Let us first try to create a mental image, shall we? Imagine there are 4 colleagues; Herb, Elite, Susan and Paul. Elite (the boss) is a very unpredictable being who changes moods frequently like a chameleon. Susan and Paul are ‘loyal’ to the boss hence their emotions are entirely dependent on Elite’s emotions. However, Herb’s emotions are consistent and never influenced by anyone. Herb is mostly guided by principles. Even though Herb portrays a very noble character, it does strain his relationship with Elite, Susan and Paul in the work environment. In most cases, it results in Herb pulling away hence he is restricted to produce high quality results.
In the world of weed management, the above-mentioned characters represent the following
- Elite: Environment/ Climatic factors
- Susan: Soil
- Paul: Plants
- Herb: Herbicides
As we all know weather is unpredictable. It has so much influence on plants and the soil characteristics, both short and long term. Herbicides on the other hand, are compounds with defined chemical characteristics determined to execute their specific mode of action. Our biggest problem in the agricultural sector is that we suit the herbicide chemical to ideal environmental conditions, however, the conditions are adverse in the field. Adjuvants have been used for ages to resolve this problem, but can’t we do more? How about developing adaptive herbicides?
The big idea is to make adaptive herbicides/ herbicide tanks that can detect the changes in the environment. This detection can predict the response of either the soil or plants and hence results in the herbicide acting accordingly.
I have been working on the compound glufosinate ammonium for the past 4 years since my Masters study. Both Masters and PhD studies aim to investigate factors leading to glufosinate ammonium inconsistencies. I engaged one of the engineers (candidate), Thabo Monoto, who is also studying at Stellenbosch University on the matter. Jokingly, we ended up concluding that we need a ‘human herbicide’ and that meant herbicides that have senses. It is from the joke that we realised this could be a possible development. I believe this is a huge opportunity to immensely improve herbicide efficacy in farming systems.
What has been done so far
Currently, we have discussed a few possibilities and methods of how we can try to develop the idea into something concrete and it is with great pleasure that I inform you that there 2 methods which are ready to be tried. I have also discussed with my supervisor, Dr PJ Pieterse, on possibilities of making it a PhD thesis. However, besides the fact that its an unventured ground and might give the student serious problems, funding is also another problem. His advice was that I search for a research company that is interested in investing towards the idea. Our success for this project would be determined by the availability of at least 2 tested techniques in the field. This development will advance weed management technologies and benefit farmers around the globe. We believe that the advancement will also provide a unique and novel approach towards herbicide resistance problems.
A large gap remains in research capacity between Africa and the rest of the world. I believe establishing next generation partnerships with developed countries will not only improve the agricultural sector but will also promote advanced research in Africa. I, therefore, humbly submit this proposal to the Next Generation Programme Coordination team to be considered for the IUPAC 2019 next generation Programme and N-GAGE champion competition. This will be a great platform to connect with researchers and respective companies willing to work with us on the project. Furthermore, it will provide us with funds and more ideas.
Tendai Mucheri, Zimbabwe/South Africa