Dube AgriLab enables high-volume production of climate resilient crops for farming sector

20 November 2019

Extreme global weather, as well as South Africa’s drought and floods, have brought into focus the need for agriculture, forestry and horticulture to adapt to climate change. This is the message that Dube AgriLab took to the African Agri Investment Indaba in Cape Town, today (Wednesday 20th).


The African Agri Investment Indaba is the global meeting place for agri-food investment in Africa. As many as 700 key stakeholders – from governments, banks, financiers, investors, project owners, project developers, commercial farmers and the agro and food processing industry – gathered in Cape Town to discuss trends that will likely influence food and agribusiness economics over the next decade in Africa. 


South Africa is known as a water-short country with over 80% of the land classified as semi-arid to arid and only 13% being sub-humid and suitable for crop production. Of this 13%, only 22% has high agricultural potential with less than 10% of the total arable land under irrigation.

This water scarcity coupled with rising temperatures will have a widespread impact on farming, and in the case of forestry, it could deplete carbon sequestration, reducing the amount of CO2 that can be removed from the atmosphere, said Melissa Timothy, the plant tissue culture technologist at Dube AgriLab.


Dube AgriLab is a forerunner in agricultural adaptation with research in the development of protocols needed for the mass propagation of climate-resilient plants for South Africa’s agricultural and horticultural sectors.

The facility’s ability to develop new protocols, as well as its work in the improvement of existing protocols for a variety of plants in-house, allows it to service the plant propagation needs of Southern Africa’s farming community including forestry growers for the paper and pulp industry. It bridges the gap between the farming community and research facilities that are developing these new-generation, climate-resilient crops. The facility can produce up to 5 million plants a year and is poised to meet the ever-demanding needs of farmers and growers both locally as well as internationally.  


“We have recently been focusing our efforts on developing new lines for the local market, such as subtropical crops like banana, pineapple and bamboo. Bamboo is an interesting crop with many uses and often a suitable substitute for traditional forestry crops,” says Timothy.


This forestry crop, plays a significant role in the paper and pulp industry, construction, handicraft industry, fishery as well in the food sector (as edible tender shoots). Bamboo is also used as a biofuel and is an excellent soil erosion inhibitor. An additional interest in this valuable crop is bioremediation, which is the ability to accelerate natural processes for degradation of environmental pollutants in soil, groundwater and wastewater.


She points out that Dube AgriLab, is working with the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI),and is in a position to release select varieties to sugarcane farmers. Through NovaCane®, Dube AgriLab is not only able to propagate higher volumes of seed cane from newly released varieties, but - through the micro-propagation process - can provide top-performing, disease-free material, independently verified to be true-to-type.


In other projects, they are involved in research and development of resilient sub-tropical fruit, as well as other crops for the forestry industry.


Tissue culture technique has broad applicability and can be used to produce a wide selection of plant types. Micro-propagation is ideal for high-volume vegetative propagation, the propagation of high-value, scarce plants and elite selections or cultivars, plants which might be difficult to propagate by other means, or plants used for breeding purposes and research, she says.


 It involves the excision of small explants, either buds or shoot tip meristems, from selected mother plants that are pre-treated to eradicate potential contaminants. Explants are then sterilized and inoculated onto the sterilized growing medium in a sealed culture vessel. These are then maintained in environmentally-controlled grow rooms where the initial explants regrow new shoots which may then be propagated as micro-cuttings, using sterile technique to ensure that cultures remain contaminant-free. Very small cuttings or divisions may be made under these conditions, resulting in exceptionally high propagation rates.


“Climate change is here and we need to adopt new planting practices in order to keep up with agricultural, horticultural as well as forestry global demands as we encounter environmental changes that will reduce land available for regular crop production. This change will be heightened in future times as a further increase in global population is expected (by 2050 global population projection is said to reach 9.8 billion). Biotechnological techniques on offer at Dube AgriLab enables large-scale production of select varieties (e.g. drought-tolerant crops) that are able to withstand the harsher new environments, resulting from climate change . Our disease-free facility is designed with strict phytosanitary measures in place such as virus netting over all vents, double doors and UL sterilization of irrigation water, allowing for superior quality, high volume output” said Timothy.