African Centre for Crop Improvement

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African Centre for Crop Improvement

“Training African Breeders on African Crops, in Africa”


Sugarcane Breeding Research Wins Award at SASTA Congress

PhD candidate Ms Edith Mugehu who is based at UKZN’s African Centre for Crop Improvement received first prize for her oral presentation during the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association (SASTA) 95th annual congress.

Presented at the SASTA Annual General Meeting, the prize was awarded for Mugehu’s paper titled Challenges and Opportunities in Sugarcane Production and Improvement: A Review that she presented at the congress in August. The paper described how breeding can guide optimal production, genetic improvement, and yield gains.

Her presentation included information about major sugarcane production constraints and conventional and genomic-assisted breeding methods, as well as their integration into accelerated breeding and cultivar development for enhanced sugarcane yield and quality traits.

Mugehu described presenting at the SASTA congress to delegates from more than 10 countries as a refreshing experience, saying the event was dynamic and well-organised and enabled her to network with professionals across the sugarcane value chain. The presence of her supervisor, Professor Hussein Shimelis provided encouragement and Mugehu received positive and constructive feedback from the reviewers during the paper editing process, as well as from the audience during the presentation.

Ms Edith Mugehu presenting at the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association Congress.

Mugehu completed her undergraduate degree in agronomy and her master’s in plant breeding at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. She received a Fulbright Hubert Humphrey Fellowship that enabled her to pursue academic study and professional development at Cornell University in New York.

Mugehu chose to undertake her PhD at UKZN, supervised by Shimelis, to contribute a diverse and international perspective to her academic experience thanks to the University’s staff complement of experienced plant science researchers.

She described the University as an inclusive, supportive environment that offers a sense of belonging.

Mugehu is driven to integrate classical breeding techniques with biotechnological innovation to improve small and large-scale crop production. She hopes her PhD research will contribute to the profitability of sugarcane farmers in sub-Saharan Africa through pre-breeding for abiotic and biotic stresses hindering sugarcane production.

She said that the evaluation of agronomic potential, identification of positive genes using molecular marker-assisted selection, and the subsequent acceleration of cultivar production equips farmers with climate-resilient cultivars that can withstand prevailing environmental stresses.

Following her PhD, Mugehu plans to chart a career in research and industry, applying her academic and professional experience to identify market and industry needs, and ultimately ensure product adoption.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: South African Sugar Technologists’ Association

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