During the week of 21-26 August, Dr Osmond Mlonyeni (Innovation Africa @UP Program manager), Dr Mahlane Godfrey Kgatle (FABI postdoctoral Fellow), Ms. Ntombizodwa Maduna (GRP-diagnostic clinic technician) and Mr Matt Jackson (MSc candidate) travelled to the Eastern Cape to promote the new biosecurity platforms which are being implemented to monitor pests and diseases of agriculture across South Africa. This work was conducted in collaboration with Social Coding SA, a non-profit organisation which provides digital education to rural communities across South Africa.

 Although commercial grain production in the Eastern Cape currently lags behind other provinces, its rich soils and idyllic climatic conditions give the province immense potential in terms of the contribution it could bring to the grain sector and the South African economy as a whole. Therefore, it is critical that farmers and researchers in the region have exposure to technologies and tools that can help to strengthen their ability to increase their yields. The Biosecurity Africa and Information Hub apps were developed to make this contribution. These tools were designed to gather information on the spread of pests and diseases across South Africa, allowing for a central point upon which to capture, analyse and visualise vital information from regions, including those that were previously difficult to access.

The four day Eastern Cape workshop took place in Stutterheim and Mthatha. The first three days of workshops were conducted at the Dohne Research Centre in Stutterheim, where training was given to both extension officers (i.e. agricultural advisors and senior agricultural advisors)  and researchers from across the five regions (Alfred Nzo, Amathole, Chris Hani, Joe Gqabi and OR Tambo) of the province. Training on how to send disease and pest samples to the FABI diagnostic clinic was also provided. The final workshop was presented to Ukhanyo Farmer Development (UFD) in Mthatha. UFD is a non-profit youth-owned, female-led commercial grain development entity, which was formed by 36 young graduates from Grain SA’s development programme. The UFD’s aim is to address the challenges which hinder small-scale farmers from reaching commercial status in the Eastern Cape, and does so by offering mentorship to 2600 farmers across all five high potential maize growing regions of the Eastern Cape. In doing so, these farmers can increase their yields and quality of their produce. 

This new access to reports from over 2000 plots in the Eastern Cape will add a wealth of information and provide great insight on the spread of pests and diseases across South Africa. This is a significant step towards building a food-secure and economically prosperous grain industry. We would like to thank the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, the Grain Research Programme, Social Coding SA and the attendees of the workshops for their contributions. The future is looking bright for grain production in the Eastern Cape!