Science Stories: Agriculture

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

November 21, 2019

Inspiration, passion and dedication characterized the personal stories that three 2019 Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows recently shared to explain why they are champions for agricultural biotechnology.

Ruramiso Mashumba, a Zimbabwean farmer; Germaine De Runa, a rural outreach worker from the Philippines; and Slyvia Tawiah Tetteh, a women’s farming advocate from Ghana, joined former BBC journalist Elizabeth Ohene of Ghana for the Washington, D.C., “Science Stories: Agriculture” story-telling event that capped the Fellows’ 12-week training program.

Mashumba, chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union youth wing, recounted how she was denied a loan to improve her parent’s farm with technology because she was a 25-year-old woman with no collateral.

She went back home crying. In response, her mother cashed out all her savings and told her “to go and conquer the world.”

Today, Mashumba runs a 400-hectare farm that exports produce to Europe and other parts of the world.

“Back in my community, I’m not just the only woman who owns a tractor, planter and center pivot. I am the only person who owns these technologies. Period. Many see me now and say I have arrived. In many ways, I have. But I am still faced with so many challenges… the [fall] armyworm, increased pests,” Mashumba said.

“I know there are solutions and we must get them into the hands of the people who need them,” she added. “That is why I have become an advocate for women in science…together, men and women can feed our growing population.”

“My involvement with the Alliance for Science is because of my strong belief that science needs to hurry up,” Mashumba noted. “Alone you can go faster, but together, we can go further.”

De Runa told of how she had been involved for years in various projects to improve farmers’ lives, but felt isolated until she joined the Global Leadership Fellows Program, where she was taught how to “communicate with passion, purpose and intent.”

“Sometimes, doing this kind of work can be lonesome,” she said. “That is why I would want to thank platforms like the Alliance for Science for making me feel that I am no longer alone in this fight. It made me open my eyes that there is a world out there of people…standing side by side and working towards a common goal and common mission.”

Tetteh, who is a member of the Fellows’ “Women Who Farm” campaign group, recounted how her mother struggled as a child to attend school and farm at the same time. She eventually had to marry early as a means to survive.

“She had no support financially, her academics were affected and hindered and she had to give up her dream — just like women before her who faced similar difficulties,” Tetteh recalled.

“The inspiration from my mother’s sacrifice drives my passion to work with women farmers so that they can farm successfully and easier using modern agricultural biotechnology and gain access to other available breakthrough technology to work more efficiently and be highly productive,” she added.

Ohene, former Ghanaian Minister of State, offered the keynote address, bemoaning the little regard given to those performing the important jobs that actually help sustain life on earth.

“How come the practical things… science, agriculture, have never been seen as sexy?” she wondered. “It is time we started telling the agricultural story with some passion.”