SA joint venture to create giant lab for fruit diagnostics

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SA joint venture to create giant lab for fruit diagnostics

South Africa's excellent weather with the ability to grow plants 10 months of the year was a major draw for the Dutch variety development company Enza Zaden to invest in an existing cell and tissue culture enterprise in Stellenbosch.

Enza Zaden research and development director Joep Lambalk, speaks to about his company's South African plans.

"As a company we would like to make the translation from successful DNA molecular science into successful crop production."

Enza Zaden is investing in Expressive Research B.V.'s laboratory business in Stellenbosch in a move to extend its cell and tissue cultivation capacities.

Expressive Research's Gene Twister Africa enterprise offers new technology and advice for fruit farmers over when to harvest and how to store and transport crops.

"They do diagnostics for grapes and apples and are able to make virus-free stocks of certain selections of these fruit species on behalf of customers. As a joint venture we would like to do do specific activies related to fruit and vegetable breeding."

Lambalk explains Gene Twister Africa has developed proprietory technology over the exact stage to harvest, store and transport fruit.

"We are going to work together to come up with services for fruit growers with regards to diagnostics on plant pathogens, bacteria and fungi growing problems for the cultivation of fruit crops."

He adds Enza Zaden regards horticulture as a huge industry and that South Africa is a strategic place for supplying the whole world.

"We would like to offer services on this worldwide. We are not only going to work with fruit growers in South Africa but in South America, Australia and the U.S. with the possibilities these customers provide us with some sampling so that we can do the analysis."

Lambalk would not be drawn on how much his firm would invest in the new joint venture, entitled Westcape Biotech, only saying it was a siginicant amount.

"We have invested a lot into this venture which is a large facility with a big tissue culture laboratory with the posibility of appointing more than 20 new people in the laboratory and this is substantial for a cell and tissue lab."

He said staff would be designated to work on cell and tissue culture multiplication of elite genotypes and virus-free stock material plus embryo rescue technologies to combine different genetic pools.

More diagnostic staff would be employed to add to the current team of four who will test on ripening, quality, storage and offer grower advice as well as examine crop samples for suspected pathogens.

Lambalk says Westcap Biotech's location in Stellenbosch close to the university, with the  potential of  employing "highly trained" staff, is a major plus.

Another advantage is the Netherlands and South Africa's are counter-seasonal yet still share the same time zone.

"We are able to spread our activities because we have a continous summer in South Africa's Cape province. The climate is very moderate and nice, whereas the summers  in the Netherlands are absent or relatively short.

"We are able to execute a lot of activities in a relatively simply way without too much high-tech investment in heating and cooling equipment. For example, in the Netherlands we need enormous investments in gas heating equipment and light to create a nice environment for the plants to grow."

In February, Enza Zaden established a South African subsidiary in Oudtshoorn for seed operation production.

The Enkhuizen-based company employs almost 1,400 people worldwide in 15 diffierent countries including the U.K., Australia, Latin America and the U.S.

Lambalk is proud that despite being the seventh largest vegetable seed enterprise in the world exporting to more than 70 countries the company is still an independently family-run business.

Photo: Enza Zaden

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