Scientists Win Awards at Agricultural CongressGeneral

From left: Ms Ndumiso Sosibo, Ms Moirah Malepfane and Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa at the Combined Congress.From left: Ms Ndumiso Sosibo, Ms Moirah Malepfane and Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa at the Combined Congress.

Several staff members and students at the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) were honoured for their work in a variety of categories during the annual Combined Crops, Soils, Horticulture and Weeds Congress.

The theme of the Congress was: “Adaptability of Agriculture in a Changing World”.

The award for the best presentation by a Crop Science student went to PhD candidate Ms Slindile Miya, who was supervised by Professor Albert Modi, while Masters graduate Ms Nondumiso Sosibo, supervised by Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa, received the award for the best presentation by a Soil Science student.

Miya’s presentation was titled: “Overcoming the Challenge of Physical Seed Dormancy in Bambara Groundnut by Scarification - a Seed Quality Study”, while Sosibo spoke on: “Investigating Available Soil Nutrient Levels in Irrigated Wheat Fields in South Africa”.

Miya’s presentation focused on the neglected African legume crop which has the potential to play a significant role as a staple and industrial crop, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, given its drought-tolerance and climate change resilience. A challenge to its successful production is poor crop establishment due to physical seed dormancy.

Her study investigated the effect of scarification on overcoming seed dormancy.

The practical implications of the study are that producers can use scarification to improve bambara groundnut germination, although further research is needed.

Sosibo, who finished her Masters in a record one year, explained in her presentation that South Africa was facing a wheat production crisis because of a reliance on imported wheat. Strategies to relieve this crisis included closing yield gaps affected by factors such as poor soil fertility.

Sosibo provided information to guide the formulation of research and development interventions for resuscitating the ailing wheat industry by determining the availability and variability of essential plant nutrients in soils across geographical regions.

PhD graduate Ms Karin Hannweg received the award for the best paper published in 2016 in an ISI journal. Her paper, co-authored with colleagues G. Visser, K. de Jager and supervisor Professor Isa Bertling, was published in the South African Journal of Botany under the title: “In Vitro-Induced Polyploidy and its Effect on Horticultural Characteristics, Essential Oil Composition and Bioactivity of Tetradenia Riparia”.

Hannweg’s paper concerned a polyploidisation study to assess the Livingstone potato - an edible tuberous vegetable indigenous to Africa - in order to improve the cultivation and utilisation of the crop.

Hannweg works at the Agricultural Research Council’s Tropical and Subtropical Crops Division (ARC-ITSC) on polyploidy effects in horticultural crops.

At the Conference, staff were also honoured with awards and appointments. Professor Muchaonyerwa was a co-author on the best paper published in the South African Journal of Plant and Soil (SAJPS), and Professor Albert Modi and Dr Tafadzwa Mabhaudhi were recognised for their paper being the most cited in the SAJPS.

Professor Bertling was elected as President of the Southern African Society for Horticultural Science.

Christine Cuénod