School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Ms Sithembile Kunene with her research poster at SANSOR’s National Congress.

Master’s Graduate Presents Research to Seed Industry

Master’s graduate in Crop Science Ms Sithembile Kunene was one of eight students selected from around South Africa to present their research at the South African National Seed Organization’s (SANSOR) Annual Congress.

The only UKZN representative chosen to present after entering SANSOR’s research poster competition, Kunene’s work for her master’s degree comprised an evaluation of Bambara groundnut genotypes for drought tolerance and yield performance using agro-morphological and physiological traits.

The leguminous plant that originated in West Africa provides balanced nutrients and can play a role in improving food security when included in diets of low-income groups as it is a cheap source of protein, carbohydrates, lipids and amino acids. Its resistance to climate change and drought, and the fact that it does not need fertilisers to produce a good yield, make it suitable for production in low-input agricultural production systems, such as those of smallholder farmers. It also fixes atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, improving soil health.

There is a lack of research on this legume in South Africa and more knowledge is needed to select parent lines for crop improvement and breeding programmes.

SANSOR’s research poster competition provided the opportunity for master’s and PhD students in the fields of agronomy, biotechnology, crop production, horticulture, molecular and cell biology, plant breeding, plant pathology, seed science and soil science to apply for the opportunity to attend the organisation’s 33rd Congress in Cape Town.

At the Congress, Kunene presented a chapter of her master’s degree thesis concerning screening Bambara groundnut genotypes for drought tolerance at the germination stage under simulated drought conditions.

Kunene’s poster presentation highlighted that seed quality could affect the germination rate. Explaining that drought tolerant traits can be identified during germination, Kunene emphasised the importance of being able to identify these traits at the germination or seedling establishment stage to maximise yield performance.

She was able to interact with Congress participants and discuss the importance of testing seed vigour – the properties that determine seed performance – which is an important aspect of such research on an underutilised crop. Kunene also benefited from the keynote presentations and said it was a pleasure to learn more about an industry that played a vital role in improving food security, especially in developing countries.

Now a PhD student at the University of Pretoria’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, Kunene completed her undergraduate and honours degrees in Agronomy at the University of Zululand before pursuing her master’s degree in Crop Science at UKZN, supervised by Professor Alfred Odindo and co-supervised by Dr Abe Gerrano of the Agricultural Research Council.

Kunene thanked UKZN, especially Odindo, for helping her construct a study of significance to stakeholders, including smallholder farmers and the seed industry.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied