Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Croplife South Africa (SA) recently hosted a media day that aimed to provide insights into plant biotechnology in South Africa. Biotechnology offers several benefits such as improved crops, better genetics and better yields.

CropLife SA and the ARC

CropLife SA is a non-profit organisation that represents the plant science industry. The organisation recently held a media day to inform the press of advancements made in the field of biotechnology. Chantel Arendse from CropLife SA opened the day with a brief overview of the plant biotechnology portfolio that was introduced in 2020. The portfolio serves to support member companies such as Syngenta, Bayer, Corteva and BASF, focusing on communication, promotion of and creating awareness regarding biotechnology. The portfolio also encourages stewardship through the development of plant biotechnology resource materials.

Dr Lebogang Madubanya from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) elaborated further by explaining what plant biotechnology is and the different options the technology can offer. Biotechnology can be divided into three categories: plant tissue culture, DNA technology and genetic engineering. Madubanya stressed that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are created when foreign DNA is introduced into a certain plant’s genetic material and that it isn’t the ‘terrible’ thing that some media have portrayed GMOs to be. Genetically modified plant material can offer African farmers better crop protection but has shown a low adoption rate among smallholder farmers due to higher costs.

Read more about China’s approach to GMOs here.

Corteva’s research centre

Corteva’s research centre in Delmas, Mpumalanga is one of seven such facilities around the world. Corteva’s mission statement regarding their research is to enrich the lives of producers and consumers, while ensuring that progress is made to the benefit of future generations.

Corteva collaborates with various industry stakeholders to ensure that biotechnology research and development remains current and correct. Driaan Bresler, product development lead at Corteva, said that there is pressure on seed producers to breed quicker and more efficiently with the target of 50% more yields by 2050 looming. Using three- and four-way hybrids, biotechnology helps to combat crop diseases more efficiently than before.

Corteva prides itself on product development and thorough testing of local soil, so that their products are suitable to the South African environment. Bresler stated that one of the biggest challenges is to create a hybrid that yields very well under stressful as well as non-stressful conditions.

Biotechnology in action

During site visits to the smallholder farms, one was able to see the benefits that biotechnology can offer small-scale farmers. Willem Mahlangu started farming in 1994 in the Bronkhorstspruit area and with the help of biotechnology, was able to grow into a successful smallholder farmer. Mahlangu was introduced to the technology by Africa Bio at a farmers day event, and now runs a crop rotation system consisting of maize and soya beans. Mahlangu’s son, Bongani, added that the technology has helped them to secure higher prices when they sell their crops.

Sophie Mabena started farming in the Bronkhorstspruit area in 2012 on 11ha with no equipment. With the help of farmers days and study groups facilitated by the Gauteng Provincial Department of Agriculture, Mabena is now a successful smallholder farmer producing crops on 80ha with sufficient storage and equipment. She recently expanded by renting a piece of land in Witfontein to produce yellow maize. Mabena’s farm is now a family business. – Phillip Crafford, Plaas Media