Alliance for Science Fellows advocate for ag in DC

November 13, 2018

The Cornell Alliance for Science 2018 Global Leadership Fellows will be in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13-16 to share their stories with US and international policymakers in hopes of attracting support for advancing agricultural innovation in their countries.

Though the 27 Fellows come from a variety of backgrounds — farming, journalism, science, education, law and human rights activism — in Africa and the Philippines, they share a passion for ensuring that agricultural biotechnologies do not bypass the beneficiaries in their countries.

The four-day Washington, D.C., immersion caps an intensive 12-week training program at Cornell University that emphasized the science of crop biotechnology and the skills of public speaking, grassroots organizing and effective communications. The Fellows will return home to join a growing global network that champions evidence-based agricultural policies and greater farmer access to improved seeds.

Fellow Zola Madaga, general manager of Enchorro Emuny Dairy in Kenya, is advocating for access to technologies to help the six in 10 African farmers who are women. “Biotech is one of the tools that can address some of her challenges. She can obtain drought-tolerant, pest-resistant varieties of seed that can feed her children, send them to school and break the poverty cycle.”

Added Fellow Veronica Mwaba, executive director of Dziwa Science and Technology Trust, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote science advocacy in Zambia: “Today there is no country in the world that can ignore science, technology and innovation. Some go to bed without food because someone misinformed them about modern technology that can solve their challenges.”

While in D.C., the Fellows will meet with officials from the US State Department, World Bank, US Department of Agriculture, African Union, members of the US Congress, European Commission, Philippine Embassy, USAID, Food and Agriculture Organization, among others. They also will be featured at a Nov. 14 happy hour event with the DC Science Writers Assn. The Cornell Alliance for Science will host a Nov. 15 reception at the National Press Club, with keynote speaker Dr. Roy Steiner of the Rockefeller Foundation.

“The Fellows come from very different cultural and professional backgrounds, but they are united by their conviction that innovative agricultural biotechnologies can make a positive difference in their communities,” said Sarah Evanega, founding director of the Cornell Alliance for Science. “This commitment is rooted in their personal experience — experiences they are eager to share with the broader DC-based ag community.”

Their stories include the one told by Evans Okomeng, a young farmer from Ghana, which has yet to approve its first genetically engineered crop. “As I watched, my crops fell prey to the drought,” he recalled. “I lost virtually all of my crops to the drought. But there is a technology that can help us solve this issue.”

Other Fellows are motivated by a desire to reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint while ensuring adequate food production.

Taikee Calleja began his legal career as an environmental attorney in 2000, committed to reducing the intensive use of pesticides in farming. Though the Philippines approved a pest-resistant variety of maize, it has yet to adopt a pest-resistant variety of eggplant, which has reduced significantly reduced pesticide use among eggplant farmers in Bangladesh.

“There is a need for this technology,” Calleja said. “There is a need to protect the environment.”