Plant Pathology

Plant Pathology as a Career

What's making my plants sick?

A plant pathologist is a person who specialises in plant health just like a doctor specialises in human health or a veterinarian in animal health. Keeping plants healthy requires an understanding of the organisms and agents that cause disease and in-depth knowledge of how plants grow and are affected by plant pathogens. Plant diseases can be caused by micro-organisms (called plant pathogens) such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, insects, protozoa, and parasitic plants. Non-living agents such as air pollutants, nutrient imbalances, and various environmental factors including climate change can also affect plant health.  New diseases and changes in existing pathogens remain a constant threat to our forests, food, environmental and landscape plants. The modern plant pathologist strives to apply his knowledge to obtain a better understanding of factors involved in plant diseases and to develop and/or evaluate disease control measures that are not detrimental to the environment or public health.

What does undergraduate training involve?

The BSc (Agric) is a professional degree that prepares the candidate for a career in agriculture.  The candidate may proceed directly into a master’s degree after completing the four-year programme. During the first year of study the student is exposed to basic principles of Chemistry, Mathematics, Microbiology, Genetics, Botany, Entomology and Molecular Biology. From the second year onwards specialised training is undertaken in Mycology, Virology, Bacteriology, Plant Breeding, Parasitology, Epidemiology, and Disease Control. Students also take courses in supplementary subjects like Biochemistry, Plant Production, Horticultural Sciences, Agricultural Economics, Computer Science, Soil Science and Biometry. 

Students may also pursue a BSc (Agric) Plant Sciences degree with specialisation in Plant Pathology. Many of the same subjects are included in this three-year degree.


What are your career opportunities as a plant pathologist?

Plant pathologists have a wide choice of occupations, ranging from basic to high technology research-based to practical fieldwork. Career opportunities include research or teaching at universities, technicons, institutes of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), organisations like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), Perishable Produce Export Control Board (PPECB), agrochemical and seed companies, retail, exporting and importing companies, nursery industry, co-operatives, food industry and private estates. Plant pathologists can also go into private practice and operate as consultants.

The plant pathology section also houses a well-known Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic



Welcome to the wonderful, exciting world of Plant Pathology

Projections for the next 20 years indicate continued demand for plant pathologists in South Africa and abroad. Make the right choice for you.  It is your future, your dream and your happiness.  If you want to be challenged, allowed to be creative, explorative and have the freedom to make a difference and change the world, then this is the career for you.  Come and live your dream. With a solid foundation in science and the desire to discover the world of plant pathology, your possibilities and opportunities are numerous.


Where can I obtain more information?

Kindly phone Prof Lise Korsten at 012 420 3295 or send an email to Lise.korsten AT

or Prof Jacquie van der Waals at 012 420 4065, email Jacquie.vdwaals AT, for further information on Plant Pathology.

- Author PCLR
Published by Jacquie van Der Waals

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