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Durban lab plants seeds of food security as climate crisis looms

Home Agriculture Durban lab plants seeds of food security as climate crisis looms

POPULATION growth and the rapidly changing global environment will inevitably affect the availability of traditional farming land and the sustainability of current growing methods, making the threat to global food security very real.

That’s the warning from Melissa Timothy, a Tissue Culture Technologist at Dube AgriLab, who said there was a growing consensus that farmers and growers need to consider alternate growing techniques and innovative technologies to develop and grow more resilient crops.

“Other industries, including pharmaceuticals, construction, cosmetic, energy generation and manufacturing, which also depend on plant material, will also be negatively affected unless plant growers adapt to the changing environment and embrace alternative methods such as plant breeding and genetic manipulation. Without such methods, current long-standing plant varieties are not likely to withstand the new environments,” Timothy said.

Speaking at the recent Undercover Farming Conference at the Allee Bleue Estate in the Western Cape, Timothy presented a detailed overview of the micro-propagation laboratory and the role it can play in plant-biotechnology and high-volume cultivation of new plants from tissue cultures.

The Dube AgriLab is a 5 300-square-metre plant tissue culture laboratory situated within Dube AgriZone at Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone in Durban. It develops custom protocols for large scale plant propagation and bridges the gap between the farming community and research facilities that are developing these new-generation, resilient crops.

The facility has the capacity to produce up to five million plants per annum and is poised to meet the ever-demanding needs

It comprises a tissue culture laboratory, hardening facility and a dispatch area. The hardening facility comprises two climate-controlled zones, one for weaning micro-plants from tissue culture, and another for growing on these plantlets to customer’s specifications. This ‘disease-free’ facility is designed with strict phytosanitary measures in mind, such as virus netting over all vents, double doors and UV sterilisation of irrigation water.

Given its advantageous location adjacent to King Shaka International Airport and Dube Cargo Terminal, Dube AgriLab is also ideally positioned to service national and international farmers and professional growers.

Timothy is responsible for research and development, including protocol development of all of the new plant species introduced into the facility, improvement of existing protocols, as well as management of the tissue culture lab. She has worked with several different plant types including sugarcane, bamboo, banana, pineapples and ornamental crops, with several new plant types currently at the protocol development stage.

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