera.Photo: Supplied
With Prof. Maryke Labuschagne (middle) of the University of the Free State (UFS) are two PhD students who are working on maize bio-fortification, Nakai Matongera and Nyika Rwatirera.Photo: Supplied

African research in food security and collaboration in this regard is envisaged to boost production on the continent.

An initiative is being piloted by the University of the Free State (UFS) with Prof. Maryke Labuschagne, professor of Plant Breeding in the Department of Plant Sciences at the UFS, heading the National Research Foundation (NRF) and South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) chair in disease resistance and quality in field crops. It involves a group of more than 20 PhD students and postdoctoral fellows from several countries.

Labuschagne said the research and collaboration had established a strong network of researchers on the continent who are based in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Eswatini, Tunisia, Ethiopia and South Africa.

She said many of the research projects were funded by the Gates Foundation and other international sponsors.

“We collaborate mainly with the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR),” said Labuschagne.

“These include the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre based in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria and Kenya, as well as the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Kenya.”

The researchers aim at increasing food production by enhancing food security in Africa, especially under the increasingly adverse climatic conditions, and by improving the nutritional value of crops in a sustainable way.

The research is leading to the release of new commercial varieties of cassava, maize, sorghum and other crops with better nutritional value, as well as resilience to adverse climatic and production conditions and biotic constraints such as pests and diseases.

“The students are determining levels of genetic variation for various characteristics to assist in future breeding efforts. A similar project is being done by a PhD student from Zambia who is working on Bambara groundnut – related to cowpea – which also has significant potential to contribute to food security.”

There are about ten students with which Labuschagne is doing the research.

“One of the most rewarding things is to see former students taking up their places all over Africa to become significant role players and decision makers in agriculture and plant breeding, and in this way directly contributing to food security on the continent,” said Labuschagne.

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