Category Archives: Feature Section

#COCOAHERO

By: CropLife International

Last year we featured Dr. Mfegue Crescence Virginie, an agronomist from Cameroon, in our #FoodHeroes campaign. Working as the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Program Manager for the World Cocoa Foundation in West Africa, she explained how this viral disease can be damaging for farmers, resulting in more than 15% of global cocoa losses. One year on we followed-up with her to find out the facts behind the recent story that chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 years.

How did you become a plant scientist?

As a teenager, I was inspired by women scientists such as Marie-Curie and I wanted to contribute to the sciences. During my studies, encouraged by successes and learning from failures, I never stopped dreaming about becoming a scientist. Today, I am an agronomist and I hold a PhD in plant pathology, with a special focus on plant-pathogen interactions.

My commitment to science and plant pathology was reinforced in 2008 when I had the opportunity to take part in a Borlaug Fellowship Program (supported by the United States Department of Agriculture and the World Cocoa Foundation) at North Carolina State University. There I met Dr. Jean Ristaino (then a professor in the University’s Department of Plant Pathology) who made a precious gift to me: a book she co-authored, entitled “Pioneering women in plant pathology”.

Why is West Africa home to 70% of the world’s cocoa production?

Cocoa successfully spread throughout Central and West Africa after being introduced to the West African island Sao-Tome in the late 1800s. When cocoa production declined in South America, West Africa took the lead and became the largest cocoa producing region in the 20th century.

Factors explaining the lead of West Africa in cocoa production include: growth preferences characterized by a hot and humid climate, and West Africa’s situation on the so-called cocoa belt around the Equator; a favorable governmental policy environment that promotes cocoa farming; investment into cocoa research; and availability of land and labor. All of these helped to increase production in Africa.

What is your favorite thing about your job and working with cocoa?

Cocoa is one of the most complex and challenging agricultural sectors:

  1. cocoa is essentially produced by smallholder farmers in West Africa, often poor rural inhabitants who rely on cocoa for their income;
  2. 70% of global cocoa is produced in West Africa, but more than 80% of its consumers are in Europe, North America and Asia – Africa consumes less than 4% of cocoa products;
  3. cocoa production in West Africa faces numerous biotic and abiotic threats, in addition to the use of low yield varieties, poor agricultural practices and aging farms.

These things combined can result in a lack of interest in cocoa farming, putting the continued sustainable production of cocoa at risk.

Dr Mfegue Crescence Virginie

In 2015, I was recruited by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) to run a Program on Cocoa Swollen Shoot Disease Virus (CSSV) management and eradication, the most important threat to cocoa in West Africa. My job is about managing the forefront of a challenge that touches millions of lives, from the producers who grow it to the consumers to purchase it. I’m honored to be able to bring some innovative tools to help unlock the puzzle, and at the personal level to ensure cocoa sustainability in West Africa, while bringing brighter days for cocoa farmers. That’s what I am proud of.

A recent article on business insider warned that cocoa plants are under threat of devastation; and that chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 years. Is there any truth to this? And how can plant science help to stop this?

At WCF we are aware that, since 2013, a series of media articles have caused cocoa farmers and chocolate lovers alike to worry that chocolate could become “extinct” in the next few decades. These stories tend to selectively interpret research carried out by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The good news is that we really do not need to start planning for a world without chocolate in the immediate future.

We know that climate change will impact where we can farm cocoa in the future — it is increasingly clear that some land will become less suitable for cocoa production, and some may become more suitable based on the prevailing models. The CIAT models are useful for understanding long-term trends, but are based on a continued ‘business as usual’ approach to growing cocoa. But, at WCF, our work on cocoa sustainability is anything but ‘business as usual’. We are working with partners to identify relevant agricultural practices  that can help farmers mitigate the impact of climate change on cocoa.

For example, cocoa, like most tropical crops, needs a high level of humidity to grow, so it could be affected by lengthy dry seasons, changes in precipitation, and pest and diseases that change as a result of changes in carbon dioxide and temperature. Ongoing studies at the University of Reading – and sister institutions – on water use efficiency and other physiological parameters will provide further insights on how to grow climate smart cocoa that is more resilient to the impacts of climate change. In the meantime, we plan to initiate trials in multiple locations to identify tolerant cocoa genotypes in exiting collections and germplasms around the world.

What’s your favorite type of chocolate?

Dark-milk chocolate with an average of 70% of cocoa butter is my favorite. I am passionate about the traditional flavor attributes of cocoa from West Africa, but at the same time I have a slight taste preference for South American organic cocoa. This could probably be due to some of my readings on the Mayans and Aztec bitter and hot beverage “Xocoatll”, but the “Food of the Gods” still has a long journey, as Ed Seguine would say.

This is an extract from the full interview, which is available in the blog. Click here to read more about Virginie and cocoa, including more information on the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), the threats cocoa farmers face, and how the WCF is helping improve their livelihoods.

You can find out more about West African cocoa farmers on our Cocoa In West Africa: Training through local partnerships page.

MEET A WEST AFRICAN COCOA FARMER

By: CropLife International

The first building block of a chocolate bar, a chocolate cake, or a brownie is the cocoa plant, which is mainly grown in West Africa. The second is the farmers who grow it. CropLife International trained cocoa farmers in Ghana to manage pests responsibly and sustainably so their crop can thrive. Agnes Quaye, a cocoa farmer, talks about the reality of growing cocoa.

 

 

Find out more about Agnes and other West African cocoa farmers on our Cocoa In West Africa: Training through local partnerships page.

10 GREATEST CONTRIBUTORS TO SUSTAINABLE FARMING

By: CropLife International

In honor of World Food Day Oct. 16, this month is the perfect time to recognize the World Food Prize founder and some of the laureates who were pioneers in plant breeding and sustainable food production. Tweet us @CropLifeIntl and let us know who would be on your list!

 

The Father of The Green Revolution

Who: Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, plant scientist from the United States, known as the “father of the Green Revolution.”

Innovation: Developed successive generations of wheat varieties with broad and stable disease resistance that were adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions with exceedingly high yield potential.

Impact: The new wheat varieties, alongside improved crop management practices, transformed agricultural production in Mexico during the 1940s and 1950s and later in Asia and Latin America. The increased production helped combat hunger and famine, crediting Borlaug with saving “more lives than any other person who has ever lived.”

Recognition: Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for a lifetime of work to feed a hungry world. As founder of the World Food Prize, he in turn recognized agricultural research and technologies to convince leaders to support them.

 

India’s Breadbasket Hero

WhoDr. Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, plant scientist from India.

Innovation: He worked with Borlaug to develop higher yielding wheat varieties with stalk structures strong enough to support their increased biomass. The first year’s harvest alone tripled previous production levels. Swaminathan also taught Indian farmers how to effectively increase production by using fertilizers and more efficient farming techniques.

Impact: Swaminathan’s efforts transformed India from a “begging bowl” to a “breadbasket” almost overnight, bringing the total wheat crop from 12 million to 23 million tons in four crop seasons and ending India’s reliance on imports. He later worked with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to establish agricultural policies and programs to enhance long-term self-sufficiency.

Recognition: Swaminathan received the first World Food Prize in 1987 for improving Indian agriculture.

 

Integrated Pest Management Pioneers

Who: Drs. Ray F. Smith and Perry L. Adkisson, agronomists from the United States.

Innovation: Developed and popularized Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – the best combination of cultural, biological and chemical measures to manage diseases, insects, weeds and other crop pests. Seeking to reduce reliance on crop protection products alone, Smith and Adkisson worked both independently and together to demonstrate the value of IPM programs.

Impact: U.S. government statistics estimate that American farmers’ need for insecticides dropped by 50 percent as they adopted an IPM approach to managing pests. Over 75 percent of U.S. farmers use IPM systems today. The United Nations estimates that over 1 million farmers in more than 60,000 villages in every region of the world have applied IPM methods with increased production in some cases.

Recognition: Smith and Adkisson shared the 1997 World Food Prize for developing and popularizing IPM.

 

Two Incredible Rice Breeders

Who: Dr. Monty Jones of Sierra Leone and Dr. Yuan Longping of China.

Innovation: These two rice scientists independently made breakthroughs in breeding rice. Jones created a rice variety bred for conditions in Africa with the ability to resist weeds, survive droughts and thrive in poor soils – a crop capable of increasing farmers’ harvests by 25 to 250 percent. Longping is known as the “father of hybrid rice,” the first scientist to successfully alter the self-pollinating characteristics of rice to allow for large-scale hybrid rice production.

Impact: Jones’ rice benefits 20 million farmers and 240 million consumers in West Africa alone. Longping’s discovery increased rice yields by 20 percent, feeding about 70 million more people annually. His research institute has trained over 3,000 scientists from more than 50 countries, inspiring hybrid rice production around the world.

Recognition: Jones and Longping won the 2004 World Food Prize during the International Year of Rice declared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

 

Plant Biotech’s Three Founders

Who: Three plant scientists — Dr. Marc Van Montagu of Belgium and Drs. Mary-Dell Chiltonand Robert T. Fraley of the United States.

Innovation: They independently pioneered research on the successful transfer of bacterial genes into plants, creating the world’s first biotech crops with improved yields, resistance to insects and diseases, and tolerance to herbicides and extreme climatic conditions. Van Montagu founded two biotechnology companies which pioneered work on insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops. Chilton established one of the first industrial agricultural biotechnology programs, leading research on disease and insect resistance and improving transformation systems in crops. At Monsanto Company, Fraley led the genetic modification of several crops to be resistant to insect and weed pests as well as tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate and climatic stress, such as excessive heat and drought.

Impact: Since biotech crops were introduced in 1996, 18 million farmers in 26 countries have planted 185 million hectares, generating $150 billion USD in additional farm income.

Recognition: Van Montagu, Chilton and Fraley shared the 2013 World Food Prize for their breakthroughs in founding, developing and applying modern biotechnology to crops.

 

The Anti-Poverty Leader

Who: Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, development pioneer from Bangladesh.

Innovation: Developed BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), which many claim to be the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world. The objectives of BRAC’s agriculture and food security program have been to increase crop and livestock production while ensuring environmental sustainability, adaptability to climate change, and affordability for marginal and small farmers. Essential to this approach is ensuring that improved inputs and technologies are taken to the poor farmers—and that the experience of the farmers is brought back to the laboratories—in a continual cycle of innovation.

Impact: BRAC has helped nearly 150 million people worldwide, especially women, improve their lives, enhance food security and move out of poverty. It has also helped more than 500,000 farmers gain access to efficient farming techniques, technologies, training and financial support services, significantly increasing yields.

Recognition: Abed was honored as the 2015 World Food Prize laureate for developing BRAC

Learn more about World Food Prize laureates at WorldFoodPrize.org.

‘OSCARS OF AGRICULTURE’ RECOGNIZE HUMANITARIANS

The World Food Prize, known to some as the Oscars of agriculture, is awarded annually to one or more individuals who have made a great achievement in furthering sustainable agriculture and global food security. Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, tells us more.

What inspired you to take the position of president of the World Food Prize after such an illustrious career in the foreign service?

Ironically, I had no contact with agriculture and no interest in it at the outset of my career. When I joined the U.S. foreign service in 1967, I thought I’d be going to fancy places like London, Paris and Brussels but instead, I was sent to Vietnam to do rural development and I was out working in villages when the Green Revolution began. Norman Borlaug was bringing his miracle wheat to Mexico at that time and I saw high-yielding rice that could grow in half the time come to Vietnam. It transformed the lives of people in one or two growing seasons.

When I finished in 1999 as ambassador in Cambodia, I was approached to take over the World Food Prize and I finally met Borlaug. I thought he’d think I was some fancy pants diplomat but when I explained the importance of infrastructure to rural development, Borlaug pounded his fist on the table in agreement and screamed “roads!” He said that if you don’t have roads, you might as well not have the food. After that, we worked together to grow the World Food Prize.

How does it feel to encourage excellence in agricultural production around the world?

It feels marvelous to be able to hold up Borlaug’s legacy and continue his work, harnessing the power of science to uplift farmers, especially smallholder farmers. Borlaug wondered if the Green Revolution would hit Africa and it is great that this year’s winner is from there. Actually, we now have six World Food Prize laureates from Africa as the World Food Prize is helping fulfill the goal Borlaug had of inspiring leaders in countries across the continent

How has the World Food Prize contributed to agricultural improvement?

At its most basic, this annual prize of $250,000 recognizes and inspires individuals who have improve the quality, quantity and availability of food to reduce hunger and malnutrition. We also organize an annual symposium called the Borlaug Dialogue to highlight key issues facing global agriculture and food security. It regularly draws over 1,000 people from about 60 countries. Bill Gates launched his Africa project from the World Food Prize stage and Indra

Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico, launched her company’s global nutrition challenge. Tony Blair and Kofi Annan are other examples of headliners.

The Global Youth Institute is our third project. We recruit 15- to 17-year-old students from nine countries to rub shoulders with ministers of agriculture and present papers with solutions to agricultural challenges. Most are urban high school students with no background in agriculture or farming and about two-thirds are women. They are interested in the environment, biotechnology, climate volatility and gender equity – all of which fall under rural and agricultural development. We have 200 students per symposium, 24 of which are sent to leading agricultural research centers around world for internships. They come back transformed and inspired to deal with issues of food security, human nutrition and making the world better

What are the common values or characteristics of World Food Prize laureates?

As part of the World Food Prize process for the past 18 years, I have the great privilege of calling up the winners or telling them face to face that they’ve won. In each case, it takes their breath away. They are taken with this honor. The laureates are characterized by humility and dedication. Every one of them has put in extra effort somewhere, overcome a hurdle or taken an arduous path at times – such as blocks in research – and yet with perseverance, they never gave up. Many of the living laureates come to the World Food Prize each year. They are the all-star team of food production and hunger reduction in all of human history.

Which agricultural technologies and practices have the greatest potential to enhance future food production and security?

Can we produce enough nutritious food in a sustainable way and can we do so in face of climate volatility, droughts and floods that smallholder farmers must face? The debate of biotechnology is over. “Science is the multiplier of the harvest,” says a National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. The World Food Prize was presented in 2013 to biotech pioneers. Smallholder farmers, namely women, who are barely able to have a sustainable harvest, need every possible asset on their side. Crop surpluses will uplift their lives and feed more people. Opponents of biotechnology have to answer the question: Am I going to deny this asset to those smallholder farmers? I don’t believe you can in good conscience. They should have the best technology available to them to combat flooding, etc. It’s a race of science and agricultural research to combat these difficult challenges.

Precision agriculture, satellites and cell phones are also important so farmers know when to plant and what to do. Same with CRISPR technology and gene editing. The next Borlaug Dialogue will be a CRIPSR panel talking about the challenge of change in research and the importance of agricultural and medical research scientists collaborating more. We need to take lessons from one discipline to another.

Synthetic biology will also be part of our future. That’s where you can replicate living things digitally and transmit them via the Internet. For example, if there is a pig disease outbreak outside of the U.S., quarantined pig parts can be transmitted digitally to U.S. labs so scientists here can develop vaccines and send the formulas digitally back to where the outbreak took place.

The final area with enormous potential is biofortification – improving the nutritional composition of crops like vegetables and grains – which can be done with traditional plant breeding or genetic modification.

We’ve come a long way in agriculture. How much further can we go?      

In the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, we have a history of human agriculture of 10,000 years – from the first seed in Mesopotamia to the 20th century when breakthroughs came at

the most amazing rate. But it’s clear, as in medicine, that more is certainly possible. Spreading technology and the road out of poverty is the theme of the World Food Prize this year because roads are key to spreading technology; nutrition, science and better seeds.

Do we have the resources to take agricultural research to the next level

Borlaug lamented underfunded public agricultural research. If we don’t put money into agricultural research, we will not have the tools necessary to meet greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Investing in agricultural research at the state and national levels is one of very best ways of creating more jobs and stimulating breakthrough achievements that need to be developed. We’ve created the greatest system of agricultural research that’s ever existed, but will we use it to its fullest capacity, especially in the developing world where the most food insecure people live?

Visit the World Food Prize website to find out more about the Borlaug Dialogues this year 18-20 October. Follow it online using #FoodPrize17 

VIDEO: NORMAN BORLAUG 100 YEARS TRIBUTE FROM WORLD FOOD PRIZE

By: CropLife International

 Watch this video to learn about the phenomenal legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug, plant breeder, Nobel Prize laureate and World Food Prize founder. “When you talk about food security, it doesn’t take very long for the name Norman Borlaug to come up,” said former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “He dedicated his entire life and career to feeding the world’s hungry.” Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack added: “Norm felt the responsibility to make sure that those below saw the same vision he saw of a world without hunger, a world with peace.”

 

FAO Focus on “Food Security” this World Food Day Supported by CropLife Asia

Singapore, 16 October 2017 – This World Food Day CropLife Asia commended the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for its efforts to bring greater awareness to the need for Food Security in combatting global hunger, and took the opportunity to herald the contributions farmers enabled by plant science technologies are making in Asia and around the world are making to feed a growing population.

According to data from the FAO, world hunger is on the rise with an estimated number of undernourished people increasing from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Meanwhile, the Food Security situation has also visibly worsened in parts of the world, including South Eastern and Western Asia.

“The number of people in Asia without adequate access to a safe and nutritious food supply is growing – and that’s simply unacceptable,” said Dr. Siang Hee Tan. “The responsibility to ensure everyone has enough healthy food to eat is a shared one. The plant science industry fully supports the FAO in the pursuit of wiping out world hunger, and is committed to ensuring farmers in Asia are empowered and enabled to produce more food for a growing population.”

According to the UN, the world’s population is projected to exceed nine billion inhabitants by the year 2050, and Asia alone is expected to have roughly one billion more people living within it[1].

Growers around the world will need to produce as much as 70% more food than today to meet the expected needs of our population by 2050 while facing a host of obstacles including climate change. The numerous innovations of plant biotechnology and crop protection will be key in driving sustainable production of a safe and nutritious food supply to feed our growing population.

“FAO numbers indicate that 85% of the world’s 525 million smallholder farmers live and work within our continent,” added Dr. Tan. “These farmers are crucial to combatting hunger in Asia; they deserve our support and access to the latest technological tools to grow more food with fewer natural resources.”

Crop protection products prevent nearly 40% of global rice and maize harvests from being lost every year[2]. Meanwhile, biotech crops helped slow the advance of climate change by reducing carbon emissions.  For example, it is estimated biotech crop plantings in 2015 reduced carbon emissions by 26.7 billion kg which is equivalent to taking 11.9 million cars off the road for one year.[3]

About CropLife Asia

CropLife Asia is a non-profit society and the regional organization of CropLife International, the voice of the global plant science industry.  We advocate a safe, secure food supply, and our vision is food security enabled by innovative agriculture.  CropLife Asia supports the work of 15 member associations across the continent and is led by eight member companies at the forefront of crop protection, seeds and/or biotechnology research and development.  For more information, visit us at www.croplifeasia.org

For more information please contact:

Duke Hipp                                                                                      

Director, Public Affairs                                                                 

CropLife Asia                                                                  

Tel: (65) 6221 1615                                                                                                    

duke.hipp@croplifeasia.org

[1] United Nations, Population Division, World Population Prospects
[2] Oerke, E.C., 2006, “Crop losses to pests,” Journal of Agricultural Science, vol. 144
[3] International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Brief 52 – 2016

TOP FIVE WAYS PLANT SCIENCE BENEFITS NATURE

By: CropLife International

01

Up to 50,000 square kilometers of soil is lost every year to soil erosion so plant scientists are working hard to stop it. In Canada, for example, farmers who planted herbicide-tolerant canola without tillage reduced soil erosion by 86 percent.

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02

Herbicide-tolerant biotech crops enable farmers to use herbicides instead of tillage (turning over soil) for weed control. This leaves crop stubble in the field, which improves habitat and food sources for insects, birds and other animals.

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03

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that around 1 billion people in dry regions may face increasing water scarcity in the near future. To address this challenge, plant scientists have developed biotech crops with drought-tolerant and water use efficiency traits. Moreover, with no-till farming, thanks to herbicide-tolerant systems, farmers can increase soil moisture by as much as 24 percent.

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04

Biotechnology and crop protection products allow farmers to grow more food on existing farmland . Between 1996 and 2015, biotechnology alone was responsible for additional global production of 574 million tonnes of crops, predominantly soybeans, maize, cotton and canola. As a result, 174 million hectares of farmland expansion was prevented.

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05

Herbicide-tolerant crops allow for no-till farming which leaves soil undisturbed and carbon in the ground. With the use of such biotech crops from 1996 to 2015, nearly 27 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions were not released into the atmosphere – equivalent to taking 11.9 million cars off the road for one year.

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Working together, biotech crops and crop protection products contribute to sustainable agriculture by increasing production on the current 1.5 billion hectares of global crop land, allowing for no-till farming and more efficient use of natural resources.