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WATCH: Wheat farming initiatives to bolster agriculture

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor launched the multimillion-rand Wheat Pre-Breeding Platform in Stellenbosch at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm yesterday. Picture: David Ritchie/ ANA

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor launched the multimillion-rand Wheat Pre-Breeding Platform in Stellenbosch at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm yesterday. Picture: David Ritchie/ ANA

Published Oct 31, 2017

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Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor launched a national wheat breeding platform at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm in Stellenbosch yesterday.

The Department of Science and Technology has invested over R15 million in the programme, with further funding of about R20m received from the Winter Cereal Trust in the last three years.

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Drawing on the expertise from both the public and private sectors, the platform has set its sights on increasing the yields and profitability of wheat production by farmers in South Africa.

Manager at research and policy centre, Grain SA, Marinda Visser said the programme was a public-private partnership.

“Wheat production since the late 1990s has declined drastically, from where

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there were over a million hectares planted, to less than 500000, in the last planting season.

“The research fraternity came together with government and industry, to look towards developing new seed varieties able to adapt to the changing environment,” said Visser.

She said South Africa imports 46% of its wheat to satisfy domestic demand.

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Stellenbosch University’s plant breeding laboratory research leader, Willem Botes said the need for an integrated pre-breeding programme came from industry itself.

“The funding ensures bursaries to postgraduate research students and made it possible to acquire the latest technology, including an experimental harvester and planter, a near-infrared spectroscope to determine important qualities and drones.

“Pre-breeding is probably one of the most effective ways to introduce existing or novel genes and traits into breeding programmes,” said Botes.

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The minister said that farming was facing a crisis as South Africa had never had to import food in the past.

“The Wheat Breeding Platform provides smallholder farmers access to seed technology to enhance yields, productivity, income and growth opportunities.

“Indirectly it may strengthen employment capabilities of wheat firms or create new jobs.

“The partnership with industry and universities also supports reduction of inequality, as all farmers will have access to the newest technology, thus levelling the playing field,” Pandor said.

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