The NSTF-South32 Awards, also known as the ‘Science Oscars’, is the flagship project of the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF) that recognises excellence and outstanding contributions to science, engineering and technology and innovation in South Africa. Below is a summary of the various categories, nominees, and the projects for which they are nominated. We have only highlighted the categories that relate to the agricultural industry. The NSTF-South32 Awards ceremony will take place on 30 July 2020 via a live stream broadcast.

Special annual theme award: Plant health

Prof Ian Dubery, research professor: Department of Biochemistry and director: Centre for Plant Metabolomics, University of Johannesburg

Prof Dubery established plant metabolomics, the study of plants from the perspective of chemical molecules, as a new scientific discipline in South Africa. He also developed applications of metabolomics that can monitor changes in plant metabolic pathways (i.e. how chemical reactions take place inside plants). Prof Dubery’s applications lead to metabolomics becoming an indispensable tool in advancing knowledge and understanding of plants – including crops.

Prof Kerstin Krüger, associate professor: Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria

Prof Krüger’s studies have led to advanced knowledge on the relationship between plant diseases, insect herbivores and their host plants. She is an internationally renowned expert in the study of agriculturally important insect vectors of plant diseases and other insect pests on crops.

Her research includes the impact of climate change on insect herbivores, their natural enemies and crop protection strategies in a changing environment.

Prof Zacharias (Zakkie) Pretorius, research fellow: Department of Plant Sciences, University of the Free State

Prof Pretorius is a plant pathologist specialising in rust diseases of important food crops such as small grains, maise, beans, lentil, and soya bean. His work covers pathogen diversity and associated host plant studies as these aspects are central to efficient resistance breeding and disease control.

Prof Marie Christine (Chrissie) Rey, professor of Microbiology: University of the Witwatersrand

Her principal contribution has been working with the diversification of local agriculture by improving cassava yield for poverty alleviation, food security and potential industrial applications.

Dr Abraham Singels, principal agronomist: South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI)

Dr Singels leads research at SASRI to deliver outcomes that support small- and large-scale sugarcane farmers in cultivating sugarcane in the face of increasingly sporadic rainfall and less-dependable irrigation water supply. His research proves that the sustainability of sugarcane production in South African is at risk due to the apparent effects of a changing climate.

Prof Michael (Mike) Wingfield, professor: Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) and advisor to the executive, University of Pretoria

Prof Wingfield is globally recognised as a South African plant pathologist with contributions to the identification and management of plant diseases, as well as the education and mentorship of large numbers of plant pathologists and entomologists worldwide. He has advised more than 100 PhD candidates and led FABI to gain substantial international recognition for research and education relating to plant health.

Communication for outreach and creating awareness of SET and innovation award

Prof Jeanine Marnewick, research chair: Biotechnology and director: Applied Microbial and Health Biotechnology Institute, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

The consumption of rooibos, a proudly South African herbal tea that is now adopted under the Nagoya Protocol, serves as a complementary strategy to ensure the increased daily intake of antioxidants as a health-promoting and/or disease-preventing lifestyle option. Prof Marnewick leads a team that promotes rooibos tea to be included in a personal daily regime as a health-promoting option.

Innovation and research award

Dr Goddeti Siva Mohan Reddy, head scientist: research and development: Material Technology Solutions (Pty) Ltd

The Material Technology Solutions (Pty) Ltd has developed the methodology to scientifically modify the composition of open-cell softwood species, i.e. typical southern hemisphere trees into a hard wood. The process entails the impregnation of wood with benign chemicals. After treatment of the wood, it will have become resistant to termite, rot, water and UV, as well as fire retardant.

Prof Luke Chimuka, professor and research group leader: environmental analytical chemistry, University of the Witwatersrand

Prof Chimuka’s work is primarily directed at investigating the transport of organic and metal pollutants in the environmental media, mostly in water bodies. He has worked on the development of sample extraction techniques for aquatic systems to improve selectivity in environmental samples and for use in value additions of food by plant extracts.

Dr Vhahangwele Masindi, research scientist: Magalies Water, principal researcher: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and research fellow: University of South Africa

Dr Masindi has made a significant contribution to the field of environmental monitoring and wastewater treatment. He has patented, piloted, and published numerous wastewater treatment technologies. He has also developed unique and effective technologies for the removal of toxic and hazardous chemicals from such waste streams by converting them into valuable resources.

Prof Victoria Jideani, professor and leader: Cereals and Legumes Biopolymer Research for Food Security, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Prof Jideani’s pioneering research harnessed the rich protein, phenolic and antioxidant content of Bambara groundnut into functional food for consumer wellness. Prof Jideani has transformed the science of Bambara groundnut into innovation for gluten-free, lactose-free, plant-based proteins and meat alternatives.

Prof Salome Mamokone Mahlo, associate professor and head of Ethno-medicinal Plants Laboratory, Department of Biodiversity and Botany, University of Limpopo

Prof Mahlo’s research focuses on ethnobotany, indigenous knowledge systems and the use of medicinal plants to combat various ailments in humans and animals, isolating antifungal compounds from plant species and determining the biological activity against selected plant fungal pathogens, investigating the cytotoxic activity of the crude extracts and isolated compounds, and evaluating the potential use of acetone extracts and isolated compounds that could be used to develop a low-cost product. This product is non-toxic and can be used to combat plant pathogenic fungi in the fruit industry.

Water management and solutions award

Prof Faizal Bux, director and professor: Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology, Durban University of Technology (DUT), and chair: Department of Science and Innovation/National Research Foundation South African Research Chair Initiative: Wastewater Treatment, DUT

Prof Bux’s research focuses on investigating microbial contributions to wastewater treatment processes with emphasis on optimisation and wastewater beneficiation. The uniqueness and impact of the research resides in the high potential for application and obtaining value from waste and at the same time protecting the environment and contributing to the circular economy

Biodiversity conservation, environment, and ecosystem award

Prof Leslie Brown, professor and head: Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystem Research Unit, University of South Africa (Unisa)

Prof Brown’s research encompasses various aspects of the ecosystem and is directed at plant-animal interactions within plant communities. It includes long-term studies of vegetation and animals in relation to climate change and the reaction of ecosystems to different land-use practices. His work is aimed at maintaining biodiversity in a changing world and climate.

Prof William J Bond, professor emeritus: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town (UCT) and honorary fellow: South African Environmental Observation Network

Prof Bond’s research focuses on the non-forested ‘open’ ecosystems of the world, such as grasslands, shrublands and savannas. Open ecosystems are common in South Africa and very common in Africa, often in climates that also support forests. He has made significant contributions to our understanding of global vegetation ecology challenging the long-held assumption that non-forested ecosystems are degraded and deforested. – Compiled by Ursula Human, AgriOrbit