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The South African Cultivar and Technology Agency (SACTA) is a non-profit company and its main responsibility is to administer the statutory law on certain self-pollinated grain crops. SACTA recently held its annual information session during which the focus was on new developments and the organisation’s finances and operations.
Biotechnology is beneficial to all
Jozeph du Plessis, SACTA chairperson, opened the session. Du Plessis stated that crop production is always under pressure with the ever-changing goals that must be met to satisfy global demand. Thus, it is vital for the sector to have access to the best genetics and biosecurity at farm level to remain competitive. Du Plessis said that the mandatory levy, as contained in the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act of 1996, supports new crop breeding programmes and technology development as well as transformation in the industry.
Andrew Bennett, the newly appointed CEO of SACTA, presented the organisation’s report for the past financial year. Bennett explained the challenge of crop levy cycles not being in the same period as the financial year and added that the winter grains levy and reporting period falls over two marketing seasons. The levy payable by producers and companies are calculated by taking the average of three years’ levies and commodity prices.
SACTA pays grain handler companies and silo businesses a 2,5% commission to assist with levy collection. Bennett concluded that 20% of collected levies are allocated to transformation projects and are strictly based on the National Agricultural Marketing Council’s (NAMC) guidelines for transformation.
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Sandile Mahlangu, SACTA transformation manager, elaborated on the organisation’s transformation projects. Mahlangu said that they look at the impact of the funds deployed as well as the funds received. Sixty percent of funds received are used towards enterprise development. Mahlangu added that SACTA is able to offer interest free loans to farmers for enterprise development, and after having approved the loans, work together with farmers in order to assist them to optimise the funds received as best and accurately as possible. The focus is more on the quality of support given by SACTA than the number of individuals supported by it.
Mahlangu said that one of SACTA’s transformation projects is the mechanisation pilot project. The project is an initiative that aims to assist farmers with efficiency and productivity in the purchasing and upgrading of new and used equipment. The transformation division is also able to assist with bursaries and internships as part of training and skills development.
Biosafety and biotechnology
Dr Hennie Groenewald, executive director of Biosafety South Africa, said in his presentation that biosafety reduces the barriers to bio-innovation. Biosafety is a complex environment, and genome editing (GEd) and new breeding techniques (NBTs) add to the complexity, as it affects the process from the conception of an idea to application in real-life conditions.
Groenewald stated that GEd is not a genetically modified organism (GMO) as it doesn’t introduce alien genes but extracts the best genes from the organism to produce the best possible genes. Also, only South Africa and New Zealand currently regulate GEds as GMOs. Groenewald spoke about the plant-breeding innovation-based maize technologies that South Africa is currently using. He added that the current variants focus only on being heat tolerant, and pest and drought resistant.
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The panel discussion afforded speakers and other stakeholders the opportunity to discuss certain topics in further detail. Groenewald stated that GEd can target specific traits and address them directly.
Dr Lukeshni Chetty, general manager of SANSOR, stated on her part that the levy is well received by industry as it funds research and development. Chetty added that there are new technologies in the pipeline awaiting approval.
The panel stated that transformation management helps with service supplier management.
Information session on trends
Prof Ferdie Meyer, head of the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP), led a panel discussion with João Schechtel from GDM, Dr Francois Koekemoer from Syngenta, and Dr André du Toit from Corteva, during which agricultural trends such as soya bean production was discussed. The soya bean market is switching to export parity with continuous exportable surpluses. Meyer added that the long-term aim is reduce imports.
Schechtel referred to the benefits of using certified seed and added that South Africa has major agricultural potential. Compared to his native Brazil, South Africa considers soya bean as a second or third crop while in Brazil, it is a first crop. This affects the yield potential of soya beans in South Africa – there is scope for growth with soya beans.
Koekemoer commented on the issue of barley versus wheat yields, stating that wheat yields are slower to increase than maize due to the available technology in South Africa. South African regulations are very strict in respect of the regulation of new variants. There is also climate change to content with, as it affects yields.
Du Toit added to Koekemoer’s statement, saying that research is being done into climate change resistant variants, despite an inability to control environments in the same way as existing technology. Available technology allows farmers and producers to select more suitable variants. Research is being conducted into hybrid wheat variants. – Phillip Crafford, Plaas Media