Professor Noëlani van den Berg presented her Inaugural Address as a full Professor in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria on 26 October. Noëlani was joined by several of her colleagues, numerous students and alumni of the ARP as well as her husband and two children and several family members. Her presentation “A journey into the unknown – deciphering Avocado defence against pathogens” traced her research career path, as head of the Hans Merensky Chair in Avocado Research, unravelling the defence mechanism of avocados to challenge by pathogens. South Africa produces 150 000t of Avocados annually planted on 19 500Ha in five provinces. These orchards are challenged by abiotic and biotic stresses but the primary biotic threat is Phytophthora root rot and it is this pathogen that she focusses on in her presentation.

Noëlani is a C1-rated researcher and she has supervised more than 50 postgraduate students and six postdoctoral Fellows and in 2020, under her leadership, the Hans Merensky Chair in Avocado Research was at UP, marking a substantial increase in support for the programme from both HMF and the University of Pretoria. She thanked FABI founding Director Prof. Mike Wingfield for giving her an opportunity to establish and lead the ARP and FABI Director Prof. Bernard Slippers for his mentorship throughout her career, from a fresh PhD student to the present. Noëlani sums up her vision as “building science capacity for the better of the southern African people”.