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On 20 January 2021, FABI had the pleasure of hosting a four-hour long virtual congress of the Southern African Society for Plant Pathology (SASPP). The decision to replace the Biennial SASPP Congress – scheduled for January 2021 but cancelled considering adverse circumstances surrounding COVID-19 – was made by the SASPP Council. The event also concluded the United Nations International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) that had been proclaimed for 2020. 

The SASPP President, Prof. Wijnand Swart, opened the virtual meeting by welcoming the 335 registered delegates from 27 countries and during the closing of the event, he announced the winner of the prestigious Biennial John and Petakin Mildenhall Best PhD Award which was awarded for the first time during a SASPP congress. 

The SASPP Council had facilitated the process of procuring applications from prospective candidates that had obtained their PhD during 2020. Applications that met specific criteria for the award were handed to a panel of selected academic and industry members for adjudication. The prestigious John and Petakin Mildenhall Best PhD Award was consequently bestowed upon Dr. Meagan van Dyk from the Department of Plant Pathology, Stellenbosch University.

Dr. van Dyk had graduated in April 2020 under supervision of Prof. Francois Halleen [Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Infruitec-Nietvoorbij] and Prof. Lizél Mostert (Plant Pathology, Stellenbosch University). The title of her PhD thesis was ‘Characterisation, epidemiology and management of olive trunk disease pathogens in South Africa’. The judges were unanimous that Dr van Dyk’s study is well-balanced in terms of basic and applied aspects and contributes new knowledge to the expanding olive industry in South Africa. Her study also clearly reflects the research values of John Mildenhall which have always included strong implementation in practical agriculture. The project was funded by the South African Olive Industry Association (SAOlive), Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) and the ARC. 

Dr. Meagan van Dyk

The SASPP Council would like to congratulate Dr. Van Dyk on being the first recipient of the John and Petakin Mildenhall Best PhD Award and wishes her lots of success and happiness in her career as a plant pathologist. 

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