February 2019

DR MARINDA VISSER, manager: Research and Policy Centre, Grain SA

Agricultural innovation is key to solving long-term food security challenges; future sustainability relies on continuous access to new technologies. This requires of South Africa’s finite science and technology resources, with appropriate partners, to prioritise and identify industry needs and then act strategically and collaboratively to find solutions.

Research and development (R&D) are major drivers of the innovation required to ensure the productivity, sustainability and competitiveness of the primary grain industries and are recognised worldwide to significantly contribute to the growth in the grain industry.

The strategic innovation partnership for grain and oilseeds between Grain SA and the Department of Science and Technology focuses on optimising innovation efforts in grain and oilseed research through harmonisation, synergies and partnerships in
areas of strategic focus in the DST’s Agricultural Bio-economy Strategy.

Grain SA’s research portfolio priorities focus on: Crop improvement, crop protection, climate resilience and conservation agriculture. The primary objective is to establish research consortia that drive innovation to enhance the productivity, profitability and sustainability of South African grain and oilseed producers. Grain SA is focusing on long-term, multi-stakeholder platforms for new research collaborations.

Effective partnerships with other organisations are essential to leverage resources and research capability, share technologies and gain access to infrastructure. The strategic innovation partnership for grain and oilseeds will utilise the platforms available to Grain SA to build the portfolio of projects capable of addressing challenges for producers and increasing the reach of new products, processes and services.

This recently resulted in the signing of the partnership with the University of Pretoria (UP) and giving Grain SA access to a broad, interdisciplinary research base across the university. The world-class research group, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) will be key in this new partnership. Their focus on excellence is respected globally.

FABI is considered a world leader in tree health; they have achieved many firsts in terms of discoveries and technologies, rank second in the world in the discipline of mycology (linked to plant pathology), and host the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology. Of importance is that FABI is a prime destination for training of students from South Africa and around the world, bringing together top talent, diversity of ideas, expertise and connections.

UP is currently investing in development of its experimental farm as a world-class research precinct/park with agriculture as a core focus. This is an ideal opportunity to develop a world-class research hub that has value to the university, the industry and the country. FABI has the experience and a proven track record in this regard.

The timing is ideal, and critical, given the urgent needs of the industry and with current UP developments (e.g. the experimental farm) and focus on partnerships. This is ideal to build short- and long-term research projects: Capacity to deal with some short-term needs using existing expertise, while focusing on new opportunities from expanding capacities, new technologies and strong international partnerships for the future.

Publication: February 2019

Section: Grain SA