Research Team Manager:
Dr Michael Wolday Bairu

​Office Administrator
Ms Linda Joubert

The Plant Breeding Programme specializes in research on breeding of indigenous vegetable food crops, potatoes,  sweet potatoes and medicinal plants. The Programme offers expertise in research, development, and technology transfer of related products and services to resource poor and commercial farmers, as well as other agricultural organizations. The major objectives of the programme include:

  • Breeding and commercialization of potatoes
  • Breeding and commercialization of sweet potatoes
  • Breeding, selection and commercialization of indigenous/traditional African vegetables, like Colocasia, Amaranth, Cleome, Corchorus and Vigna
  • Maintenance and commercialization of indigenous floriculture crops, like Lachenalia, Eucomus, Veltheimia and Ornithogalum
  • Conservation and maintenance of germplasm in vitro and in vivo of selected vegetable, ornamental and medicinal crops
    • Mass propogation of plants via tissue culture techniques for industry, government and private clients
    • Quarantine facility for imported material
    • Virus elimination programme
  • Agro-processing of targeted crops to add value to research.

The research group of the division actively promotes collaboration with other ARC Campuses, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Medical Research Council (MRC), various universities, agricultural industries, as well as governmental organizations such as the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Department of Science and Technology and Provincial Departments of Agriculture (PDA), and the industry, like Potatoes South Africa (PSA) and McCain Foods. International collaboration include the Bioversity International, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), International Potato Centre (CIP), Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health (SASHA), Agricultural University of Sweden (SLU) and University of Rostock in Germany.


  • Breeding and commercialization of potatoes

Potato is an important agricultural crop and is the second largest field crop grown in South Africa. The aim of the breeding programme is to release suitable, well-adapted varieties to local conditions in Africa. As part of the ARC 2050 Vision the aim of ARC-VOP is to achieve 30% market share in South Africa with the ARC potato varieties. In this regard, McCain Foods has already contracted one of the new varieties in 2017 as a processing variety to manufacture frozen fries.  Potato production in South Africa increased dramatically after the release of the first locally developed varieties, which were adapted to short day conditions and resistant/tolerant to the prevailing pests and diseases. In the potato breeding program, local and foreign potato varieties, advanced breeding lines and tuber-bearing Solanum species with specific desirable characteristics are used (Read more...)

  • Breeding and commercialization of sweet potatoes

Sweet potato plays an important role in South Africa in terms of food security and alleviating malnutrition. Sweet potato is grown by many resource-poor farmers in virtually all provinces of South Africa. Sweet potato is an excellent source of carbohydrates and has a low glycaemic index (GI). Orange-fleshed types are rich in beta-carotene, a pro-vitamin A carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A by the human body. The ARC-VOP has an excellent history in sweet potato breeding since 1952. To date, 25 cultivars have been released from the breeding program. Most of these cultivars are cream-fleshed and three of these are the main commercialized cultivars currently planted in South Africa, namely, Blesbok, Bosbok and Ribbok (Read more...)

  • Breeding, selection and commercialization of Indigenous/Traditional African Leafy Vegetables

The vision of the indigenous and traditional vegetables breeding program is to contribute to national food security and to create wealth through developing commercially acceptable indigenous and traditional vegetable cultivars. The program concentrates on amaranth, cowpea, spider flower amadumbe and jute (Read more...)

  • Genebanks

Over recent decades, the need for conservation of plant genetic resources has become increasingly urgent as a result of the rapid depletion in the total naturally occurring genetic diversity on the planet.    In an attempt to curb further biodiversity loss, many countries and institutions, including the ARC-VOP, have established genebanks for conservation of their precious plant genetic resources.  The core purpose of the genebanks is conservation and management of genes or plant genotypes, from wild and cultivated species outside of their natural habitat, for current and future use (Read more...)

  • Biotechnology

The biotechnology section of the Plant Breeding Division performs independent research on aspects such as molecular markers, DNA fingerprinting, genetic transformation and mutation breeding technologies.  The ARC-VOP performs DNA fingerprinting as a service to industry, e.g. the potato industry, and to the rest of the ARC, e.g. the in vitro genebank (Read more...)

  • Maintenance and commercialization of indigenous floriculture crops

The vision of the floriculture research program is to create wealth through developing commercially usable products and cost effective production technologies from the genetic resources of the South African floral diversity, so that South Africa can derive direct socio-economic benefit from its floristic wealth. For the success of this program it is essential that gene bank material of the crops are available for breeding, and that new cultivars are developed and released. New cultivars are developed through the utilization of both conventional breeding techniques and innovative new technologies (Read more...)

  • Agro processing

Research on vegetable processing, biochemical and microbial status, as well as development of products is being conducted. Orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) bread, flour and puree are some of the products that are being researched (Read more...)