A new research facility focusing on improving crops and crop production promises to make the latest research accessible to farmers, including smallholders. The platform, based at the University of the Free State in South Africa, will also include a training academy for small-scale producers.
A newly established crop research platform in Free State is on a mission to address South Africa and the wider African continent’s crop production challenges. Not only is the platform envisioned to help role players in the industry, but also small-scale producers.
The research facility has been established in the faculty of natural and agricultural sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS). It’s role is to improve crops while simultaneously addressing biotic and abiotic stress in crop production, and fostering opportunities for research.
With the increase in population and the decrease in agricultural land, it is important to provide good quality crops with enhanced nutritional content to meet consumer demands. However, crop production challenges make this rather difficult.
Excited about the possibilities the platform offers she said, “In addressing crop production challenges, I am of the opinion that the research platform will not only help role players in the industry, but also small-scale producers and their associated communities that need agriculture to sustain them.”
Minnaar-Ontong explained that hosted within the platform will be an academy responsible for the training of small-scale producers on, among other things, business management and becoming self-sustainable.
This is expected to boost them with the potential to expand their production area.
In the next two years Minnaar-Ontong said that she would like to see how experienced industry partners act as mentors for young and upcoming crop researchers.
“This will be an investment in the development of small-scale producers and will certainly enhance collaborative projects that will serve both sides well,” she said.
Small-scale producers, she believed, can also impact their surrounding communities by ploughing back, for instance planting vegetable gardens at schools to help with feeding schemes.
“I envision that the crop research platform will provide capacity, resources, and training to schools, with, for instance, teachers educating learners on planting and maintaining the gardens.”
Going forward, the platform will communicate research results to the wider sector, which includes industry partners as well as national and international collaborators.
Moreover, it is also tasked with providing research support and coordinating crucial linkages with the different parties. Minnaar-Ontong believes that this will improve the relationship between scientists, producers, and the agriculture sector.