1 Million Rosehop Seedling Challenge For Former NUL Student

Originally published by NUL Research and Innovations

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‘Miloane Mokhobo, the graduate of the National University of Lesotho (NUL), has come up an innovative way to meet a mammoth challenge. He has a contract to create 1 million rosehip seedlings for a local company that exports lucrative rosehip products overseas. He has just produced 10,000 seedlings! But he knows, as Lao Tzu once said, that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

You may have seen a lot of rosehip, the drought tolerant plant, in the wild in Lesotho. If you live in the North, you call it ‘Morobei, if you are centralised, you call it Khunoana, and if you are from the South, you call it Rose.

What you may not be aware of is that those plants are notoriously difficult to cultivate—that is why we view them simply as wild plants. And most people are not aware of how lucrative they are for business. That is why despite the oil they have being the darling of the international markets, we have not even started thinking about cultivating them in mass scale.

Except for Mokhobo; of course!

He is not only thinking about it, he is doing it. Just after he completed his schooling at the NUL, he volunteered to work for a rosehip company which welcomed the infusion of a fresh blood. The company would soon realise that now it had within its ranks, an inquisitive soul.

“I observed people bringing to the company, rosehip from all over the country,” he said. “One thing characterised the rosehip. It was all from the wild. No one was cultivating it.” When he inquired about how much the oil from the rosehip fetched in the market, he was flabbergasted.

So we were sitting on gold, he thought to himself.

A scientist by nature, he started experimenting and his bosses gave him a green light. His experiments were simple at first. He just took the seeds and planted them in the fields, with a strong faith that they would grow.

They needed more than a faith. There was little if any germination.

It would soon become clear why no one was even trying to cultivate this plant. It wasn’t for the fainthearted. He would spend the next three to four years trying to figure it out. Buried in him are deep secrets of how to do it. He is not there yet. But he had made so much progress that he would then strike an agreement with the same company he volunteered to work for. He now has 10,000 or so seedlings to showcase.

Here is how he got there.

If we may repeat, rosehip cultivation is not for the fainthearted. “I had to immerse myself into a lot of reading and research to uncover the mysteries of this amazing plant,” Mokhobo said.

What did he find?

First, rosehip fruits are known for containing a plenty of seeds covered by a red flesh that is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. The flesh is normally used as tea. And, oh boy! The seeds? They harbour oil that is universally praised for its medicinal properties.

But the problem begins with those seeds. They have hard shells that resist water trying to pass through. But that water is needed for the seeds to germinate. “One scholar suggested that the seeds can stay alive for years in the soil without germinating since they don’t take up water,” Mokhobo said.

So Mokhobo tested a number of ways to soften the seeds without damaging them.

But that is only part of the problem. The seeds have two types of competing hormones. One hormone’s job is to inhibit germination. It is called abscisic acid (ABA). Another hormone’s job is to encourage germination it is called gibberellic acid (GA). Depending on which hormone is dominant, there will be germination or no germination. “Unfortunately, ABA is found in more quantities in the rosehip seeds,” he revealed.

So he had to find ways to reduce the presence of ABA and to encourage dominance of GA. That is not as easy as it sounds. Suffice to say he made trials and trials until he was satisfied that the combination of the method to reduce the shell hardness and to encourage GA dominance resulted in better germination than a single one of them.

But then, he is achieving only 60% germination even with all these efforts. Which is good enough because he is now in business with this method and that is how he produced 10, 000 seedlings. However, scientists are never satisfied unless they are dead.

That is why he is pursuing a totally different method now. Scientists call this “Tissue Culture Technique.” In this case, he experimented with growing the plants from stem nodes instead of seeds (Check his publication here!)

In his experiments, he puts stem notes in shoot inducing medium to grow leaves after two weeks. He then puts them in shoot proliferation medium to multiply the leaves. If he gets funding, he is about to do a final test with root inducing medium.

The unique advantage of rosehip is that it grows optimally on mountainous areas especially in rural areas and it is drought tolerant. If given the attention it deserves, thousands of jobs will come, both directly and indirectly.

“If I succeed with tissue culture, I will be able to produce 10,000 seedlings every month!”

That will be a big deal.

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