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SU researchers aim to grow research collaboration with African countries
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 19/04/2017

'Orphan crops' and the impact of an invasive weed on subsistence farmers in Nigeria are two of the topics Stellenbosch University (SU) researchers will investigate as part of a research visit funded by SU's Centre for Collaboration in Africa (CCA) and the International Foundation for Science (IFS).

Dr Ethel Phiri and Dr Natasha Mothapo, postdoctoral fellows in SU's departments of genetics and botany and zoology, are visiting the University of Lagos from 17 to 22 April 2017. During this time they will both present seminars, while Dr Mothapo will conclude the final stage of a research project into subsistence farmers' perceptions and use of orphan crops.

They will also be hosted by Prof. Linus Opara, holder of the SARChI research chair in postharvest technology at SU and currently on sabbatical in Nigeria.

Their main aim is to establish and grow networks with African universities in order to strengthen the African research agenda: "As young and emerging researchers in South Africa, we have a vested interest in African research and would like to maintain the focus of our research within the continent," they comment.

Dr Mothapo, who is also team coordinator of a collaborative project funded by the IFS, will use the opportunity to complete a survey investigating the socio-economic impacts of an invasive weed on subsistence farmers and their perceptions thereof.

She explains: "Farmers perceive some invasive plant species as being good in improving soil fertility, but often these plants cause damage to crops and reduce yield significantly. These perceptions also limit invasive species management plans.

"We will also talk to farmers to understand how they use and perceive orphan and other underutilised crops. While the major food crops like maize, wheat and rice dominate global production, so-called orphan crops have the potential to be of economic and agronomic significance for developing countries struggling with food security and climate change," she adds.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, orphan crops like sorghum and millets are more important than rice and wheat.  However, because they are not traded internationally, orphan crops have received less attention in terms of research and agricultural training.

"We are the generation of researchers that should be focusing on Africa's research problems," Dr Phiri concludes.