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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

Marieka Gryzenhout receives NRF-NSTF Award
2013-07-03

 

Dr Gryzenhout
Photo: Sonia Small
03 July 2013

“The award serves to prove that my type of research is truly relevant.” These are the words of Dr Marieka Gryzenhout of the Department of Plant Sciences at the UFS, who received the T W Kambule NRF-NSTF Award as emerging researcher in June 2013.

The award from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) gives recognition to her outstanding contribution to science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI) in the country.

Dr Gryzenhout is also part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Prestige Scholar Programme.

“It was an honour to be chosen as a finalist, but to even win it? Die award indicates the importance of fungi and plant pathogens, and their presence in various biological systems and that it is important to identify and categorise significant plant pathogens and fungi to enable easier access for users of these names.”

Dr Gryzenhout was in the US on the evening of the awards ceremony, attending a workshop on the identification and research of another fungus group, Fusarium. “This group is extremely important, since it includes important plant pathogens, producers of toxins in food and feed, as well as animal and human pathogens, and it also plays important ecological roles.”

She attended the Kansas State University in Kansas and paid a visit to the Bacterial Foodborne Pathogens and Mycology Unit of the US Department of Agriculture in Illinois.

Dr Gryzenhout is also a finalist in the Women in Science Awards hosted by the Department of Science and Technology. The winner will be announced in August 2013. Prof Maryke Labuschagne and Rose Lekhooa are also nominees.

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