Agri Kultuur January / January 2018 - Page 57

fruits are harvested. They have among others established protocols for when varieties such as “Wonderful”, “Acco” and “Herskowitz” should be harvested, what the best packaging materials and methods are, what the optimum storage conditions should be and testing ways to increase shelf life. “South Africa competes with countries such as Chile and Argentina to supply in the off-season demand for pomegranates for consumers in the Northern Hemisphere,” says Prof Opara, who is recognised globally as the leading researcher on pomegranate-related postharvest technology. “If we can provide excellent science, we can help our producers gain an edge.” Opara and his multi-disciplinary research team have already contributed a wealth of knowledge about best practices to South Africa’s emerging pomegranate industry. The past 6 years have also seen the graduation of 20 MSc students and 14 PhD students from a variety of interdisciplinary fields – from food science to engineering and horticulture. These efforts are not only funded through the Department of Science and Technology’s South African Research Chair Initiative, but also through the Postharvest Innovation Fund, the Pomegranate Growers’ Association of South Africa (POMASA), the Perishable Products’ Export Control Board and Biogold International (Ltd). In pursuit of their PhDs Just because their work is about fruit isn’t to say that it is frivolous or was easy to do. Their supervisors expected the highest Dr Ebrahiema Arendse AgriKultuur |AgriCulture possible standards from them, and that as many findings and suggestions as possible are published to the benefit of the scientific community and the industry alike. Dr Arendse and Dr Assefa recall many late nights and early mornings in the laboratory, to ensure that their experiments are completed timeously and properly, and that all the necessary readings and data are gathered so that they can substantiate their suggestions to industry with good science. “There are a few blankets and pillows in one of the offices, in case you have to sleep over while you wait for your experiments to be completed,” Dr Arendse lets slip. “It has happened quite often.” Working with pomegranates can also be more labour-intensive than is probably the case with many other fruits. First there is the challenge of opening the fruit and extracting the arils so that these can be examined. “Even when you get the hang of it, it can still take a minimum of 20 minutes to release all the arils from one fruit,” says Dr Arendse. “And it can cause quite a skin irritation,” adds Dr Belay. “We have spoilt many white lab coats during our studies,” says Dr Arendse. “The juice doesn’t wash out easily, and stains the material.” Quality control without having to cut fruit open: Dr Arendse matriculated from Athlone High School in 2002. His aunt, a lecturer in nursing, Dr Zinash Belay 57