The potential for science to positively influence SA’s ability to achieve food security is the focus of two Research Chairs awarded by the NRF.
Professor Felix Dakora at the Tshwane University of Technology is looking at agricultural output and efficiencies in the Research Chair titled Agrochemurgy and Plant Symbioses. He explains that his main area of investigation is in exploiting soil chemistry and biology to improve agricultural output and quality of life.
This is being achieved through his work on the agrochemurgy side of his research in which he is exploring bacterial molecules and plant compounds that can be tapped for human development.
The main focus of this is to identify cheaper biotechnology methods and technologies that can influence crop yields, while also reducing the use of chemical fertilisers, which pollute the environment.
In addition to raising yields, his studies look to improve the nutritional value of agricultural crops. He says he has been involved in projects looking at specific crops, such as food legumes and rooibos tea plants, to see whether a better understanding of the impact of beneficial soil bacteria can increase the supply of nitrogen and natural nutrients, and improve the yield of these legumes as important food and export market crops.
Similarly, he has been studying the relationship between plants and beneficial soil bacteria that promote survival under harsh environmental conditions.
The aim is to develop bacterial inoculants from native strains that farmers can apply to crops to promote faster growth, higher yields and quality grain.
He adds that his involvement in the South African Research Chairs Initiative has enabled him to access additional, outside funding while also positioning South Africa for global competition in the field of agri-science and fostering global collaboration.
Improving meat quality
The work of Professor Louw Hoffman at Stellenbosch University approaches food security from the perspective of improving the quality of livestock and wild game. His department rose to prominence last year with revelations of traces of donkey and other meat in processed meats.
His Meat Science: Genomics to Nutrinomics Research Chair, awarded in 2012, is concerned with investigating which genes are present or needed to influence meat quality.
His study includes wild game as a growing number of farmers are delving into this as a means to diversify their output that he says is going to be needed to meet the goal of feeding the nation by 2050.
Hoffman’s Chair is one of the first at Stellenbosch University that is co-hosted through the collaboration with Professor Voster Muchenje at the University of Fort Hare who is looking into livestock farming in the Eastern Cape. This has the advantage of expanding the research area, opening up opportunities to a greater pool of postgraduate students, while offering them access to Stellenbosch’s sophisticated laboratory infrastructure.
This supplement has been paid for by Department of Science and Technology and its contents signed off by the DST and the National Research Foundation.