InnovateUK programme unearths beneficial mechanisms of novel agricultural biostimulants in the African agricultural staple maize

An internationally funded consortium working towards increasing yield and nutritional value of staple crops in Africa recently concluded an InnovateUK-funded programme. Despite the restrictions on travel due to COVID-19, the programme delivered promising results after being initiated in November 2019. The consortium was led by the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with Omnia Nutriology®, the University of Pretoria (through the African Centre for Gene Technologies) and the University of Johannesburg.

An innovative approach was followed by combining high-throughput, high coverage metabolomics analyses of individual plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR or biostimulant strains), as well as novel combinations of the strains. Analyses were also undertaken of maize plants grown under controlled conditions, as well as at different field sites in the main maize growing areas of South Africa, treated with the biostimulants. The field trials provided ample plant material for detailed analyses of metabolite changes between the treatments, and hence gave insights into the mechanisms by which these biostimulants increased yield and altered metabolites with direct association to yield and nutritional benefits of the staple.

A number of programme outputs have been achieved, that will target different audiences in the academic and agricultural industries. Included are two review manuscripts (one published), three peer-reviewed manuscripts (in preparation), an interview article in the UK Crop Production Magazine, three conference presentations and a video for public dissemination (currently being finalized).

In addition, a demonstration site for African smallholder farmers is also being planned and will be implemented as soon as South African COVID restrictions allow. The demonstration site will extend knowledge on general soil health and optimal maize growth to smallholder farmers (as an introduction); through hands-on experience as well as extension manuals.

The programme established and strengthened ties between multiple research organizations, from both the academic and industry side, and has opened new avenues to further explore refinement of the biostimulants under study.

The consortium would like to sincerely thank InnovateUK, the United Kingdom’s innovation agency; as well as Omnia Nutriology®, for providing financial support to make the research programme possible.