Growing agricultural output and exports

Sustainable agriculture. (Supplied)

Sustainable agriculture. (Supplied)

Efforts to increase South Africa’s agricultural potential in pursuit of ensuring food security is the subject of study for two Research Chairs awarded by the National Research Foundation.

The Chair headed by Professor Umezuruike Linus Opara of the University of Stellenbosch is focused on Postharvest Technologies.

The purpose of this research work is to develop novel postharvest technologies to maintain the quality and safety of harvested produce to reduce postharvest losses and food waste, and add value through innovative techniques such as ventilated and modified atmosphere that extend storage life and present ready-to-eat fresh-cut produce to the consumer. 

This is particularly important to South African producers considering the long supply chains to its primary export markets.

Opara’s research is concerned with computational mathematical modelling to improve the design and management of the cold chain, non-destructive tools to detect, measure, monitor and predict the external and internal quality of fruit, and scientific tools to quantify and reduce postharvest food losses and waste.

He has joined forces with fruit industry grower organisations such as Biogold Ltd and the SA Perishable Products’ Export Control Board (PPECB) to develop guidelines for maturity indexing, storage and modified atmosphere packaging of pomegranates, which is a rapidly emerging high-value new fruit sector.

In contrast to this field of study, Professor Paramu Mafongoya of the University of KwaZulu-Natal is working towards improving rural and smallholder farmer food security through his Chair in Rural Agronomy and Development. His is one of the new Research Chairs announced in 2014.

The basis for his research is exploring the potential for using a sustainable intensification framework to improve agricultural production by smallholder farmers.

He explains that this is based on three principles that aim to increase yields and/or output and therefore markets for these farmers. 

These three pillars are: ecological intensification that looks at technologies and processes that could improve yields; genetic intensification through the use of modified crops; and socio-economic intensification that explores policies and programmes to improve access to critical factors such as know-how, markets and the benefits of bulk buying and negotiating power.

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.