All roads led to the TRFCA Mimosa research station on the foothills of the Mulanje Mountains in Malawi on the 11th May 2012 where several members from the SABINA/POL-SABINA network gathered to witness the official handover of the POL-SABINA rain shelter. This event marked the culmination of years of hard work and commitment from several dedicated role players including Professor Apostolides at the University of Pretoria, Mr Andrie Lombard the consulting engineer, Dr Albert Changaya and his team at the Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa (TRFCA), Ms Ella Nyakunu the POL-SABINA project manager and especially Dr Morris at the African Centre for Gene Technologies (ACGT) who motivated for and obtained the funding necessary to execute this project. The project was funded by the European Union as part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states Science and Technology Programme (ACP S&T).
The occurrence of droughts in several parts of the world has led to devastating consequences in agricultural production and it has become clear that the development of drought tolerant cultivars for all crops is necessary. The Malawi rain shelter is a framework with a movable roof covered with transparent sheets. The roof is controlled by an electric motor which allows one to automatically adjust the setting from allowing water in to keeping water out, thereby controlling rain-fall and permitting on-demand droughts for research and the development of prospective drought-tolerant cultivars. Hence, the rain shelter is a facility for growing quantities of test plants under controlled conditions so as to demonstrate their qualities to farmers and agro-industries.
Although situated at the TFRCA the facility is not just for tea research but also for other plants including medicinal herbs being investigated by other SABINA partners. Once the plants are grown the next phase is to process them and extract the active ingredient(s). This is where the participation of the CSIR comes in since the CSIR is equipped with a GMP botanical supplies unit which can process pilot quantities of plant material to provide plant extracts for further testing and investigation.
As part of the POL-SABINA initiative, open days will be held at both this new rain shelter facility and at the CSIR in Pretoria. Farmers, entrepreneurs and the general public will be enabled to gain a better understanding of the potential of natural products and of the work being undertaken within the SABINA network. The attendees at the open days will be provided with opportunities for discussion and questions, and it is hoped that this will stimulate more awareness of the potential for the commercialisation of research projects.