SOUTH AFRICA – To aid in the prevention and control of agricultural and animal diseases in South Africa, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) has established the National Biosecurity Hub at the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) Future Africa campus.
The hub, which consists of representatives from business, academia, science councils, and the government, will support safe trade in agricultural goods and services as well as sustainable agricultural production.
The hub is operated by the department’s Technology Innovation Agency as part of the Agricultural Bioeconomy Innovation Partnership Programme (ABIPP) of the DSI (TIA).
Key partners of the center are UP and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD).
The bioeconomy program is in charge of funding, co-funding, organizing, supporting, and managing multi-institution research projects that are concentrated on boosting productivity, enhancing food security, and fostering sustainable rural development.
Professor Sanil Maharaj, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment, and Information Technology, stated at the hub’s opening that the hub would draw from top research from international institutions and contribute to improving market access, economic growth, and job creation in the nation.
This will be through improved national sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) capacity and increased awareness of current and emerging biosecurity threats.
He continued by saying that the hub will make sure that South Africa was better equipped to handle disease outbreaks because it would be able to make choices more quickly and effectively.
With foot and mouth disease, for example, which has been prevalent in South Africa for two years, the hub can offer better control and monitoring systems, as well as greater assurance to trade partners who impose bans on South Africa’s imports.
The center has important policy connections to the nation’s National Bioeconomy Strategy, which was approved by Cabinet in 2013, and the Agricultural and Agroprocessing Master Plan, which also addresses food security, according to DSI biotechnology head Mineshree Jugmohan-Naidu.
She said some of the most glaring challenges affecting agriculture are food security and climate change, as well as pests and diseases, some of which arise as a result of climate change.
The National Biosecurity Hub’s mission is to greatly expand the capabilities now available to the South African SPS regulatory bodies and to be relevant across all agriculture and forestry industries.
In order to meet SPS requirements of international trade and improve biosecurity, it will offer research and information services to the public and private sectors.
Jugmohan-Naidu also added that the hub has been in development for a while, with the Plant Health Consortium’s work serving as the inspiration for the creation of a national biosecurity hub.
Since 2016, the group has been looking into pathogen biology, disease diagnosis, and surveillance.
Improved biosecurity beneficial for agricultural sector
The establishment of the National Biosecurity Hub, according to Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza, comes at a time when food security is a concern on a global scale, especially in light of recent shocks.
She cited Covid-19, logistical difficulties with food, and the war in the Ukraine and its effects on food and input prices as examples of these shocks.
She pointed out that, in addition to government efforts, biosecurity needs an integrated strategy to stop the spread of pests and illnesses throughout the nation.
Didiza further stated that the conflict over SPS regulations had grown to be a significant aspect of global trade and had an effect on South Africa’s competitiveness.
In order to assure improved responses to pests and illnesses, the nation must continue to strengthen its biosecurity policy and regulatory framework, as well as its information technology, expertise, and infrastructure, she said.
She emphasized that once the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) goes into effect, South Africa would need to step up its biosecurity efforts if it wants to engage in more regional trade.
Agricultural Research Council, South African Poultry Association, Fruit SA, Grain SA, Red Meat Producers’ Organization, and South African Poultry agreed that coordinated efforts to improve the nation’s biosecurity would be beneficial for the agricultural sector but cautioned that a sustained team effort would be required to realize the hub’s vision.