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14 May 2019 | Story Thabo Kessah | Photo Tsepo Moeketsi
Prof Ashafa
Prof Ashafa’s research documents plants used by the Basotho in the management of different ailments.

The Phytomedicine and Phytopharmacology Research Programme (PPRP) in the Department of Plant Sciences on the Qwaqwa Campus researches the biological effects of medicinal plants used in the folkloric medicine of the Eastern Free State, particularly to explore the values and contribution of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) towards broader scientific research. This is according to the programme’s principal investigator and researcher, NRF C2-rated researcher, Professor Anofi Ashafa. 

 “Our research is mainly aimed at documenting plants used by the Basotho in the management of different ailments and to further discover, isolate, and purify active phytoconstituents that are responsible for disease curation or amelioration, thereby assisting in the global promotion of accessible and affordable medication in developing countries,” said Prof Ashafa. 

Since 2012, the PPRP has worked extensively on Basotho medicinal plants (BMP) used as antimicrobials, antioxidants, antidiabetics, antitubercular, anticancer, anthelmintic, and antidiarrheal agents, starting from biological activities up to the  evaluation of the toxicity of these plants for the kidney, liver, and heart functions in order to establish safe dosage parameters. These activities have led to the discovery of four potent antidiabetic biomolecules that are awaiting the processes of patency and commercialisation. Additional outputs include 104 published peer-reviewed articles , 7 postdoctoral fellows, 6 PhDs, 9 master’s, and 16 honours graduates. 

“Our research informs teaching and the development of expertise in ethnobotany, 
phytomedicine, and phytopharmacology in order to contribute to the National Development Plan (NDP) through human capacity development, skills, and knowledge transfer.

The group is also investigating some medicinal plants on the endangered red list of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), through micropropagation and field trials as well as proposing conservation strategies to preserve these valuable species.

The PPRP consists of postdoctoral fellows, PhD, master’s, and honours students and research is done in collaboration with several local and international universities as well as the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa. 

News Archive

UFS teams up with Department of Agriculture and donates latest farming technology to Oppermans

Attending the recent launch of the latest technology that measures the salinity of soil – the EM38 system – during an information day held in Jacobsdal were, from the left, back: Mr Robert Dlomo, a farmer from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, Prof. Leon van Rensburg, Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences at the UFS, Mr Sugar Ramakarane, head of the Department of Agriculture in the Free State, Dr Motseki Hlatshwayo, national Department of Agriculture, and Prof. Herman van Schalkwyk, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the UFS; front: Mr Robert Smith and Mr Fagan Scheepers from Oppermansgronde, who will be working with the EM38 system in the area.
Photo: Landbouweekblad
UFS teams up with Department of Agriculture and donates latest farming technology to Oppermans

Emerging and commercial farmers of the Oppermans Community in the Northern Cape will now be able to monitor the salinity levels on their farms effectively for the first time.

This is as a result of a donation of the latest technology that measures the salinity of soil – the EM38 system – which the University of the Free State (UFS) is donating to the community.

The unique project was launched by the Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences at the UFS and the Department of Agriculture in the Free State during an information day held at Jacobsdal recently.

The day was attended by members of the Oppermans Community and representatives of the UFS as well as the Department of Agriculture. Mr Sugar Ramakarane, Head of the Department of Agriculture in the Free State, did the welcoming and several academics from the UFS held discussions about various topics related to the salinity levels in soil.

Since the establishment of the Oppermans Community emerging farmers are now for the first time able to accurately monitor the salinity levels on their farms as well as that of irrigation schemes of commercial farms in the area.

“In a region such as the Northern Cape it is very important that the salinity level of soil is monitored properly. As water is administered to crops, salts accumulate in the soil because the roots leave most of the salts in the soil when it transpires. When the salinity of soil increases, the osmotic potential thereof can also increase, which can seriously damage the water intake of crops and can create loss in yield and income,” said Prof. Leon van Rensburg from the Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences at the UFS and leader of the Oppermans Project.

To assist the farming community of Oppermans to apply precision farming and to measure the salinity level of soil more accurately the latest technology that measures salinity in soil – the EM38 – will be donated to the community. Although the system is used throughout the world, the UFS is the only tertiary institution in the country that owns the latest version of this system.

“We are also training two persons from the Oppermans Community as technicians that will monitor the use of the system. The advantage of the donation of the system for the university is that we can gather data that can be used for research purposes by our Master’s and Doctoral students. We also want to see if water-table heights can be measured with this system,” said Prof. Van Rensburg.

According to him the system has several advantages for the community’s emerging farmers. “For the first time the salinity level of soil can now be measured accurately, salt maps can be drawn up, we can advise farmers about the corrections that need to be made and salinity management plans can be compiled,” he said.

The system is very accurate as it takes measurements every 200 mm while it is pulled by a four-wheel motorbike. The readings provide the distribution of salts up to a soil depth of 1 500 mm. “In the past the measuring of salinity levels was time-consuming and the cost thereof was R90 for one sample. The new system is more cost-effective,” stated Prof. Van Rensburg.

The instruments will be handed over to the African Spirit Group of the Oppermans Community, who will then become the owners. The service to farmers will then be managed by an operational group consisting of people from the Oppermans Community, a postgraduate student who can compile salinity maps and Prof. Van Rensburg, who will act as project leader and advisor.

The system will also be made available to farmers at the Riet River and Vaalharts Schemes.

Media Release
Issued by: Lacea Loader
Assistant Director: Media Liaison
Tel: 051 401 2584
Cell: 083 645 2454
9 March 2009

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