Passion for Food Security Breeds Practical Results

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PhD student Marylyn Christian says what she loves most about researching plant breeding is that her projects have a purpose and can be applied to industry.

Christian, currently completing her doctoral studies in plant breeding under the African Centre for Crop Improvement on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus, is researching the efficiency in silicon use to improve the quality of drought-tolerant wheat.

‘Our findings help achieve a better quality of consumer products and food security. The research serves a purpose and that is fulfilling,’ said Christian.

Other research projects her department is involved in include breeding for resistance to pests and disease, and climate change.

Her research focuses on plant breeding during drought conditions. ‘When you have a drought the quality of wheat is poor,’ said Christian. ‘Our aim is to improve – through plant breeding – the quality of wheat in a drought environment. That way the country won’t have to rely on imports, instead our exports will increase.

‘Our work is geared to help the local economy. Essentially plant breeding is the foundation of agriculture because we work with seeds the farmers will plant and by developing more nutrient dense food sources we can help people eat more healthily.’

It’s a lot of hard work but Christian loves what she does. She paid tribute to her ‘amazing colleagues, peers and lecturers. It’s kind of hard not to love what you do when you have passionate lecturers and fellow researchers who all encourage each other to excel,’ said Christian, making special mention of her plant breeding lecturer, Dr Julia Sibiya.

‘Dr Sibiya is a strong female presence and a role model for all her students. She represents the level of success we as females can achieve in Science.’

Christian says there is a lot of scope for females in agriculture with women contributing significantly to the Centre’s research. ‘In some communities where women do most of the cooking, we interview them to establish the dietary and nutritional needs of their families and community. That way we get a sense of what people want and need out of their food sources.

‘We need more women in Science and there needs to be more gender equality in industry and government.’

•    Article first published in the Maritzburg Sun.

Words: Jade le Roux

Photograph: Supplied