TISSUE CULTURE ADDS VALUE FOR FARMERS
Commercial and small scale farmers can substantially improve plant health and increase yields by starting with clean planting materials, says Nokuthula Myeza, Senior Manager of Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone’s, Dube AgriLab.
This commercial plant tissue culture facility is the only one of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Once a plant has been in the ground, it is susceptible to viruses and diseases. Using vegetatively propagated stock loaded with viruses and disease reduces plant quality and yields by as much as 50%. At Dube AgriLab, we have tested biotechnological methods of eliminating viruses from plants and then multiplying plantlets exponentially to meet a farmer’s production requirement,” she said.
Speaking on the benefits of micropropagation, Myeza said plant tissue culture performed in the laboratory under sterile conditions produces high-quality, disease-free, true-to-type, uniform young resilient and vigorous plants at reduced costs.
This technique is ideal for high-volume vegetative propagation, the propagation of high-value scarce and elite plant varieties, the development of plants that are difficult to propagate by other means and plants used for breeding and research purposes.
She noted that tissue culture technology to boost crop production is well-accepted and extensively used overseas, but is slowly gaining momentum in South Africa and the rest of the African continent in general.
“We are involved in contract propagation and complex research and development. If a farmer or grower is developing a new plant cultivar, it can be brought to Dube AgriLab commercial tissue culture facility. We start by developing a micro-propagation recipe (protocol) for that plant – a process that could take six months or even longer, depending on how the plant responds in culture. But once we have the protocol, it’s like baking a cake and we can produce up to five million plants a year,” she said.
The Lab’s most recent flagship project has been the development of a micro-propagation protocol, of the Ecoflora plant species, a fast-growing, low water-consuming hybrid forestry tree, for a client. This tree provides exceptional biomass density per hectare for cellulosic biofuel production and timber uses. This project is at the commercial stage and saplings are being exported into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region by air via King Shaka International airport where Dube AgriLab is located .
The tissue culture laboratory, operated under Durban’s Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone, also works closely with the South African Sugar Research Institute (SASRI) in propagating their new cultivars for the global sugar industry.
In addition to contract projects, the lab conducts its own research and development and has developed a basket of in-house, custom protocols of new-generation resilient plants to bridge the gap between research and development and the farming community. These protocols can be used commercially by growers.
The most recent is a protocol for stevia, a sugar alternative. The laboratory is looking for growers. Others in the basket include garlic, ginger, aloe, pineapple, banana, sweet potato, rose, bamboo, Eucalyptus, Corymbium, Curcuma, ferns, Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily), Syngonium (Arrowhead Plant), Sarracenia (Trumpet Pitchers) and select vegetable seedlings.
Dube AgriLab is also currently considering a proposal to work on developing a micro-propagation protocol for hemp on request from a client. Cannabis is another obvious opportunity with the opening of its use for medicines and cosmetics.
“The only way to win is if you can produce volumes of disease-free, true-to-type plants. This mass propagation can only be achieved through a tissue culture facility, such as Dube AgriLab, which operates throughout the year because of its extensive greenhouses and controlled environment.
“As a laboratory, we are always looking to partner with farmers, growers, breeders and the public to develop protocols for improved plant varieties because we believe that tissue culture can unlock enormous value for the agricultural sector, especially the intensive undercover growing space, where its important to get the most out of each plant,” Myeza said.
Other services offered by Dube AgriLab include the hardening of plantlets and consultancy assistance, based on their extensive scientific expertise. The hardening facility comprises two climate-controlled zones, one for weaning micro-plants from tissue culture and the other for growing these plantlets to customer specifications.
This ‘disease-free’ facility, which has strict phytosanitary measures in place, including virus netting over all vents, double doors and the UV sterilisation of irrigation water, is ideally located adjacent to King Shaka International Airport and Dube Cargo Terminal, enabling it to service national and international farmers and professional growers.