The Avocado Research Programme (ARP; previously the Fruit Tree Biotechnology Programme) was established in 2008 as a collaborative initiative between the Hans Merensky Foundation (HMF), Westfalia Technological Services and researchers from the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI). In 2020, under the leadership of by Professor Noëlani van den Berg, the Hans Merensky Chair in Avocado Research was established within the ARP, marking a substantial increase in support for the programme from both HMF and the University of Pretoria.
Research within the ARP is characterised by both industry specific and scholastic queries. The most prominent of which has been improving our understanding, on a molecular level, of the interaction between avocado and the root rot pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi. Additionally, the ARP’s involvement in the development of industry leading research tools and techniques are accelerating research focused on this pathosystem, along with that of emerging pests and diseases. As such, research at the ARP has grown to include the distribution and impact of Rosellinia necatrix, Avocado sunblotch viroid as well as potentially threatening Ambrosia beetles and their fungal symbionts in South African orchards. Moreover, a disease clinic has been established within the programme, to service the increasing need for pest and pathogen identification in South African avocado orchards. Given the economic importance of the South African avocado industry and the increased threat from pests and pathogen, the ARP’s mission is to stay ahead of potential threats and continually improve avocado orchard health and productivity. Most importantly, the ARP is passionate about training young researchers to be successful and productive members of society, in keeping with the vision of Dr Hans Merensky.