The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) on Thursday held a joint workshop to initiate a process aimed at drafting a five-year strategic plan to ensure the preservation and utilisation of the National Collections. The ARC is a legislated custodian and primary user of the country’s agricultural National Public Good Assets (NPGA).
The other key stakeholders who formed part of the workshop included departments of science and innovation (DSI), agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The collaboration will also ensure that:
- there is better regulation
- public awareness
- public-private partnerships
- improved diagnostic capabilities
- effective data management for evidence-based decision-making
- building human and research capacity.
According to the ARC there are several factors that may impact the agricultural NPGA and these include, among others, the impact of climate change, droughts, lack of skills and lack of proper funding hence the need for a collective and coherent approach by all relevant stakeholders.
In a media statement, the ARC explained the agricultural NPGA as strategic resources of economic and permanent value belonging to a country. It entails databases, bio-banks, natural science collections and the vast living collections. Sovereign states rely on the NPGA, knowledge and intelligence to defend national interests and to rebuild their societies and economies after destructions caused by wars or natural disasters, added the statement.
The ARC has preserved and managed the NPGA for more than 100 years and with the significant support of the DSI it has also made significant investments over the past few decades to preserve the public good assets. These investments played a critical role in shaping the agricultural sector and food security for future generations said the agricultural council.
Professor Michelle Hamer, SANBI and manager of the natural science collection facility and biodiversity bio-banks said: “The main requirement of any country is food security, and a stable agricultural sector ensures a nation of food security. Over time human memory fades, however, with the National Public Good Assets, the country’s food production remains safeguarded by custodian government institutions such as the ARC. Through these assets the country’s multibillion rand agricultural sector is also protected and is able to remain competitive in producing quality and nutritious foods.”
Added Jan Hendrik Venter from the DALRRD’s plant health early warning systems directorate: “Agriculture plays a critical role in the entire spectrum of a given economy. Agriculture is the backbone of the economic system of nations. In addition to providing food and raw materials, agriculture also provides employment opportunities to a very large percentage of the population.”
The ARC is also the custodian of infrastructure to maintain, and optimally utilise these NPGA for agricultural development, in the application of reproductive biotechnologies, said the council. It said that for over the past 50 years, the ARC has contributed more than 200 cultivars tothe crops industry,amongst which are some of the best performing in the world. The ARC also boasts diagnostic capabilities which are used with NPGA as “reference samples in the identification of new and emerging agricultural risks, such as Fall Armyworm, Tuta absoluta (Tomato Leafminer), BBTV (Banana Bunchy Top Virus), Sugarcane Longhorn Beetle, Blueberry bud mite and Golden Cyst nematode.
Contribution to the economy
The agricultural council has been appointed as a diagnostic referral centre for the Southern African Development Community (SADC)by the FAO on Maize Lethal Necrosis Diseases, Fall Armyworm and Tuta absoluta based on its NPGA. The ARC’s animal production and animal health programmes have also made a huge impact on the agricultural sector contributing to the economy was R11 billion in 1985 annually. This has tripled to nearly R30 billion in 1995, and grew 10 fold to nearly R280 billion in 2018.
The ARC has seven World Organisation for Animal Health reference laboratories and is responsible for the diagnosis of notifiable diseases (Foot-and-Mouth, African Swine Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Lumpy Skin, African Horse Sickness, Rabies and Blue Tongue) and national reference laboratories for Avian Influenza, Peste des petit ruminants, etc. as well as provision of blood vaccinesfor the whole country.
Through the preservation of the NPGA and in collaboration with its partners, the ARC will also be able to safeguard the economy from shocks, instability and losses worth billions of rand to food producers and consumers. This will also curtail food products from skyrocketing as result of rampant food inflation.
Dr Thulasizwe Mkhabela, ARC’s group executive: impact and partnerships said: “In order for the South African agricultural sector to thrive, both young and old of the country should be aware of the value and scientific capacity of National Public Good Assets hosted by the ARC. And it is through partnerships with other organs of state for their preservation that the National Public Good Assets will remain a key component for the stability of the South African economy.”