Nematologists, students, agricultural experts and farmers in Africa shared good educational practices, creating and strengthening networks between higher education institutes and stakeholders, and providing additional educational opportunities for those working in agriculture and nematology during the 2nd Pan-African Nematology Network (Panema) workshop.
The three-day engagement, which was a partnership by African higher education and research institutes, viz. the University of Mpumalanga (UMP – lead by Dr Zakheleni Dube), North-West University (NWU – lead by Prof Driekie Fourie) and the Agricultural Research Council (lead by Prof Mieke Daneel) as well as the multinational agricultural company Syngenta (Mr Stefan van Zyl).
The workshop was attended by nematologists, early-career researchers, academics, students, agricultural extension workers, farmers, government officials, representatives from industry and representatives from African countries, Europe, and North America.
Panema was established as an initiative of the NEMEDUSSA project which is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union and VLIR-UOS from Belgium. The NEMEDUSSA project has been initiated and is managed by nematologists at the Gent University, Belgium. The Panema initiative aims to promote networking and academic exchange between nematologists working in Africa. Partial sponsoring of the workshop by Syngenta Seedcare made this event possible in South Africa.
Some of the topics presented at the workshop included sustainable crop production.
The focus of the Panema workshop is on sharing good educational practices, creating and strengthening networks between higher education institutes (HEIs), stakeholders, and providing additional educational opportunities for those working in agriculture and nematology.
The workshop strived to have a good balance between seminars and hands-on practice in the field and lab, to enhance life-long learning and create opportunities for interactive discussions and networking between stakeholders.
In opening and welcoming participants to the workshop, the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Sciences (FANS) at UMP, Professor Moses Mbewe highlighted the progress that UMP has made since its establishment in 2013.
"It is an honour for UMP to host the 2nd Panema workshop. UMP has been able to build state-of-the-art infrastructure which includes lecture venues, laboratories, and computer labs to create a conducive environment for the academic project to thrive. We trust that you will have meaningful and productive engagements to advance the work of PANEMA, " he said.
“We are a young institution and if you look around here, you wouldn't think this is an almost eight, nine-year university in terms of its existence. We ought to be doing it better because we are a university that was built in democracy.
We pride ourselves in delivering our projects on time and within budget allocations. And whatever we don't use is accounted for in the reserves and many others. We are a source of pride amongst universities in South Africa,” said Professor Mbewe.
The conference was attended by delegates from 13 different African countries, with Europe and North America participating virtually.
The guests were also welcomed by the Chief Director for Research and Training, Dr Mantwa Kgapola, of the Department of Agriculture who explained the relationship the department has with UMP since the time it was an agricultural college where she was a principal.
"We welcome our international guests, our guests from South Africa, and ourselves as the farming community of the province. We are always interested in new information in our sector because we are the custodians of the sector. And many times, the buck stops with us, we are the main decision makers and workshops like this where we can associate with people like you is essential for us to allow us to make sound decisions."
Syngenta personnel from Basil Switzerland, Dr Brigitte Slaats (Technical Ezpert EAME) and Dr Steve Maund (Head of R&D Sustainability) enlightened the participants of the workshop by providing innovative ideas on how to ensure sustainability within the context of root and soil health.
Dr Slaats also elaborated on Syngenta’s approach in developing technology for sustainable agriculture. Another renowned nematologist emeritus Prof Richard Sikora (Bonn University, Germany) and external adviser of the NEMEDUSSA project shared his view and experience on sustainable crop production and food security in Africa.
Another interesting, applicable and practical contribution by Hans van de Water (owner of the Belgian company The Floor is Yours) intrigued participants by informing them on how to translate one’s research or project into a clear message that is tailored to the specific audience.
Assistant coordinator of the NEMEDUSSA project and the International Master of Agro and Environmental Nematology at Ghent University, Dora Scott, said NEMEDUSSA is a project sponsored by Erasmus + the European Commission and assists partner universities across Africa to develop their nematology capacity.
“We assist with making connections, giving them lab equipment, and also training people in different techniques for nematode identification, molecular work, nematode management, joining them on different kinds of nematode-based social and scientific platforms, and the aim of the project is really to educate people and to help them help themselves.”
She further explained that the aim of this project is to create awareness about nematodes so that they can improve crop production and quality.
“One of our aims is to bring people with different backgrounds together and give them an opportunity to learn from one another. We also have expert booths, where people can select what is interesting for them and what they want to learn more about.”
Scott said that “everyone could select topics to learn more from a variety of options provided. We're happy that we are creating the opportunity to be able to help people who otherwise don't have access to information about nematodes, and giving them the opportunity to talk to other people facing the same problem, but maybe with a different background and a different experience.”
UMP lecturer Dr Zakheleni Dube and NWU Prof Driekie Fourie during the first session of the workshop demonstrated that working together across Higher Education Institutions is important and valuable by doing an interactive, combined presentation about student research: current status, challenges and the future. This contribution was particularly focused on the status of this topic in Africa.
UMP Master's student Charles Ngwenya said that he learned about the integration and collaboration of different stakeholders, and the importance of engaging with different communities in the marginal areas, extension officers and farmers as a nematologist.
“What I have also learned about this workshop is the fact that nematology is still an emerging field on the African continent, including South Africa and there is a limited number of nematologists, especially among the younger generation. I also see a need to do research to improve the current status of nematology research.
“This workshop has impacted me very positively, my research focuses on the host sensitivity and the host status in Bambara groundnut seeds in three geographical location such as KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The workshop has helped me to get more motivated in gathering information for my master’s research.”
Julius Bulus from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, the PI who is overseeing the activities under the NEMEDUSSA project in Bello University and also works with the department of Agriculture and the department of Crop Protection, presented on ‘Enhancing compost application rate in nematode management’ where he aims to investigate the efficacy of using locally produced compost in the management of plant-parasitic nematodes. Alternatives to nematicides are necessary since these products are expensive, and many of them will be or already have been withdrawn due to their toxicity to the environment.”
A PhD student from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in western Kenya, Janet Atandi, said the conference has been going on for the past three days and he believed it has been a successful event and was well organized.
“My highlights of the conference were interacting with people from different backgrounds, farmers, and getting to really understand the nematode problems. I have learned the most about entomopathogenic nematodes because they're not in my line of experience.”
Other topics that were covered during the three-day workshop included the Scientific communication for better nematode awareness, enabling of sustainable crop production and food security in Africa, and the discussion on the status of nematology across different sectors: a One Earth Approach.
The workshop also provided practical hands-on sessions on an enzyme esterase protocol and other molecular techniques to identify root-knot nematode species, use of morphology to identify both plant-parasitic and beneficial nematodes, application of methods to rear and use entomopathogenic nematodes.
Hands-on coaching of students by expert Hans van de Water on how to improve and present one’s research results in an innovative way was another popular and valuable contribution.
In addition, interactive sessions on nematology in agricultural extension, the role of women in nematology teaching and career choices, practical and sustainable approaches to manage nematodes, basics about interactions between nematodes and other plant pathogens, how to identify and look for nematode symptoms in crop plants, how to set up a private diagnostic nematology laboratory, use of entomopathogenic nematodes as biocontrol agents of economically important insects, how to ensure the ‘survival’ of the discipline of nematology and application of innovative tools to use nematodes as bioindicators contributed to the success of the workshop.
The formal program of the workshop was concluded with 10-minute oral talks and 3-minute oral poster presentations by students and partners of the NEMEDUSSA project. It was wonderful to see how the students applied the knowledge they gathered from Hans van de Water to improve and present with power!
A delightful and vibrant gala dinner at UMP’s stylish Tfokamala Hotel was the final activity where all participants enjoyed themselves, either on the dance floor or just chatting to their peers.
@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures Supplied.