2017 – Motlatsi Musi, South Africa


Motlatsi Musi is not a highly educated man. He left school at an early age. He learned much though from his activist mother. Musi, the 2017 Kleckner Award recipient draws a parallel between his childhood and young adulthood in apartheid, South Africa and the current environment in the continent of Africa, where agricultural technology is largely banned.

Motlatsi Musi receiving the Kleckner Award from Mary Boote of GFN, and joined by Howard Minigh from CropLife International, which hosted the award ceremony.

“One day in 1965, shortly after a heavy snowfall, I returned home from school to find my mother’s belongings thrown out of our house. A big padlock stopped us from going inside. I was just nine year’s old.”

Musi’s mother was an anti-apartheid activist who was absent from his life for long stretches of time, usually because she was in jail for protesting the abuses of the government. At age nine, he was homeless. When she was home, his mother had taught him survival skills, and introduced him to a white farmer. Farm work provided him an income and kept him and his siblings off the streets.

Motlatsi Musi dropped out of school and followed his mother into activism. He joined the 1976 uprising in Soweto. His brother was beaten almost to death for demanding equal rights for black South Africans.

“When South Africans fought against apartheid, we always appreciated the fact that people overseas sympathized with our cause,” says Musi. “Change might not have come without the assistance of Europeans and Americans who criticized a bad regime.”

Musi fielding questions in the media room at the 2017 World Food Prize.

After twenty-one years homeless, Musi found stability in agriculture. In 1999, he applied for a plot of land through a redistribution program. He got it in 2003 and began a new life as a farmer. Still, farming was hard. “Without access to GMO crops that help defeat weeds and pests, I’m not sure how I would have made it. Perhaps I would have become a subsistence farmer who barely survives.”

While formal schooling ended early for him, Motlatsi is a lifelong learner. An early adopter of GM technology in South Africa, Musi started growing Bt maize as a trial in 2005, about the time one of his sons was ready for college. He was seeking solutions that year when dealing with the scourge of the stalk borer. The technology worked, and he found enough profit, year by year, to pay tuition.

Musi appeared in the documentary Food Evolution which was screened the evening he was presented the 2017 Kleckner Award in Des Moines.

The parallel between apartheid and GM technology is the global support, or perhaps now, the lack of it. “Today, some of our former friends have turned their backs on us. Rather than recognizing the benefits of technology, they insist that we abandon GM crops and take up organic farming. From the security of prosperous nations, they call themselves ‘Greens’ – but they’ve never tried to grow a green plant on an impoverished continent that struggles to feed itself.”

Musi finds himself in a new activist role concerning biotechnology. He’s one of the farmers appearing in the documentary “Food Evolution” narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. “This is our new fight for justice,” he says.

When he got his first tractor, he leveraged it by helping smallholder farmers without a tractor. He’s doing the same with his knowledge and success around ag technology. He’s been holding farmer training sessions on his farm for a number of years. He says this award recognition has energized him to take that training to the next level.

Musi is the eleventh winner of the Kleckner Award.

Inspecting maize field.

Musi owns 21 hectares and rents additional land for production of maize, beans, and potatoes. He also raises pigs and cows. He and his wife have four sons.

Motlatsi Musi was presented the 2017 Kleckner Award by the Global Farmer Network on Tuesday, October 17 in Des Moines, Iowa at a reception hosted by the Global Farmer Network Foundation and CropLife International.

The award has been given annually since 2007 and recognizes a global farmer who exemplifies strong leadership, vision and resolve in advancing the rights of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity and availability of agricultural products around the world. It was established to honor Dean Kleckner, Chairman Emeritus of the organization. Previous award recipients are:

o Rosalie Ellasus, Philippines (2007);

o Jeff Bidstrup, Australia (2008);

o Jim McCarthy, Ireland (2009);

o Gabriela Cruz, Portugal (2010);

o Gilbert arap Bor, Kenya (2011);

o Rajesh Kumar, India (2012);

o V. Ravichandran, India (2013);

o Ian Pigott, United Kingdom (2014);

o Lydia Sasu, Ghana (2015) and

o Maria “Pilu” Giraudo (2016).

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