Pioneers in agriculture celebrated

Valerie Cilliers, editor, SA Graan/Grain
Published: 6 November 2023

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The Inspiration Award is presented annually at Grain SA’s awards ceremony to individuals or organisations in appreciation of their excellent contribution to the grain industry. This year the award went to two recipients: Dr Renée Prins, for 20 years of contribution to the success of the barley and wheat industries of South Africa as the founder of CenGen; and Jack Human (posthumous) for pioneering and introducing the concept of conservation agriculture to South African farming.

Dr Renée Prins
From a self-funded beginning to being instrumental in integrating the benefits of DNA/molecular technologies in a wide range of crops, the CenGen story is one of not only utilising opportunities against all odds, but also of creating opportunities.

Dr Prins established CenGen (Pty) Ltd as a consultancy firm in 2003 in the town of Worcester in the Breede River Valley of the Western Cape. Recognising a larger demand, she astutely steered CenGen towards becoming a genetics service provider for the agricultural sector. CenGen also became a platform for skilled personnel to continue their careers in science, despite being based far from major academic centres.

In accepting the award, Dr Prins thanked South African producers and collaborators for their support of CenGen. ‘Thank you for realising the value of entrepreneurship and sound scientific output related to agriculture. The wheat and barley producers are inseparable from the CenGen success story,’ she added.

CenGen’s small-grain research efforts reached an all-time high in 2022 with the incredible milestone of being key in establishing the first full genome sequence of a South African wheat cultivar and using it in the first successful gene cloning attempt (finding the exact gene sequence) of an important wheat disease resistance gene.

Richard Krige, vice-chairperson of Grain SA (left) and Derek Mathews (chairperson), congratulated Dr Prins with this prestigious award.

Jack Human
Conservation agriculture (CA) has come a long way in the Western Cape since its humble beginnings in the Heidelberg area of the Southern Cape region. Jack Human, the father of CA in the province, was the first to change the way he was farming and that led to a revolution in grain production in the area.

‘His dedication to successfully apply locally what was being done in Australia at the time, was remarkable. In practice it meant that traditional farming systems were constantly challenged. Despite it being a long and sometimes lonely journey, Jack was always willing to share his knowledge and skills with others. Those who supported his recommendations, achieved results quickly – which served as a motivation for him,’ said Richard Krige, vice-chairperson of Grain SA, in honour of Human.

‘Jack Human’s legacy is the sustainable growth of grain production in the Southern Cape and Overberg areas. He was an icon in farming circles and for CA in South Africa. Improved soil moisture conservation and the more biological approach to farming practices ensured that communities could continue during drier climatic conditions. It also contributed to higher yields for grain production in the Southern Cape production areas, even more so than areas with a higher rainfall,’ he added.

Human’s son, Jacobus, who accepted the award on behalf of his late father, said that he was immensely proud of the contribution his father made to the region and to agriculture in general. He thanked Grain SA for recognising these efforts and his legacy.

Jacobus Human and his wife, Joanne, accepted the Inspiration Award on behalf of the late Jack Human.