Global Leadership Fellows vow to help smallholder farmers

By Calvin Edward Gwabara

September 3, 2018

The 2018 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows have promised to bring change to their countries by making sure that science and technology are embraced to increase agricultural productivity and solve the many challenges that farmers face.

Speaking during the program’s introductory week at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, 22 Fellows from seven countries said farmers in Africa face obstacles that have been causing those who depend on agriculture to remain poor.

Alfred Namaasa, a Uganda Fellow who is also the district councilor for the Mbale District, said the biggest challenge in his country are the foreign organizations that are opposing biotechnology in agriculture even as they support it in health.

This has deprived farmers of the opportunity to access new seed varieties that cope with prolonged drought, pests and diseases, soil erosion and environmental degradation, among other problems related to climate change, leading to famine and poverty, he noted.

“Biotechnology has been used in many countries in the world, including some African countries, and succeeded and improved people’s livelihoods so it’s time for biotechnology in agriculture to take root in Africa,” Namaasa said.

Veronica Mwaba, a Fellow from Zambia who is the director of Dziwa Science and Technology Trust, said the  “time has come to increase public interest in science, technology and innovations. As journalists, we need to provide a dedicated platform to science think tanks to raise awareness and engage the communities on the benefits of science in agriculture, health and environment.’’

She added that in Africa, the majority of people engaged in agriculture are women. Therefore, if food security is threatened they get affected most. Consequently, there is need for policy makers and scientists to find solutions to enhance food security by utilizing modern biotechnology.

Samantha Salimu, a Fellow and student from the University of Zimbabwe, said farmers are important in the advancement of most economies, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, she noted that farmers in these regions are performing way below expectations due to lack of improved seed and fertilizer, which are very important elements in attaining adequate levels of food production and nutritional security.

“The Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows Program is the best approach to increase awareness on the application of biotechnology for increased productivity of agricultural products,” she said.

Speaking with Fellows on the first day, Dr. Sarah Evanega, director of the Alliance for Science,  said the 2018 cohort is a key driver of the Alliance’s shared mission to promote access to innovations like agricultural biotechnology that can help advance food security while improving the environment.

“In Bangladesh, farmers who gained access to biotech eggplant experienced a six-fold increase in their annual income on average,” she said. “For people in well-fed countries to actively deprive farmers access to these life-changing technologies is immoral.’’

Evanega added that the 2018 cohort of Global Leadership Fellows shares a passion for promoting evidence-based decision-making and ensuring justice for the poor.

It is anticipated that at the end of the program, Fellows will be equipped with science communication,  leadership and other skills. Therefore, they began the program with a three-day leadership training at Camp Oswegatchie in New York State, led by Prof. Larry Van De Valk from Cornell University.

Calvin Edward Gwabara is an award-winning journalist and 2018 Global Leadership Fellow from Tanzania.