#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.

OUR 10 FAVORITE VIDEOS FROM LAST YEAR

By: CropLife International

From animations about global issues, to sharing stories about plant scientists and farmers, CropLife International houses a media library of over 200 videos. Here’s a look back at some of our favorite clips from 2017, including how to bring a crop protection product to market and innovations in plant breeding.

01

Training Vietnamese Rice Farmers

CropLife International is currently collaborating with the German international development organization GIZ, and the Vietnamese government, to train rice farmers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. In this video staff involved in the project explain how they are teaching farmers to protect their crops using integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.

 

 

This video is part of a series of five videos. Watch the playlist to find out from the farmers themselves how these training courses have changed their lives by helping them protect their crops.

02

Barriers and Innovations for Smallholder Farmers

Last October CropLife International partnered with Devex to organize a debate on the future of farming, looking at how innovations can boost smallholder livelihoods. During the event Julie Borlaug gave a TED-style talk on the barriers smallholder farmers face today and how technology can help them progress: “because the technology and innovations we have currently should be with the smallholder farmer!”

 

 

In case you missed the event, you can find all the talks and interviews on our YouTube channel including a recording of the event.

03

Plant Breeding Innovation

“Throughout history consumer and farmer needs have been answered with science, what could the future hold?”

Produced in partnership with the American Seed Trade Association, this video shows how plant breeding innovation has evolved to help us face 21st century challenges.

 

 

04

Your Crop Protection Questions Answered

Ever wondered how farmers trap insects, how fungi can help protect crops, or how much herbicide is needed to protect a field of crops? Find out more in this short series of videos.

 

 

05

The Latest Biological Plant Science Statistics

Did you know that growth in sales of biologicals increased by almost 10 times more in the last 10 years than growth in the synthetic crop protection market? Or that there are 2,300 biological products on the market? These six short animations will bring you up to date with the latest biological plant science statistics.

 

 

06

How Nature Provides Pesticides

Plant scientists use nature to develop products and pesticides that help all farmers – including organic farmers – to protect their crops. Watch this video to find out how tea tree oil and other natural products are used in crop protection.

 

 

07

The Important Role Plant Science Plays in Conserving Water

All life, especially crops, depends on water to grow. Agriculture today uses three times the amount of water it did 50 years ago, and by 2050 water usage is expected to increase by 19 percent. This video explains how plant science is helping farmers use water more efficiently to conserve this precious natural resource.

 

 

08

Bringing a Crop Protection Product to Market

Farmers work hard to grow healthy crops, but pests work even harder to destroy them. That’s why the crop protection industry has dedicated plant scientists working tirelessly to develop solutions for farmers. This video shows the steps involved to bring a crop protection product from the lab to market.

 

 

09

Honey Bees Abuzz Around the World

Pollinators play a vital role in growing many of the world’s key crops – one third of global food production is improved with the help of pollinators, most of which is performed by bees.

 

 

10

Boosting Health with Biofortified Foods

The plant science industry is working to improve public health worldwide by making crops more nutritious. This video shows how enriching crops can tackle issues like anemia.

 

2017’S MOST POPULAR FOOD HEROES

By: CropLife International

Last year we continued showcasing the good work done by farmers and plant scientists through our #FoodHeroes campaign. Originally launched in 2016 with 40 inspirational people, the campaign continued to grow throughout 2017. Today there are almost 100 Food Hero profiles online, each one explaining what motivates them and how their work helps bring food to our tables.

This month we’re featuring ten of the most popular Food Heroes from 2017.

  “Three things fascinate me the most [about my job] – incredible chemistry within plants, large data from plant biology laboratories and the ability to conceptualize large data using computing algorithms and resources. Ultimately, it will be beautiful if we can understand the basics of plant stress response and use it to the benefit of mankind without disrespecting the powers of nature.”

Ramanathan Sowdhamini is a professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, India. She comes from a chemistry background and was trained as a structural bioinformatician, with a focus on protein structure prediction and similarities among proteins.

View Ramanathan’s profile

“I was born in a small rural farming community on the Kenyan Coast. At the age of 7, I was introduced to farming. My parents, who were teachers and farmers, gave me a strip of land along the river, on which I planted cabbages. Every day I went to watch their progress, and slowly the cabbages came up, green and vibrant. Then one day the rains came, and kept coming, and the river rose higher and higher, until it flooded out the cabbages and destroyed my small farm patch.”

Esther Ngumbi is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in Alabama, United States. Her experience with farming growing up inspired her to pursue a career that would allow her to find solutions to the challenges farmers around the world face today. She loves her work and believes she has the “best job in the world!”

View Esther’s profile

 

  “Plants are complex and I was always intrigued by what their full potential was by manipulating and introducing certain conditions. I love how we are able to offer them the most ideal environments and allow them the opportunity to flourish in these situations. What truly inspires me about what I do is that fact that I can see my work in action. These plants and their fruit will directly affect someone’s day and life. I am young, energetic and enjoy the practical applications of our work and innovations.”

Dusty Zamecnik is a fourth-generation farmer at EZ Grow Farms in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada. He graduated in 2013 from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor of Business Administration, and is the Young Farmer Representative for the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

View Dusty’s profile

“The number of people actively involved in producing our food is diminishing each day. That is why the responsibility of those who decided to remain in this profession is increasing. We give these farmers the responsibility to feed the world, and in return we must give them the tools to do so. As an agronomist and farmer, I must understand both perspectives.”

Alina Cretu is a Romanian maize, sunflower and wheat farmer and Director of the Romanian Maize Growers Organization.

View Alina’s profile

 

  “Farmers should always be aware of new innovations and ways to improve their production.

I love growing sugarcane because it’s such a major source of food and energy. But I can lose up to 10 percent in productivity and 5 percent in sugarcane quality to the borer.”

Sugarcane farmer Evandro Piedade Do Amaral, who started his farm at the age of 25, enjoys growing sugarcane, but gets disheartened by insect infestations.

View Evandro’s profile

“The damage to a farmer’s crops [caused by caterpillars] can be really devastating, causing dramatically reduced yields and, in some cases, entire crop losses. To see the products that we started in a breeding program now selling as the best products in the market is inspiring.”

Gabriela Luciani is a plant scientist for Monsanto. She developed biotech soybeans that are resistant to caterpillars. Today around a third of Argentine farmers are using her insect-resistant variety.

View Gabriela’s profile

 

  “Remmy is a food hero because in front of the very real challenge of reaching a large number of growers, he found a practical and simple solution to expand the reach and diversity of agricultural training and advice, linking together many different players all equally engaged in unlocking the potential of Zambian emerging growers.”

Remmy Mainga is a technical sales manager in Lusaka, Zambia. He helps emerging growers move from small scale, subsistence farming to larger commercial operations.

View Remmy’s profile

“I became a scientist because I grew up being extremely curious about the natural world. I wanted to know how living organisms function. How they became the way they are. My aim is to perform cutting-edge research and significantly advance knowledge on economically important plant pathogen systems.”

Sophien Kamoun is a plant scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, United Kingdom. Passionate about plant pathogens, he works primarily on blight and blast diseases.

View Sophien’s profile

 

  “During my undergraduate studies, I was deeply inspired by female scientists such as Marie Curie. The choice to be a plant scientist probably came from memories of my vacations while I was teenager; I was inspired by seeing my grandparents taking care of their crops and how important it was for them to have healthy farms.”

Dr. Virginie Mfegue is the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus (CSSV) Program Manager in West Africa at the World Cocoa Foundation. She is in charge of leading a multicomponent research and development program aimed at developing tools for the control of CSSV and the protection of cocoa farms.

View Virginie’s profile

“Every profession has got challenges and agriculture is no exception. What inspires me to overcome these challenges is to lead a self-sufficient and respectable living. I must able to feed my family, give good education to my children and to make some savings for my old age. Above all growing crops and feeding the world gives eternal satisfaction.”

Sudhindra is a mixed farmer from the remote village of Jevargi, Kalaburagi district, India. He grows Bt cotton, wheat, pigeon peas, rice chickpea and jowar (sorghum).

View Sudhindra’s profile

 

Would you like to submit a Food Hero? It’s not too late, please keep sending them in your #FoodHeroes here.

View the #FoodHeroes:

TOP 10 STUDIES YOU SHOULD HAVE READ IN 2017 (BUT MIGHT HAVE MISSED)

By: CropLife International

As we kick off 2018, we want to make sure that you’re equipped with the most up to date information on plant science in sustainable agriculture. So we have created a list of the most influential studies published over the last 12 months. Take a look to make sure you didn’t miss any!

01

Annual Update on Status of Biotech Crops Around the World

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016, by James C

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual global biotech crop acreage report, which features data on the environmental and socio-economic benefits of plant biotech. ISAAA reported that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions; conserved biodiversity by removing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015; and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture with a 19% reduction in herbicide and insecticide applications. Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.

Download the report or read our summary

 

02

United States Government Assesses Safety of Glyphosate

Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Glyphosate, by the United States Environmental Protection Agency

The safety of the popular herbicide glyphosate was a hot topic in 2017. Many in the plant science industry feared that the politically-motivated calls to remove glyphosate from the market would set a worrying precedent for crop protection products globally. In December the US Environmental Protection Agency published draft risk assessments that concluded glyphosate is unlikely to be carcinogenic to humans, and when used correctly poses no other meaningful risks to human health. The assessments will be open for public comment for 60 days later this year.

Download the risk assessments or read the press release

 

03

Assessing the True Cost of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Human cost burden of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. A critical review, by Bond G, Dietrich D

German researchers carried out a review of recent studies on the economic cost of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The review published in the Archives of Toxicology found “substantial flaws” in the methodology of these studies. They concluded that the assigned costs are “highly speculative” and recommended against their use in deciding regulation.

Download the review

 

04

Overcoming Public Distrust in Science

Taking Distrust of Science Seriously, by Kabat G

As science and technology continue to evolve at extraordinary rates, understanding of technological progress hasn’t always been able to keep up, leading to confusion around controversial issues like EDCs, GMOs and pesticides, according to this study. Writing in EMBO Reports, Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Geoffrey Kabat claims to overcome public distrust, scientists need to stop pretending there is scientific consensus on these issues.

Read the article

 

05

Why Do Farmers use Biotech Crops?

GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2015, by Brookes G, Barfoot P

The 12th annual report on the global economic and environmental impact of genetically modified (GM) crops shares the benefits that so many farmers worldwide have gained from planting biotech crops. The report shares the economic and environmental benefits that farmers all over the world have received since biotech crops were first commercialized over 20 years ago.

Download the report

 

06

US Congress Questions IARC Scientific Integrity

In October the Republican chairmen of the US House Committee on Science and the Subcommittee on Environment sent a letter to the director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Chris Wild to say they were “concerned about the scientific integrity” of IARC’s monograph program, which assesses whether various substances can cause cancer in people. They listed their concerns and invited Mr Wild to testify to their committees.

Read the article

 

07

How do Scientists Determine if Genetically Engineered Crops are Safe?

Society of Toxicology – Food and Feed Safety of Genetically Engineered Food Crops

While countless scientific studies have demonstrated that foods obtained from genetically engineered (GE) crops are as safe and nutritious as foods obtained from conventional crops, questions still remain about the safety of these products. The Society of Toxicology Issue Statement provides a brief overview of the research processes and principles used to assess the safety of GE crops.

Download the issue statement

The issue statement coincided with the publication of the article below, both addressing the same topic and sharing a title.

 

08

Review of Genetically Engineered Crops Safety Information

Food and Feed Safety of Genetically Engineered Food Crops, by Delaney B, Goodman RE, Ladics GS

This article reviews the safety information regarding Genetically Engineered (GE) crops and foods, by evaluating over 20 years of research in genetic engineering. Like the issue statement, it is based on the premise that although new GE crops are assessed by regulatory authorities prior to approval for commercial use, there is still a public debate on the safety GE crops.

Download the report

 

09

A Detailed Look Into Pollinator Decline

Three years of banning neonicotinoid insecticides based on sub-lethal effects: can we expect to see effects on bees? By Blacquière T, van der Steen J

A Wageningen University literature review questions the link between pollinator decline and neonicotinoid (neonics) use, suggesting that honeybee colony losses were instead due to pests, parasites and bad beekeeping practices. It is too early to tell what effect the 2013 ban on use of neonics has had on pollinators, however, the authors concluded that it does offer the possibility to collect more data to supply future debate with accurate information.

Download the review

 

10

Neonics Believed Safe for Honeybee Colonies

Quantitative Weight of Evidence Assessment of Effects of Three Neonicotinoids on Honeybee Colonies, by Solomon K, Stephenson G

An analysis by University of Guelph’s scientists found that three of the most popular neonics are safe for honeybee colonies when used properly. Their research, published in the Journal of Toxicology, is spread across five papers, and analyses over 60 peer-reviewed papers, as well as 170 unpublished industry studies submitted to regulatory agencies.

Download the reports or read the press release

 

You can also view our top 10 studies for 20162015 and 2014.

AN INTERNATIONAL HOLIDAY FEAST (AND THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT)

By: CropLife International

Learn about “12 holiday dishes” around the world and how plant science helps make them available:

Celebrate the holidays with Plant Science!

 

  • Australia Damper
    CHRISTMAS DAMPER ON THE BARBIE AUSTRALIA Soda bread in the shape of a wreath made from wheat flour and baked on the barbeque. Australia is a major producer of grains like wheat and relies on crop protection products to control insects and mites.
  • Brazil Bacalhoada Ao Forno
    BACALHOADA AO FORNO BRAZIL Oven-roasted salt cod with potatoes and garlic. Potatoes were domesticated in South America 7,000-10,000 years ago and thanks to plant science, they have evolved tremendously to resist bruising and browning as well as produce less of an undesirable compound (acrylamide) when cooked.
  • China BBQ Pork
    BARBEQUED PORK CHINA Pork tenderloin made with soy-based sauces and white wine. Herbicides have tremendously helped Chinese soybean growers better control weeds and fungicides allow for improved wine grape production.
  • France Bûche de Noël
    BÛCHE DE NOËL FRANCE Flourless chocolate cake in the shape of a “yule log” rolled with chocolate whipped cream. Around 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. Farmers there rely on crop protection products to ward off insects and diseases because these pests can damage 30-40 percent of the crop.
  • Ghana Fufu And Okra
    FUFU AND OKRA SOUP GHANA Usually made with cassava flour, fufu resembles sticky rice that’s formed into balls for the okra soup. A staple food for 200 million people in Africa, plant scientists are currently working on drought-tolerant cassava to cope with climate change.
  • Ghana Fufu And Okra
    BIRYANI WITH CHICKEN AND LAMB OR VEGETABLES INDIA Spiced rice-based dish made with meat or veggies. The use of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides in India has increased rice production by about 30 percent in recent years.
  • Italy Carbone Dolce
    CARBONE DOLCE ITALY A rock candy that looks like coal given to “bad kids”. Most sugar in Italy comes from sugar beet as the European Union is the world’s top beet producer. In the U.K. alone, fungicides have dramatically helped with sugar beet production. Plant scientists are working on nitrogen use efficiency in the crop as well.
  • Mexico Romeritos in Mole
    ROMERITOS IN MOLE MEXICO A leafy, wild Mexican herb that resembles rosemary is prepared with mole – a chili pepper-based, aromatic sauce. Chili peppers are Mexico’s most important vegetable crop and farmers need pesticides to protect peppers from 19 pests.
  • Philippines Puto bumbong
    PUTO BUMBONG PHILIPPINES A dessert made of sweet rice cooked in hollow bamboo tubes that’s spread with butter, sugar and grated coconut. Herbicides have significantly helped Filipino farmers control weeds in rice. Biotechnology led to the development of beta carotene-enhanced “Golden Rice,” which is in field trials in the Philippines.
  • Poland Pea Soup
    FRIED CARP AND PEA SOUP POLAND Pea and other crop yields in Poland have increased significantly due to access to and usage of pesticides as a result of joining the European Union. EU membership hugely boosted Poland’s agricultural sector financially.
  • United Kingdom Mince Pie
    MINCE PIE UNITED KINGDOM Apple-based pie made with dried fruit and warm spices. Pesticides are so important to the dessert apple industry in the U.K. that without them, it is unlikely any saleable crop would be obtained.
  • United Stated Turkey And Squash
    TURKEY WITH CORN STUFFING AND SQUASH UNITED STATES U.S. corn and squash production has significantly benefitted from biotech insect- and virus-resistant traits, respectively. Biotech drought-tolerant corn is helping U.S. farmers combat climate change.

THE MOVIE OF THE YEAR

By: CropLife International

This year saw the launch of the documentary Food Evolution about the genetic modification of food, directed by Academy Award-nominated Scott Hamilton Kennedy. Traveling from Hawaiian papaya groves, to banana farms in Uganda to the cornfields of Iowa, the film, narrated by esteemed science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, wrestles with the emotions and the science driving one of the most heated arguments of our time.

The New York Times said of it: “The film draws strongly on viewers’ emotions but it doesn’t skimp on science. Marrying incisive explanations of the scientific nitty-gritty of agriculture and plant breeding with compelling discussion of why people seem wired to trust gut feelings over facts, Food Evolution adds crucial psychological, social, and moral context, without which discourse on the subject often devolves to fruitless blows.”

You can watch the trailer and download the film here.