Cornell Alliance for Science to lead global farmer training course in Illinois

May 17, 2018

Some 60 farmers representing 17 nations will gather May 21-25 in Rock Island, Ill., to hone skills that will amplify their voices in the global debate around agricultural biotechnology.

This is the second year that the Cornell Alliance for Science is leading the popular international program, which offers farmers training in media engagement, public speaking and other communications skills.

“People who are very disengaged from the realities of agriculture like to talk about what farmers ‘need’ or ‘want,’ but we rarely hear from farmers themselves,” said Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science. “This course will empower those who are actually engaged in feeding the world by giving them the skills to champion their own interests.”

The week-long training will culminate May 25 in a panel discussion at the Rock Island Holiday Inn featuring two US farmers and four of their international counterparts. They’ll share their differing experiences in agriculture and discuss common challenges like drought, insect pests, plant diseases and regulatory hurdles. The discussion will be livestreamed on the Alliance for Science Facebook page between 9:30 and 11 a.m. CDT. Viewers will be able to submit questions to the panelists.

Course participants include farmers from Argentina, Burkina Faso, Denmark, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Many of them are small-holder farmers who are waiting for their governments to approve GM crops.

“I see it as a responsibility of all of us that are using biotechnology to go out there and educate other farmers, educate our governments,” said Eve Tepsy Ntseoane, a South African maize and cattle farmer who attended the 2017 course. “Growing GM maize has improved my economic status and also I have realized the benefit in terms of less environmental impact. It is up to us to go out there and show evidence of how this helps the farmer. I am the proof.”

The keynote speaker at the May 25 event will be Dr. Samuel Crowell, an agricultural advisor with the Economic and Business Affairs Bureau at the US Department of State. Crowell serves as an advisor on biotechnology regulatory policy, trade policy, emerging ag technologies and science communication. In response to farmer requests, he will be discussing the commercial rights to newer plant breeding techniques, such as CRISPR, and how regulations differ between nations.

“This is a rare opportunity for farmers to engage with their colleagues in the US and other nations to exchange ideas for addressing their shared concerns,” Evanega said.

The course will include a visit to the Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline. “We are always honored to host farmers from across the globe,” said Nate Clark, associate director of corporate citizenship at John Deere. “Not only does this permit us the opportunity to learn these farmers’ invaluable perspectives, but it also permits us the chance to share the ways that our business and citizenship initiatives might be of value to them.”

The farmers also will visit Cinnamon Ridge Farms, a family-owned eastern Iowa farm that raises dairy cows, beef cattle, chicken and pigs, and also produces milk, cheese, corn, soybeans and winter wheat.