Investing in young researchers

Grain Research and Policy Centre, Grain SA
Published: 10 June 2020

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South Africa’s grain industry has grown significantly during the past years. Research and development (R&D) is broadly recognised as a significant contributor to this performance. The industry is characterised by the swift adoption of advanced science and technology and a mix of public and private sector service providers. Rapid innovation in both the international and national environment is driving change across the grain industry.

Grain SA and DSI in partnership
A human capital development plan was developed between Grain SA and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to support student training and development primarily for the South African grain industry. Grain SA is driving research in four key themes (crop improvement, crop protection, climate resilience and conservation agriculture) and these consortia help to support formal skills development. A key focus of human capital development is to build critical expertise currently lacking in the grain industry, such as plant breeding, agronomy and plant pathology. Through supporting students in the above research consortia, Grain SA is investing to develop young researchers that can successfully and productively interact with industry to address research needs.

Government and industry collaboration
Since 2018, through funding made available from the DSI, a total of 37 bursaries have been awarded. This breaks down to one undergraduate, two honours, 18 masters, nine doctoral and five postdoctoral bursaries awarded, as well as funding for two technicians. Funding is awarded based on relevance to the industry and the critical skills that will be developed. A key focus here is to link student skills development to the various research consortia of Grain SA, which are based on priority areas shared between government and industry.

Linking up with national objectives
Human capital development is a vital point of intervention for industry to collaborate with government to join in the global battle against hunger, poverty and inequality. This programme is in line with the national bio-economy strategic objectives for agriculture to ensure food security, enhance nutrition and improve health, while enabling job creation through sustainable agricultural production. This further speaks to the 2019 White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation to ensure that skills attained from research is in line with industry and science councils.

The identification and prioritisation of scarce skills and capacity-building programmes are key in this regard to remain relevant nationally and internationally. This is being realised by investing in human resources, providing training according to the needs of industry and government and bringing together the necessary capacity (people, infrastructure and information) for present and future R&D needs.