CAPE TOWN, A partnership between the government and South Africa's wheat sector has led to the launch of a platform which will improve wheat yields in the country, despite the challenging climate, says Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.

The multimillion-rand Wheat Breeding Platform, located at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, in Western Cape Province, was established in 2014 as a consortium comprising public and private sector partners to help South Africa meet the current local wheat demand and also become a wheat exporter.

Pandor, who inaugurated the platform Tuesday, said it was launched after a partnership was forged between the private sector, particularly the wheat industry, and the government to seek solutions to address challenges faced by the industry in relation to low production and competitiveness, as well as the country's rising demand for the commodity.

It is very important that we work with researchers to support and enhance our agricultural productivity by producing products that will respond to the particular conditions in which we do agriculture in South Africa and on the African continent.

We also want to particularly focus on seed products that are relevant to our conditions so those areas in which we wish to increase exports and reduce imports. We look at improved maize yields, improved wheat yields," she added.

We import over 46 per cent of our wheat into South Africa. If we can improve the quality and have a larger product coming out of seeds that we produce innovatively in South Africa, that would be excellent."

She said her department's involvement was basically to provide funding support through relevant programmes to fund research and development in an identified focus area. The department has invested 15 million Rand (about 1.06 million US dollars) into a multi-consortium wheat breeding programme with the aim of improving abiotic stresses such as drought and extreme temperatures.

The platform is a partnership between the department, Grain South Africa, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Agricultural Research Council, Sensako, Pannar and Stellenbosch University, among others.

Wheat is the second most important grain crop produced in South Africa and plays an important role in national food security. With Western Cape recently being hit by drought conditions which are threatening food security, Pandor said the initiative was expected to assist farmers cope with crop demands.

What we are attempting to do is to respond to specific conditions that we are confronted with in South Africa where there is uncertainty about water resources, it doesn't make sense to rely on the normal seeds that everybody uses, assuming particular levels of moisture availability," she said.

What we are doing is using science, especially biotechnology, to develop seeds that are responsive to drought conditions. That will give us a higher yield, notwithstanding the challenges that we have with respect to water.


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