On 22 July 2022, the inaugural meeting of the Biosecurity Hub Steering Committee hosted by the University of Pretoria’s Innovation Africa @UP was held at the Future Africa Campus. Members from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) were among those in attendance.

Dr Maneshree Jugmohan-Naidu, the Director of Biotechnology at DSI and the acting chairperson of the committee on the day, gave a background on the Agriculture Bioeconomy Innovation Partnership Programme (ABIPP). She shared how some of the priorities of ABIPP (inclusivity, transformation, partnerships and innovation) are aligned with those of the Biosecurity Hub. She further elaborated that ABIPP is seeking to support innovations that drive socio-economic impact, focus on training of students and technicians to aid gaps in the value chains and target the marginalized. The role of ABIPP is to facilitate and drive impact, hence the involvement in the Biosecurity Hub. She alluded to the Decadal Plan which is focused on driving competitiveness and supporting economic recovery post-COVID. Through the partnership between ABIPP and the Biosecurity Hub, Dr Jugmohan-Naidu stated that they aim to develop national systems that are able to support knowledge generation and sustainability. She reminded the attendees that their role in the steering committee is to collectively shape and form the face of the Biosecurity Hub towards synergistic and joint efforts on both plant and animal health biosecurity. Following the introduction by Dr Jugmohan-Naidu, the terms of reference for the committee and progress on the Biosecurity Hub implementation plan were discussed. Dr Marinda Visser was appointed as the chairperson of the committee.

Attendees were then made aware of current biosecurity issues through presentations by various researchers from the University of Pretoria (UP) and North West University (NWU). Professor Johnnie van den Berg (NWU) gave an overview of his group’s research on insect pests and nematodes of biosecurity importance, mainly focusing on integrated pest management. Prof. Juan Vorster (UP) shared an update on herbicide resistance on Amaranthus(commonly known as pigweed) in South Africa. The presentation by Dr David Read (UP) highlighted that increasing virus research capacity building at Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) has led to uncovering over 20 novel viruses. On the animal health side, Dr Grietjie de Klerk noted that DALRRD has run into implementation problems of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) control and is sitting with an unprecedented number of outbreaks. She further noted the major knowledge and innovation gaps that they are facing are local vaccine manufacturing and scaling, lack of a centralised disease identification system and lack of feasibility studies on potential management strategies.

The meeting was concluded with a visit to the UP Veterinary Sciences Campus where attendees were taken on a tour of the facilities. Looking ahead, the Biosecurity Hub Steering Committee have the major task of planning for the Biosecurity Hub launch scheduled for 11 October 2022.