Plant science researcher contributes to food security, one garden at a time

Marlese Bester, a final-year master’s student in Plant Health Ecology at the UFS. Photo: Supplied

Marlese Bester, a final-year master’s student in Plant Health Ecology in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State, has a passion for Plant Pathology and Genetics. With her current research, she is screening for resistance in sunflower and soybean cultivars against the fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, using different inoculation techniques.


One could say that her research will later contribute to food security. Marlese had the opportunity to represent South Africa at last year’s global Youth Ag-Summit (YAS) 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. This was a great opportunity for her to not only receive a world perspective on food security, but also to personally contribute to alleviating this worldwide problem.


Selected by Bayer Crop Science to attend the summit, Marlese interacted with students from 49 other countries who were as enthusiastic and passionate as she is about feeding nine billion people by 2050. “I had the opportunity to experience the world through their eyes. This was the type of motivation and energy I had never experienced before,” she said.


To be considered for the summit, Marlese had to write an essay giving her views and ideas on feeding a hungry planet. “I became aware of societies’ need for self-empowerment and believe that the world’s idea of aid is not ideal. Aid must be given in the form of pertinent education and intellectual improvement and not by money, which will only pull down economic systems. Aid should not be a continuous process aimed at changing you to be like me, but making you the best you that you can be where you are planted, building a durable foundation for a reachable goal,” she stated.


Marlese said she believed it was important to teach developing countries realistic agricultural practices that were not limited to local areas


A speaker who made an impact on Marlese was Srinivas Rao, the host and founder of the popular podcast, the Unmistakable Creative. “He said that if something is imperfect it means that there are possibilities. It stood out for me because South Africa has a lot of opportunities to grow, but we must not just keep on raising awareness, we must start taking action,” Marlese said.


She took this statement to heart. During the summit, attendees were challenged to write down “three little things” they would do to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Goal: Reaching a state of zero hunger. Back home, Marlese started motivating schools in Bloemfontein to plant vegetable gardens. She has already received seed from Starke Ayres; enough for 10 schools to each start a vegetable garden.


“The next YAS summit is scheduled for 2019. If you are between 18 and 25 years old, have a passion for agriculture and have innovative solutions for feeding our hungry planet, take this opportunity and apply,” Marlese urged.


Issued by: Lacea Loader
Director: Communication and Brand Management