The Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria (UP) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with specialised service provider Cropwatch Africa. The signing was celebrated during the routine FABI Monday Morning Meeting on 6 April, over Zoom in this time of lockdown. More than 170 FABIans joined the event from wherever they are around the world in this period. A formal signing ceremony will be held once the lockdown has been lifted.

The Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UP, Prof. Barend Erasmus, said that both parties have much in common and will benefit greatly from this collaboration. This programme was an example of UP reaching out to industry partners in line with the University’s long-term strategic direction of engagement. He pointed out that there is a lot of expertise outside of academia that we can learn from and contribute to. He pointed out that FABI is the perfect partner for this venture as it has a long and successful track record of managing diverse partnerships with industry and producing results. 

Cropwatch Africa Business Development Manager, Roedolf Nieuwenhuis said that he was very excited about this partnership between his organisation and the University of Pretoria: “This partnership is a giant leap forward towards ensuring food security, building capacity, developing world-class systems, expanding research and creating opportunities for all in the region”. Cropwatch Africa’s focus is to support farmers, communities, industries and Governments across Southern Africa, in safeguarding their resources, by ensuring the early detection of invasive pests and diseases before they cause significant damage. Their detection efforts increase the likelihood that new invasive plants, pests and diseases will be successfully identified while occurrences are still localized, and infected resources are not beyond containment and possible eradication. In addition, Cropwatch Africa has developed cloud-based portals and mobile applications to assist stakeholders with the collection of near-realtime data for accurate decision making. A good example of this was when the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) approached them to roll out their system and train all the southern African Governments during the Fall armyworm outbreak in 2017-2018. 

The partnership will explore ways to develop research and service platforms to address national plant health management needs in agriculture and forestry, integrated plant health related data systems, develop pest and disease diagnostic and monitoring tools and to develop capacity for plant health management. FABI Director Prof. Bernard Slippers said this was a rich opportunity to serve national and pan-African needs in industry and Government, while also advancing frontier research and advanced training in the field of plant health. The initiative is also strongly aligned with the focus on the UN International Year of Plant Health 2020 (#IYPH2020) in FABI.