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Multi-disciplinary research approach at UFS
2005-10-25

UFS follows multi-disciplinary research approach with opening of new centre 

“A new way of doing business in necessary in the research and teaching of agriculture and natural sciences in South Africa.  We must move away from  departmentalised research infrastructures and a multi-disciplinary approach to research involving several disciplines must be adapted,” said Prof Herman van Schalkwyk, Dean:  Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS).   

Prof van Schalkwyk delivered the keynote address during the launch of the Centre for Plant Health Management (CePHMa) at the Main Campus in Bloemfontein today (21 October 2005).  CePHMa is an initiative of the UFS Department of Plant Sciences.

According to Prof van Schalkwyk a tertiary institution must practice multi-disciplinary research to be a world-class research institution.  “It is difficult for researchers to admit that they do not know a lot about each other’s area of speciality.  It is therefore necessary for researchers to make a paradigm shift and to focus on inter-disciplinary co-operation.  To do this, we must encourage them to work together and to find a common language to communicate ideas en establish symbiotic relationships,” said Prof Van Schalkwyk.

“We tend to think that research is better and faster if it is specialised.  This is not true.  The new generation of scientists are young and they are trained to form a concept of the total system and not to focus on a specific area of speciality.  At the UFS we encourage this approach to research.  This was one of the main reasons for the establishment of CePHMa,” said Prof Van Schalkwyk.
CePHMa is the only centre of its kind in Africa and is established to extend the expertise in plant health management in South Africa and in Africa, to train experts in plant health and to conduct multi-disciplinary research about the health of agricultural crops.  

“CePHMa is a virtual centre comprising of ten disciplines applicable to crop production and crop protection,” said Prof Wijnand Swart, Chairperson of CePHMa during the opening ceremony.

“The UFS is the leading institution in Africa in terms of news crop development and manages three research programmes that concentrate on new crops, i.e. the New Crop Pathology Programme, the New Crop Development Programme and the Insects on New Crops Programme.  Other applied research programmes that are unique to the UFS are genetic resistance to rust diseases of small grain crops and sustainable integrated disease management of field crops,” said Prof Swart.

“Because the expected growth in population will be 80% in 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa, the future demands of food produce in Africa will be influenced.  Therefore research will in future be focused on ways to improve food security by employing  agricultural systems that are economically viable and environmentally sound,” said Prof Swart.

“Thorough knowledge of the concept of holistic plant health management is crucial to meet the challenge and it is therefore imperative that innovative crop protection and crop production strategies, with particular emphasis on plant health, be adopted.  This is why the Department of Plant Sciences initiated the establishment of CePHMA,” he said.

According to Prof Swart there is a shortage of expertise in plant health management.  “The UFS has shown the potential to address the demand of the sub-continent of Africa regarding expertise training and CePHMa is the leader in southern Africa to provide in this need,” he said.

The appropriateness and quality of training in plant health management is reflected in the fact that students from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, Cameroon, Angola, Mozambique and Lesotho have already been trained or are in the process of being trained in at the UFS.

Scientists from CePHMa have forged partnerships with numerous national and international institutions including the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), various community trusts, seed, pesticide and agricultural chemical companies, in addition to overseas universities. 

Media release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Media Representative
Tel:  (051) 401-2584
Cell:  083 645 2454
E-mail:  loaderl.stg@mail.uovs.ac.za
21 October 2005

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