The beauty of being an Animal Science researcher is having to attend the South African Society of Animal Science (SASAS) Congress, which was hosted by the Stellenbosch branch of the Society from 1-6 July 2016. During the congress, I was lucky enough to be part of the exceptional group that was in charge of blogging about the SASAS Congress. If you want to visit the blogs, you can go to http://sasas.co.za/sasas-gala-dinner-2016 and http://sasas.co.za/49th-sasas-congress-kick. Working with Dr Yonela Njisane, Sipokazi Nyeleka and Mzuvukile Mcayiya was a fun and humbling experience.
I only attended as a “visiting professor” – I never had time to submit an abstract. Oh, but the joys of attending a conference where you aren’t actually presenting is that you get to enjoy all the presentations without having chest pains every time you think about yours!
A typical congress provides a platform where respective researchers can show off their research and findings. Having industry (farmers, feed, premix and additive manufacturers etc) and scientists in the same venue is always great because it is bound to raise much-appreciated questions and debates. These questions and debates in particular helped me to think about the context of research in the world that we live in. Mostly looking at the socio-economic ills facing our beloved Rainbow Nation. The gist of the debate was the role that research could potentially play in solving the problems faced by the Agricultural Industry. When trying to contextualize the role of scientific research in our community, a few questions need to be posed by yours truly.
What is research?
What purpose does it serve? Is it about simply about finding a plant, feeding it to an animal and testing a few parameters, or is it about identifying problems faced by the South African agricultural industry and helping solve those problems through novel solutions?
For a number of years, I have always believed research to be a tool that can be used by scientists to find solutions to the world’s problems. Currently, South Africa is facing the harshest drought in decades. This is undoubtedly related to global warming and climate change that scientists have been talking about for a number of years. Furthermore, the world population is growing exponentially, which means that food production needs to keep up with that growth. It’s however a sad reality that the conventional means of food production that have been used for the past millennia are becoming less and less effective due to climate change. This is where I think research can play a critical role in developing farming strategies that can help mitigate the adverse effects brought upon by global warming and climate change.
I believe that researchers should conduct research that will ultimately help improve the socio-economic status of the country. How do we do this? How do we make sure that scientists are conducting vital and relevant research that will benefit the South African citizens?
Collaboration is the answer for me. There needs to be a partnership between bodies such as SASAS, Industry and Government to ensure that applied and interdisciplinary research is being conducted. Currently we have a system where Industry conducts its own research with a respective institution of learning and when there is a breakthrough, the company will claim Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to the results and they will only publish the findings after 3 years or so. This is fair enough because the companies invest a lot of money in that research. The only problem is that this type of partnership tends to benefit only corporations and not every Jacob, Julius and Helen in South Africa.
Perhaps there should be a council or commission where Industry, Scientists and the Government are equally represented. This council would be tasked to identify problems in South Africa (which shouldn’t be hard) and assigning those problems to Research Institutes and providing funding. An example from Europe would be, “Improving knowledge transfer between research institutions and industry across Europe”. This document not only deals with the issues of IPR but it also ensures that the associations — businesses and farmers — who are in charge of producing local food will also benefit. All South African citizens will end up benefiting because our country will be not only be food secure but that food will also be affordable to everyone who lives in it. Perhaps a step further would be for the Government to utilize its Extension Officers to ensure that scientific breakthroughs get relayed to all the farmers. This would not only ensure that farmers do not suffer from problems that the country has already solved but it will also ensure that the money spent on research funding doesn’t end up in library shelves collecting dust.