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06 March 2020 | Story Igno van Niekerk | Photo Igno van Niekerk
 Gert Marais looking at pecan leave_
Dr Gert Marais says the UFS is helping to ensure that the pecan industry not only survives but thrives.

“When opportunity knocks, you must jump. The more opportunity knocks, the more you should jump.” 

Look closely, and you will notice the rise in pecan-nut plantations as you travel through South Africa. Do not be surprised if you find that the UFS’s pecan-nut project – steered by Dr Gert Marais, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences – is associated with those pecans.

Main exporter
In an ever expanding and interconnected global economy, South Africa has joined the USA as main exporters of pecan nuts to China. We have several advantages; our seasons differ from that of the USA, and we have the benefit that we are harvesting and exporting pecan nuts at the time when they are most popular at Chinese festivals and events.

Although it takes a long time to grow pecan trees (seven to eight years before they start producing), the long wait has extensive benefits. Dr Marias explains: “Unlike other crops, you do not have to prepare the soil and plant new crops annually. Rather than re-investing, you only need to do proper maintenance. Once planted, the pecan trees can produce for generations to come. And the UFS is involved in ensuring that the pecan industry not only survives but thrives.”

Empowering farmers
As the pecan industry in South Africa grows, new challenges are identified. Some trees suffer from a condition called overall decline, others from scab, and some others are infested by combinations of fungi not found in other countries. Dr Marais and his team have filed several ‘first reports’ of combinations between pecans and pathogens, leading to opportunities for MSc research projects and making a difference in the industry.

Dr Marais undertakes six field trips per year to visit all the production areas in South Africa, share information at farmer’s days, arrange courses to ensure best practices with regard to pecan cultivation; students also use these visits to collect samples for their research. Due to the systemic collaboration between the private sector and the university, farmers are empowered to manage their pecan crops better, the university benefits from cutting-edge research, and South Africa becomes a stronger player in the international economy.

Opportunity is knocking. And the UFS is jumping.

News Archive

Meet Dr Olihile Sebolai, Prestige Scholar
2013-07-15

 

Dr Olihile Sebolai
Photo: Sonia Small
15 July 2013


Dr Olihile Sebolai, lecturer in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, was selected to the Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholars Programme (PSP) in 2011. Dr Sebolai recently returned from a six month research visit to the University of Birmingham at the invitation of Professor Robin May, Lister Reader and Chair of Infectious Diseases.

This enabled Dr Sebolai to acquire and develop necessary pathobiological skills pertinent to his work on the pathogenesis of Cryptococcus neoformans. “During my time in Birmingham, I benefitted from the experiences of three senior post-doctorates and a principal investigator, who were all working in (Prof May’s) laboratory,” says Dr Sebolai.

“By way of observation, I was greatly impressed by the level of collaboration between Prof May and his network, which enables him to move out of a silo and effortlessly create a global footprint."

The next phase of Dr Sebolai’s early career development takes him as Fulbright Scholar to the University of Missouri in Kansas City, in September 2013. Here Dr Sebolai will spend time in the laboratory of Alexander Idnurm. The purpose of this visit is to study virulence mechanisms in fungi, which are a low order of eukaryotic organisms, and to identify potential drug targets.

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