Plantation fires: What to do with burnt trees?

It has been an exceptional fire season in the Cape, with many hectares of fynbos veld and plantations being burnt. The skeletons of many trees and protea bushes starkly stand within the burnt-out landscape. The question is: should the wood industry still use the trees that have survived such plantation fires? “From an economic and…

Biologists blunt the sting of a tree-killing alien wasp

The Sirex wasp and its deadly passenger have brought the prospect of ruin to the pine industry, but geneticists have a shrewd plan to fight back. Wasps – some black, others black and orange – are pinned to a board of blue rubber foam. One begins to twitch and you register that some of them…

Biltong research on a tropical island

Having to visit a tropical island to do research on biltong? It sounds almost too good to be true, but that’s the experience that Maxine Jones had when she visited Reunion Island as part of her PhD studies in food science. She visited this French territory close to Mauritius to use ultrasound equipment available at…

Bushmen cure-all offers locals a sustainable income

The commercial potential of intoxicating kougoed, or Sceletium tortuosum, is reinvigorating a Nourivier community in the Northern Cape. Oom Jap, a Nourivier resident and traditional healer, and I stand in the shadow of one of the new buildings at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) kougoed project in the Northern Cape. Even though…

Climate change, farming and profits: It all depends

How will climate change affect the profit margins of farming endeavours throughout South Africa? It all depends on how rainfall, temperature and the subsequent need for irrigation will change the yield and quality of produce being farmed, region by region. So says agricultural economists Dr Hamman Oosthuizen, who used farms in Hoedspruit, Carolina, Moorreesburg and…

Products of origin: taking a page from the Rooibos industry’s book

The ins and outs of trade law is a science in itself. For a case study with a very distinct local flavour, there’s none better than the story about how the geographic status of South Africa’s Rooibos tea industry was recognised by the European Union. It is featured in the book Developing Geographical Indications in the…

Doctoring bananas

Plant pathologist Dr Diane Mostert is helping to unravel some of the intricacies surrounding the genetic make-up of a fungus that is devastating banana plantations worldwide. As part of her doctoral studies, this recent Stellenbosch University graduate investigated the diversity and distribution of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (also known as Foc) in Asian countries…

Sunblock for your apples, anyone?

When horticulturalist Dr Elmi Lötze of Stellenbosch University set out to test a mineral mixture on ‘Golden Delicious’ apples, she was hoping that it would help reduce bitter pit which causes dark spots to form on the fruit. Instead, she found that it worked quite well as a “sunblock” that could save apple farmers a…

Mobile lab does cows a service

Gloved hands hold a long syringe. Fluorescent lighting blinks off the white surfaces as Masindi Mphaphathi, an animal researcher at the Agricultural Research Centre, gently pushes the plunger. He is demonstrating, in the back of the ARC’s mobile clinic, how to artificially inseminate a cow. “The idea is to provide [livestock reproduction] services for farmers…

Klink ‘n glasie Pinotage op Perold

Op die stories agter ontdekkings – en heel dikwels die toevalligheid waarmee dit gemaak word kan mens gerus meer gereeld ‘n glasie klink.Neem nou byvoorbeeld die verhaal agter Suid-Afrika se Pinotage wyn…  ‘n Jaar of wat gelede loer ek in by ‘n tweedehandse boekverkoping op Hermanus. En daar loop ek ‘n effe verweerde rooiwynkleurige boek…