Tag Archives: plant science


Today, PLANT SCIENCE INNOVATIONS are making staple crops more profitable, more nutritious and better protected against unpredictable weather. Cassava is no exception. Both farmers and consumers throughout the world can reap the benefits of varieties that are healthier, heartier and more abundant.

Cassava provides sustenance for over 800 million people. A perennial woody shrub native to Latin America, cassava is primarily grown as an annual crop in the humid tropics. Studies indicate it is the only staple crop that stands to benefit from climate change. As more land is rendered unusable due to changing temperature and rainfall patterns, cassava will likely gain ground as a staple around the globe.

We spoke with Chiedozie Egesi of NextGen Cassava Breeding Project, who is at the forefront of new innovations to enhance this already resilient and hearty staple crop. Read our interview with him to learn how and why cassava is a major staple crop of the developing world and what its future holds. (This interview has been formatted for brevity and clarity.)

Chiedozie Egesi – Project Leader at NextGen Cassava Breeding Project
Chiedozie Egesi, leader of the NextGen Cassava Breeding Project, tells us how he and his team are developing better cassava plants to resist challenging growing conditions, be more productive and deliver more nutrition.

Tell me about your role at NextGen Cassava. What type of research do you lead?

Our main objective is to empower African cassava farmers through innovative, sustainable cassava breeding. We have begun the process of modernizing cassava breeding institutions in Africa and use cutting-edge tools for efficient delivery of improved varieties of cassava.

My role includes project coordination, charting the course we take and ensuring that our partners are supported to deliver on the project mandate. We specialize in cassava breeding implementation—cutting-edge research technologies that make for more efficient processes and demand-led breeding.

Why is cassava a staple crop in South America, Africa, and other developing countries?

Cassava is a major calorie source for over 800 million people. It has high productivity in marginal environments, making it an invaluable asset for food security—it survives where other crops fail. It also has naturally high resilience to climatic changes. Finally, it is produced mainly by smallholders [farmers with less than 2 hectares of land] – mostly women – with simple technologies, allowing it to be easily grown across multiple countries and environments.

What challenges have cassava farmers faced in recent years?

Cassava producers face several main challenges these days. First, many pests and diseases have constrained production for cassava growers. Part of this is actually because of cassava’s long growth cycle—its long duration in the field increases its exposure to pests and viruses. Also, cassava is perishable, which leads to limited flexibility in handling. Lastly, poorly linked value chains in Africa cause frequent boom-and-bust cycles of high and low productivity. The markets have not been well developed to make for sustainable agribusiness.

How have plant science innovations helped cassava farmers?

A recent example is the timely delivery of new, “best-bet” varieties to cassava farmers. Genomic selection is an integral technology that has enabled us to get these more resilient, more productive and more nutritious varieties. We have employed innovative “citizen science” approaches to enable participatory selection of improved varieties. In addition, new technologies have helped us rapidly screen large breeding populations. Others include techniques to improve flowering in cassava, an essential step for hybridization through pollination. Application of a combination of hormones has enabled us to make cross combinations that were not very easily done due to the poor flowering of some cassava varieties.

Which plant science innovations does NextGen Cassava utilize in its work with smallholder farmers?

We predicted the performance of new varieties based on the genetic information of their parents using modeling systems. This allowed us to reduce the generational cycle time for cassava from about 10 years to five. Better varieties can now get to farmers faster, and we are still working on further improving this. We are designing research that maps preferences and links to social differences such as gender, age, education, region, poverty and food security levels.

How will climate change continue to impact cassava and smallholder farmers?

Cassava is one of the most climate-smart crops in the tropics and has the capacity to withstand changes in the atmosphere, which it can use to its advantage for more productivity. As climate change continues to be a challenge for smallholder growers in Africa, cassava farmers stand a better chance to make more profitable agribusiness due to the robustness of the crop. 

How will supporting plant science innovations help communities that depend on cassava?

Support for plant science innovations is needed to help communities that depend on cassava in Africa. New technologies will transform cassava production and deliver the best varieties for maximum impact on growers and their families.

For more information about cassava and its role as a staple crop in different countries around the world, please check out these resources:

Kenya Approves Disease-Resistant Biotech Cassava

In June 2021, the Kenya National Biosafety Authority approved the environmental release of genetically modified cassava, which is resistant to cassava brown streak disease. The disease-resistant cassava was developed under the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus project, a collaborative program between Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, National Crops Resources Research Institute of Uganda and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Learn more about this breakthrough from the Cornell Alliance for Science and ISAAA.

Repairing the Root of the Problem

Despite the ability to turn cassava into an endless number of palatable dishes, the tuber has two major issues affecting the people who rely on it the most. First, cassava faces the threat of brown streak disease, limiting available food and second, the crop has a natural toxin that can cause severe physical and mental damage in the populations who need it most. For the millions it feeds, this important crop must be usable. That’s where plant biotechnology and gene editing come in. This video from the American Seed Trade Association and University of California at Berkeley shows the research being done to improve this staple crop for the millions who depend on it.

Save and Grow Cassava: A Guide to Sustainable Production Intensification
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has published a booklet about the production of cassava. It notes that cassava was first cultivated 9,000 years ago on the southern edge of the Brazilian Amazon, where it is still grown. Today, around 300 million tons of cassava are produced globally, with Nigeria as the world’s largest producer. Around 90 percent of harvested roots are destined for human consumption, while about 10 percent are semi-processed on-farm as animal feed. Read the entire 100-page PDF on the FAO website.

African Scientists Improve Cassava to Help Feed the World
2019 article in the journal Nature explains how researchers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria are using both traditional breeding and genetic modification to improve the starchy staple crop. In Africa, where consumption is highest, cassava plants bear smaller yields than their cousins in Asia and South America. But African varieties tend to be more tolerant of blights, such as the deadly cassava mosaic disease now spreading across Asia.

Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

Breeding Better Crops, From Maize to Cassava
In this video from the Gates Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and Cornell University, plant geneticist Ed Buckler explains that cassava has not been bred as effectively as other crops – such as maize – and there is tremendous potential including disease and insect resistance, by taking new, modern breeding tools and applying them to cassava.

Developing GM Super Cassava For Improved Health and Food Security: Future Challenges in Africa
The potential for GM cassava also includes biofortification. According to a study in the open access journal Agriculture & Food Security, more than 800 million people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition in developing countries with Africa accounting for almost 50 percent of the children who are clinically or sub-clinically deficient in vitamin A, particularly under five years of age. The study found that an overwhelming majority of scientists agree that GM biofortified cassava will benefit the health of millions in Africa and that GM cassava conferred with disease and pest resistance will increase cassava production as it is currently plagued by cassava mosaic diseases (CMD).


By: CropLife International

Across the globe, farmers are protecting our global food supply from the world’s most destructive pests. Check out these infographics below to see how plant science is aiding farmers in their fight and providing sustainable approaches to pest management.


The Desert Locust is a serious threat to the food security of East Africa, and crop protection products play a key role in preventing hunger and starvation in the region.


Fall Armyworm is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and has been found in Eastern and Central North America, South America, and most recently, detected in Africa and Asia. Because its mature moths can fly almost 500km (300 miles), it could quickly migrate from Africa into southern Europe.”

Farmers in China are looking to plant science innovations to help fight the fall armyworm, like FAW–resistant biotech corn, and other IPM technologies in their agricultural toolkit.


Already threatening farmer livelihoods across Asia and Africa, the TR4 fusarium fungus is now hitting South American banana plantations and has no known fungicidal treatment, but there is hope thanks to the advancement of genetic modification technologies.

Given the rapid spread and devastation of Fusarium TR4, genetic engineering tools offer an effective, safe, and viable way to develop resistant varieties. Genetic engineering, which facilitates the transfer of useful genes across species, has been shown to offer numerous advantages to circumvent the natural bottlenecks to breeding bananas for its improvement.

The example of the Gros Michel and the Cavendish banana varieties highlight the significant threat posed by a pest that has no control method and the importance of an effective and accessible agricultural toolkit, including genetic modification technologies.


West Africa is a powerhouse of cocoa production, but one of the world’s most beloved crops is facing immense pressure from pests, and farmers are working harder than ever to keep the supply of cocoa going, on top of facing climate related stressors.

West Africa is also suffering under the Cacao Swollen Shoot Virus (CSSV) which can kill trees in just three years, and has no cure. It is estimated that since 1946 more than 200 million cocoa trees have been cut down due to CSSV.

Ensuring that West Africa farmers have access to the full agricultural toolkit will enable them to effectively meet the challenge of pest management on their cocoa farms. Without flexible and accessible options, the world’s supply of one of its more treasured crops could be under serious threat.


Integrated pest management is critical in dealing with some of the toughest of pests, like speargrass, that would otherwise run rampant destroying millions of hectares of crops. It is critical for farmers to not only have access to, but be educated on the variety of plant science technologies that are available to them.


By: CropLife International

Are you a woman interested in a career in plant science? Here’s a field guide to help you get started.

Believe it or not, plant science is not just about farming! Whether you are interested in engineering, or biology, there is a myriad of opportunities in the plant science industry for women. While women have always played a vital role in feeding the world, they can now do so in so many new fields, not just farming.

And there’s a real need for increased representation of women in plant science. The plant science industry is working hard to close the gender gap and increase opportunities for women to have equal access to technologies and plant science solutions; however, women from some countries and regions still face significant hurdles. While the majority of working women in developing countries rely on agriculture as their main form of income, only about a quarter of agricultural researchers in Africa are women—and of that quarter, only 14% hold leadership positions within their research teams.

Climate change, population growth and other factors present challenges to all farmers – but women often lack access to the technologies and innovations that can help them improve yields and increase incomes. Ensuring that women have access to tools and plant science innovations they need to succeed is key to promoting global food security and helping create a world with zero hunger

Encouraging and promoting opportunities for women in agriculture — be it through working on a farm or pursuing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) concentration — ultimately helps to address global issues related to climate change, biodiversity and societal rights. The plant science industry is in a unique position to approach these issues with viable solutions — by addressing inequality within the industry, we can better work towards solving these global issues for good.

CropLife International encourages diversity and inclusion in the field of plant science. If you’ve ever thought about a future in the plant science industry, read through this helpful field guide to see what opportunities lie ahead.


As you’re starting your career, a wide range of concentrations and opportunities are available to you. It’s important to think about what kind of job you want to do and which aspects of STEM interest you the most. Are you most interested in genetics? Perhaps a job as a biochemist or a biotechnologist would be best for you. If chemistry is your passion, then take a look at becoming a toxicologist. If you’ve always had a curiosity for insects or bugs, check out the life of an entomologist.

No matter what your passion, interests, location, even likes and dislikes may be, you are sure to find an opportunity in plant science just for you. There’s many different paths you can choose!

In fact, there is such an incredible amount of job diversity in agriculture, that you are not even limited to working directly with plants. If you like math and have a specific interest in finance or accounting, an agrifinance firm may be the right place to start your career. On the other hand, if the idea of working on a farm or in a field of crops sounds appealing to you, you can become an agroecologist and develop sustainable soil management practices, such as Soil Health Institute Chief Science Officer Dr. Cristine Morgan and Water Smart Agriculture Program Regional Technical Advisor Dr. Marie-Soleil Turmel. Careers in agriculture extend even beyond the STEM fields—rural sociology and agricultural communications are just two examples of even more opportunity in agriculture.


As you work to secure your dream job in agriculture or STEM, there may be some challenges or snags you hit along the way—do not let them discourage you! While the gender gap in agriculture remains, progress is being made year after year, and barriers are being broken down by ambitious and driven women in science – leading the way for those that may follow in their footsteps.

Take it from the words of some of the women CropLife International has previously featured in our  Female #FoodHeroes campaign:

“While barriers remain, I believe the situation for women in science has improved over where it has been historically. Around the world, movements like the International Day of Women and Girls in Science help to highlight the gaps that remain, but more importantly, the achievements of women in STEM fields. These are important steps in the right direction.”

– Cari Carstens, Global Regulatory Lead – Seed Applied Technologies & Biologicals at Corteva Agriscience, United States

“One piece of advice I want to give to young women in agricultural science is to expand your interests. Take time to look around, read more and talk to more people. Even if you already have a specific area to focus on, having a broad knowledge-base and interests will allow you to innovate more through interaction.”

– Xi Chen, Group Leader at Syngenta Beijing Innovation Center, China

“I would advise young women today to obtain an education in the field of agriculture, and after graduating ask that they return to help develop agriculture in their home villages…I would like to form a Women’s Farmer Group. As women we must be food heroes, for the generations to come.”

– Ibu Kholliqunah, Farmer in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia

“Women need to be better represented in agriculture. New solutions require diverse perspectives, different genders and different regional outlooks…Working with agriculture or food systems is an awesome opportunity for those interested in being part of the solution to deliver the global goals from plant breeding to data science and innovations! We need more diversity — we need more women.”

– Gabriela Burian, Sustainable Food Systems Lead for Bayer, United States

“The expectations of you and your role as a woman (and mother) in agriculture and industry, may be very different to how you feel and what you want to do in your life. Be brave, be smart, be energetic. Don´t hold back! And look for role models and mentors to inspire you during tough times. Networks help. And taking breaks to recharge your batteries.”

– Elke Duwenig, Senior Expert in Biotechnology, BASF, Germany

“As a teacher and farmer, I would encourage a young farmer to expand her own knowledge and seek out knowledgeable people who want to see her grow as a good steward of the land. Growing sustainable food is the most essential career in the world. Civilizations depend on us, so own this role with pride and integrity.”

– Jeannette Andrashewski, Farmer, Canada

“My biggest challenge was believing in myself and knowing I was qualified enough to take on the next challenge. Mentoring and role models have been key to overcoming these doubts, and they have enabled me to grow and now be in a position where I can do the same for young women in agriculture. I believe there is a need for more mentoring programs for women in agriculture.”

– Catherine Feuillet, Chief Science Officer, Inari Agriculture, United States

“Follow your interest, bring your passion and commitment to work and make your voice heard. Now is a fantastic time to get involved to shape the future of farming. Technologies are progressing at a significant pace and opportunities are endless. We need individuals with curiosity, creativity and the will to make a difference.”

– Jutta Boehmer, Head of Crop Protection Research Bioscience, Syngenta, United Kingdom

“This may sound simple, but one thing that took me many years to learn is that my voice and my ideas are important. To all women and men out there who are still finding their own voice – don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas. Chances are, you may also be speaking on behalf of someone else who hasn’t spoken up, and you may inspire them to raise their own voice the next time.”

– Laura Potter, Head of Analytics & Data Sciences, Syngenta, United States

“My advice is for them to educate themselves, to learn, and be very good at what they do. One important career differential is the ability to manage a business and people, but we cannot afford to lose our understanding of the differences between human beings: between men and women, youth and adults, the rich and the poor. We have to respect those differences and learn that everyone around us has something to add to our daily lives and to agriculture.”

– Hilda Andrea Loschi, Agronomist Engineer, Brazil

“Agriculture needs young women to not only be part of the industry but to step up and lead. Young women can use social media to advocate for modern agriculture and share their perspectives with peers who want to know if their food is grown in a safe and sustainable manner.”

– Shannon Hauf, Senior Vice President and Head of Crop Technology for Soybeans, Bayer, United States

We’ve spoken with dozens of other Female #FoodHeroes who have given us great insight into being a woman in the plant science industry. If you don’t have time to read through these testimonials (and we encourage you to do so!) there are a couple key takeaways these inspirational women agree upon:

  • Be your own cheerleader
  • Find a mentor in the industry who can help you grow and navigate challenges
  • Support, encourage and advocate for women in your industry
  • Don’t lose sight of your initial ambition and goals
  • Seek out opportunities to learn new things
  • Your perspective is valuable – let it be heard!


Soon it will be time to tidy up your CV (curriculum vitae) and cover letter and start applying for your dream job. While you’re finalizing your application materials, consider where you might look to apply. Almost everywhere you look, there are support systems and opportunities available to help you on your path. FMC Corp., for example, has partnered with the Women’s Initiative Network to help support professional development opportunities for women in the company. Sumitomo offers resources from career support to childcare support to support working mothers. Corteva launched an internal platform called Common Ground to elevate the voices of women in agriculture and advocate for change.

Other companies have set targets to encourage women in leadership and management roles. BASF  Corporation is actively seeking to promote women in leadership roles within their company, and Bayer is dedicated to gender balance in management positions. And in 2016, Syngenta was recognized by Women in Agribusiness (WIA) as the company of the year for diversity thanks to its progressive diversity and inclusion policy and commitments.

Besides these companies’ career pages, you can review career sites like AgCareers.com to find a company or position that best suits you. If you’re considering a university (or are already in university!) in the U.S. think about getting involved in Annie’s Project or the Sigma Alpha professional agriculture sorority to grow your connections — and also meet new friends! Similar affinity groups are available in many countries globally. If you’ve already graduated, reach out to the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and see if there’s an upcoming virtual conference you can attend.


By bringing the best and brightest women to the forefront of the agriculture industry, we can not only make huge strides in achieving equality, but also work towards solving global challenges that threaten our very existence. Food insecurity, biodiversity and even climate change can be better addressed and mitigated if we encourage more diversity in plant science. Through resources like this, we at CropLife International hope we can help jumpstart successful careers for brilliant, ambitious women all over.

If you have found this field guide helpful and inspiring, please share it with friends or family who may also find value in it. And for similar content from CropLife International, check out our Female #FoodHeroes series and our video on five influential women changing the landscape of agriculture for the better.