I saw the magical transformation in their faces, as the timid smallholder farmers gained energy and discovered they could be roaring lions.
After just a few days of training, they were ready to return to their farms with the energy to try new approaches to growing crops as well as to use their voices to benefit everyone in agriculture.
That’s the power of knowledge transfer and mentorship, as we work to build a new generation of tech-savvy and resilient food producers.
I’ve been a champion of biotechnology in agriculture for two decades, telling the story of my unlikely decision to become a farmer following a career in other areas—and especially the tale of how GMOs equipped me with the tools I’ve needed to succeed as a single mother who grows corn and other crops in the Philippines.
The ability of GMOs to fight pests and weeds has allowed me to buy a home and send my kids to school. It has made a huge difference in our lives, and I’m forever grateful to have enjoyed access to the technologies that have made my resilience possible.
My special mission is to share this experience with other farmers and to encourage them as they work to grow the food the world needs. Along the way, I’ve become a charter member of the Global Farmer Network and I was the first recipient, in 2007, of the GFN’s Kleckner Award for Global Farm Leadership.
I am an “agvocate”—in other words, an advocate for agriculture.
That’s what took me to Indonesia last month, for a mentorship meeting with Asian farmers, supported by the GFN and its partners. These smallholders arrived in Jakarta from nearby countries, and they were exactly what I’ve seen so many times and in so many places before: Hardworking men and women who nevertheless were timid and often lacking information and ideas that would support their efforts to be profitable and productive, be knowledgeable in adaptation and mitigation to climate change and be an inspiration to each other.
They certainly don’t spend much time at the kind of workshops I help with and often speak at. The root of the problem may be that too many farmers fail to think of themselves or their profession with dignity, feeling less fortunate and not proud to be a farmer.
When young people see these doubts, they want nothing to do with agriculture. To them, farming is difficult, dirty, and poorly compensated. These stereotypes push them away from careers in what is a beautiful and rewarding profession.
Everyone needs to see agriculture for what it is in the 21st century: a sector full of innovation and technology, involving the massive amounts of science that go into the best seeds, the crop-protection products that defeat pests, weeds, and disease, and the precision-guided equipment that both conserve resources and allow crops to flourish.
At a time when the planet’s population has surged past 8 billion people and we all confront the challenges of climate change, we need smart and innovative farmers who grow more food on less land than ever before.
We need not only outstanding farmers, but also farmers who can become “agvocates.”
Farmers face many traditional problems, such as weather that can be too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. One of the biggest challenges they face, however, is new: We must confront lawmakers, bureaucrats, and consumers who are vulnerable to scientific misinformation because they lack a basic understanding of where food comes from and how farmers produce it.
The only way to overcome these fears and ignorance is through a program of public education led by farmers who can speak the truth about what they do and what they need. It starts with farmers who approach their work with pride and joy—and it leads to the creation of a corps of “agvocates” who can secure our future.
When “agvocates” do their work, the truth prevails—and farmers benefit from new opportunities. In my own country, we’re recently seen the commercialization of golden rice and its enormous potential to improve human health in the developing world. More recently, the government has approved GMO eggplant, in a decision that I’ve promoted for years.
My goal as a farmer and a mentor is to make my enthusiasm contagious—so that the resilience of agriculture can grow and spread.