Wheat Breeding Platform responds to wheat farming crisis

Drones, satellites and high-tech lasers are some of the innovations used in the Department of Science and Technology's newly launched Wheat Breeding Platform at Stellenbosch University.


The platform is a response to the growing crisis in the wheat industry.  Since 2000 the area of land dedicated to wheat farming has declined from 1,4 million hectares to the current 500 000.


South Africa's consumption of wheat is outstripping planting, forcing the country to rely on imports.  Dr Marinda Visser, Grain South Africa's Manager of Grain Research and Policy, says that the wheat industry is in trouble, and that reversing the crisis will be difficult.  While South Africa produces wheat of world-class quality, it must now try to produce the quantities needed to reduce the country and continent's reliance on imports.


The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, toured the facility at Stellenbosch University's Welgevallen Experimental Farm, to see first-hand how technological innovations can be used to increase crop yields.


Addressing the launch event on 31 October 2017, Minister Pandor said the extent of the drought in maize-producing areas was affecting the demand for wheat.


"Maize is our staple food. It's difficult to import white maize to make up for what we don't grow. People switch to rice and wheat, making our dependence on imports even greater," she said.


The current farming crisis and the need to import food is a challenge South Africa has not experienced before at such levels, and research and development is critical if the situation is to be remedied.


"The Wheat Breeding Platform is an important sign that we are responding to this crisis," said the Minister.


The Wheat Breeding Platform, implemented under the Department of Science and Technology's Bioeconomy Strategy, is a successful partnership between the private and public sectors. Partners include the Agricultural Research Council, Grain South Africa, the Winter Cereal Trust, Sensako, Pannar, the Department of Science and Technology and Stellenbosch University.


The platform is assisting the country's wheat producers to increase their production through the development of germplasm with greater drought/heat tolerance or other yield-improvement factors.


If higher yielding cultivars, benefiting from the germplasm developed in this platform, can be developed by local wheat breeding companies, this will increase local production and lessen South Africa's dependence on wheat imports.


Preline Swart, a women farmer from the Western Cape's Stormsvlei area, said that work being done by the Wheat Breeding Platform was of particular importance to her and other farmers because of the ongoing drought.


"We need the research platform to ensure the long-term sustainability of production. Advancement in seed technology and climate resilience are some of the critical aspects required to achieve additional yield per hectare," said Swart.


Improvements in production resulting from the platform are expected to support poverty alleviation, job creation and equality, while ensuring food security and enhanced nutrition.


Issued by the Department of Science and Technology.


For more information, contact Thabang Setlhare at 072 659 9690 or Veronica Mohapeloa at 083 400 5750.


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