Professor Hussein Shimelis, newly-appointed SASRI Professor and Chair of Crop Science in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES), recently travelled to Brisbane, Australia, where he presented a paper on Striga
grain under the theme of science-driven solutions at the TropAg 2015 Conference
According to Shimelis, the bi-annual event was aimed at facilitating collaboration and networking between international scientists working in agriculture in tropical regions in order for there to be increased project development and technology transfer between scientists in this field.
The three-day session featured eight exhibitors, with various research papers presented on advances within the agriculture industries in the subtropics and tropics, including grain and pulse crops, sugarcane and horticultural crops and livestock (beef, dairy, pork, poultry). Oral and poster papers were presented covering a diverse range of aspects of tropical agriculture under the themes of defining challenges facing tropical agriculture, solutions through integrated farming systems, market-driven solutions, and finally science-driven solutions.
Some of the important topics covered included climate risks and the productivity challenge in field crops, tropical livestock production and health constraints, the impacts of plant diseases on tropical agriculture, nutrition security, the changing consumer dynamic affecting demand for tropical agriculture, demand-driven approaches to breeding to increase smallholders’ adoption of new plant and animal genetics, the micronutrient biofortification of acid and neutral soils for enhanced crop production and improved Anthocyanin contents of sweet potato, and the use of genomic tools to improve crop and livestock research.
Parallel sessions were also held allowing participants to discuss a number of topics, including the future of sugarcane, the control of tropical livestock parasites into the future, food safety issues and challenges in global supply chains, genomics technologies for tropical agriculture, and redesigning photosynthesis to meet the global productivity challenge.
In addition to presenting a paper at the conference, Shimelis had the opportunity to attend a sideline meeting on demand-led plant variety design in Africa held at the University of Queensland's Saint Lucia campus. This meeting was held after the conference and key participants of the conference from research and education units attended. According to Shimelis, the demand‐led variety design project focuses on plant breeding education and implementation of breeding research, and cultivar development and adoption in Africa. It is based on partnerships among plant breeding education and research institutions in Africa, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, the Crawford Fund, the Australian International Food Security Research Centre and the University of Queensland.
'The project was developed to strengthen postgraduate education and professional development training for plant breeders on demand-led variety design, using best practices from public and private sectors in Africa and internationally,' explained Shimelis.
After this meeting, Shimelis also visited the field trials of the Centre for Plant Sciences
, an initiative of the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI)/the University of Queensland that is situated at the Gatton Research Station.
'This visit allowed me to share sorghum and maize research experiences of the centre thanks to a field visit guided by senior researcher, Dr Daniel Rodriguez,' said Shimelis.
Shimelis also visited the teaching and research facilities of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in the Brisbane CBD, which he described as extremely interesting, especially to be able to observe the world-class 150-seater teaching laboratory (SuperLab) of the QUT.
'In the teaching laboratory, each student has a lab space fitted with the required lab supplies and technologies including a laptop computer. Professor Sagadevan Mundree (an ex-UKZN staff member who visited UKZN
in October this year) of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities
of the QUT guided this visit and introduced the various research activities of the centre, including crop biotechnology and biomass processing, drought and salinity stress tolerance breeding, enhanced levels of micronutrients of bananas, banana biotechnology for fungal and viral disease resistance, to name a few.
'Overall, I gained substantial experience from the presentations, field and laboratory visits,' said Shimelis. 'I also established some contacts that will contribute to future teaching and research collaborations.'
The congress was sponsored/supported by the University of Queensland
(UQ), the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation
(QAAFI) of the UQ, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
, Sugar Research Australia
, the ARC - Translational Photosynthesis Centre of Excellence
, Shimadzu Scientific Instruments
, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
, and the Crawford Fund
, among others.