Grain SA focuses on research: Consortiums and multi-stakeholder partnerships
MARINDA VISSER, manager: Grain Research and Policy Centre, Grain SA
Following Grain SA's internal restructuring, two units namely Grain Economy and Grain Research and Policy Centre, were established in line with our ever expanding mandate.
Central to this was the need to escalate Grain SA's active role in the co-ordination of needs-driven grain research. The approach agreed upon was to establish consortia and multi-stakeholder partnerships, preferably with universities and other appropriate public-private partners.
Additionally, partnerships and stakeholders were identified to work with the Grain SA team for a food secure future. Funding is a crucial element and a concerted effort was made to prioritise funding for the different research needs identified by producers.
Critical to Grain SA's role is to ensure funding is directed to new prioritised focus areas. These priority focus areas are: Crop improvement, crop protection and climate change.
The next steps were the development of joint research programmes for each focus area, linking up with various technologydriven initiatives and making sure that appropriate technologies reach the producers.
Crop improvement: Wheat pre-breeding
Under the theme 'crop improvement', the wheat pre-breeding platform was established as a consortium. Revitalising the wheat industry, with wheat breeding high on the agenda, clear priorities are set in the South African context.
Wheat breeding is of vital importance if South Africa is to produce enough food to feed its growing population. The country needs to develop high-yielding wheat cultivars that can withstand common wheat diseases and changing climate conditions.
In order to breed better adapted cultivars, breeders need to respond constantly to changing environmental conditions, agricultural practices and consumer preferences. In the past ten years, South Africa has become increasingly dependent on imports to meet its domestic needs.
This has been widely acknowledged by stakeholders in the wheat value chain and has led to increasing interest in research and development in this area. Currently South African breeders are involved in the development of wheat varieties adapted specifically to the local environment, with the aim of producing higher yields to supply the ever-growing domestic demand, while still maintaining quality.
Grain SA is also collaborating with government to expand industry-funded research and development activities to complement current research efforts under this theme. A multi-stakeholder partnership on wheat between Grain SA, the Winter Cereal Trust and the Department of Science and Technology has been established with the objective of achieving a sustainable increase in wheat productivity.
Grain SA's public-private multi-stakeholder partnership on wheat breeding provides a unique opportunity for policymakers, public research organisations and private seed companies to work together towards enhanced food security and economic growth.
Crop protection: Soilborne diseases
Another consortium has been established under the theme 'crop protection', with a special reference to soil-borne pathogens. The focus herein is the monitoring of disease incidence and the build-up of soilborne pathogens inoculum.
In this light conservation agriculture and improving soil health in an effort to reduce soil-borne diseases, while increasing yields of grain and oilseed crops, remain important. Some of the most important diseases and pests resulting in yield losses are effects of nematode infestations and sclerotinia.
Part of this consortium is to foster closer ties with policy makers in an effort to keep quarantine pests and diseases outside the borders of South Africa, e.g. maize lethal necrosis disease.
In the newly established consortium, 'climate change', the focus is to bring together national, regional and international experts that can add value to the many challenges climate change is posing. The current 2015/2016 El Niño-induced drought has devastated grain production and the impacts of this phenomenon, compounded by the previous year's drought, will have an economic impact for several years to come. Climate projections suggest heat stress is going to become an increasing threat to grain production in Southern Africa.
Improved germplasm will play a vital part in adaptation strategies. Other objectives are to develop drought and heat tolerant varieties, or to assist local breeders in accessing international pools of genetic material.
An important aspect of this consortium is looking for new strategic partnerships, with the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR) and in particular the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and other leaders in climate resilient grain research.
A high priority is to gain access to quality seed through public-private multistakeholder collaboration for all grain and oilseeds.
Considering the context, there is an urgent need for South Africa to increase the rate of genetic gains for yield, heat and drought tolerance and resistance to pathogens and pests and ensuring a safe, environmentallyfriendly and nutritious food chain.
At the same time it is necessary to find more efficient and sustainable ways of production, including the use of inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides.
Publication: October 2016
Section: On farm level