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29 January 2019 | Story Xolisa Mnukwa | Photo Anja Aucamp
Prof Francis Petersen speech
“We can create an institution that operates and lives in the times of embracing and celebrating diversity, inclusivity, and academic excellence by ensuring that students own their time at university,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

25 January 2019 marked the official welcoming of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) first-year students, as they moved into their respective residences and were warmly welcomed on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. This day also marked the start of the registration process for first-year students.

According to first-year Psychology student Keisha Claasen, who moved into her residence earlier on 25 January, her first experience of the UFS was daunting but exciting, as she had never been in a similar environment. According to Given Gwerera, who dropped his son off at the Karee residence earlier the day, “the UFS is an institution with great culture and an overall good academic record.” He further explained that he trusts his son to make full use of the opportunities presented to him, as he has a cool head on his shoulders.

On the evening of 25 January, an eager group of millennials, joined by their parents, took the first sip from their cup of varsity life as they assembled on the Red Square of the Bloemfontein Campus to meet the Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, members of Rectorate, the deans of all faculties, and the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the UFS.

“2019 will be a year of continued change; the UFS is thrilled about the prospect of bringing about opportunities for adaptation and realignment to the future,” said Prof Francis Petersen.

He further explained that the university prides itself in moulding its students into well-rounded individuals who will develop into globally competitive graduates as required in a diversity of landscapes. Prof Petersen urged first-years to remain open to the technological developments that go with globalisation, because of its permanent effects on society today.

First-years were further advised to take advantage of the rich pool of academic research and knowledge that is characteristic of the university and is piloted by UFS scholars, by engaging with and learning from them.

The inspiring night concluded on a colourful note, as the audience enjoyed an artistic laser show in front of the Main Building. Caption:

“UFS academics conduct research that forces the world to take note,” said Prof Francis Petersen at the official first-year welcoming ceremony on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus.

News Archive

Research on cactus pear grabs attention of food, cosmetic and medical industry
2015-02-18

Cactus pear
Photo: Charl Devenish

The dedicated research and development programme at the UFS on spineless cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) – also known as prickly pear – has grown steadily in both vision and dimension during the past 15 years. Formal cactus pear research at the UFS started with the formation of the Prickly Pear Working Group (PPWG) in June 2002. It has since gone from strength to strength with several MSc dissertations and a PhD thesis as well as popular and scientific publications flowing from this initiative.

According to Prof Wijnand Swart from the Department of Plant Sciences, the UFS is today recognised as a leading institution in the world conducting multi-disciplinary research on spineless cactus pear.

Cactus pear for animal feed

Increasing demands on already scarce water resources in South Africa require alternative sources of animal feed – specifically crops that are more efficient users of water. One alternative with the potential for widespread production is spineless cactus pear. It is 1.14 x more efficient in its use of water than Old man saltbush, 2.8 x more efficient than wheat, 3.75 x more efficient than lucerne and 7.5 x more efficient than rangeland vegetation.

“Studies on the use of sun-dried cactus pear cladodes suggest that it has the potential to provide some 25% of the basic feed resources required by South Africa’s commercial ruminant feed manufacturing sector,” says Prof HO de Waal of the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the UFS.

Until recently, research has focused extensively on the use of cactus pear as drought fodder. However, this is now beginning to shift, with growing interest in the intensive production of spineless cactus pear for other types of animal feed. One example is the spineless cactus pear fruit, produced seasonal, yielding large quantities of fruit in a relatively short period of a few months in summer. Unless kept in cold storage, the fruit cannot be stored for a long period. Therefore, a procedure was developed to combine large volumes of mashed cactus pear fruit with dry hay and straw and preserve it for longer periods as high moisture livestock feed, kuilmoes – a high water content livestock feed similar to silage.

Cactus pear and Pineapple juice
Photo: Charl Devenish

Cactus pear for human consumption

“In addition to its use as a livestock feed, cactus pear is increasingly being cultivated for human consumption. Although the plant can be consumed fresh as a juice or vegetable, significant value can be added through processing. This potential is considerable: the plant can be pickled; preserved as a jam or marmalade; or dried and milled to produce baking flour. It can also serve as a replacement of egg and fat in mayonnaise,” said Dr Maryna de Wit from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology.

The extraction of mucilage from fresh cladodes can form a gelling, emulsifier, and fat-replacing agent commonly found in food products such as mayonnaise and candy. During an information session to the media Dr De Wit and her team conducted a food demonstration to showcase the use of the cladodes in a juice, chicken stir-fry, biscuits and a salad.

The extrusion of cactus pear seed oil provides a further lucrative niche product to the array of uses. These include high-value organic oil for the cosmetic sector, such as soap, hair gel and sun screens.

The cladodes and the fruit also have medicinal uses. It has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, pain killing and anti-diabetic agents. It is also high in fibre and can lower cholesterol. The fruit also prevents proliferation of cells and suppresses tumour growth and can even help to reduce a hangover.

In South Africa the outdated perception of cactus pears as thorny, alien invaders, is rapidly disappearing. Instead, farmers now recognise that cactus pear can play a vital role as a high yielding, water-efficient, multi-use crop, said Prof de Waal and the members of the Cactus Pear Team.

Facebook photo gallery
Dagbreek interview with Dr Maryna de Wit  

Research on cactus pear (read the full story)

For more information or enquiries contact news@ufs.ac.za

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