…as young Mosotho bags Plant Breeding qualification

BY :Liapeng Raliengoane

LERIBE – Greater transformation is looming for the agricultural sector and commercial farmers as a young Mosotho, Mpho Patrick Motšoene recently bagged a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding thus securing the development of high-yielding crops, sustainable climate-smart agriculture, pest and disease-resistant crop varieties development in Lesotho.

An interview with Motšoene disclosed that plant breeding refers to the science of enhancing the value of plants or crops by targeting yield increase, nutritional quality, an ability to resist certain diseases and pests and heat tolerance among others which are all directed towards the well-being of man.

Motšoene is a 26-year-old gentleman from Leribe, Moreneng. Born and raised by his mother ‘Malesaoana Motšoene and his late grandmother ‘Mamasupha Motšoene who helped him through his education journey. He attended Maryland Primary, Hlotse High School and later the National University of Lesotho where he did Agricultural Extension.

 “I grew up a very exclusive child who loved school, fashion and later public speaking. In my entire life, I had never imagined myself being within the agriculture field but somehow it chose me.”

Studying plant breeding was never on his mind until he came across the scholarship opportunity on the internet. “My love for Genetics when I was studying towards my undergraduate degree also made it easier for me to make a decision to enrol in this career path. This was then followed by in-depth research and the realization that there is need to bridge the gap that exists, especially in Lesotho. A simple ‘Breeders Rights’ and ‘Breeders’ Associations’ do not exist in Lesotho and I felt there could be a remarkable impact I could bring by furthering my studies in plant breeding and the journey has just begun.”

In 2021 he was awarded a scholarship by the African Union to further his studies in a Master of Science in Plant Breeding at the PAN African University Life and Earth Sciences Institute, University of Ibadan, Nigeria which is among the top 10 best universities in Africa according to Times Higher Education rankings 2022 where he graduated in November 2022.

“Basically, our main focus as plant breeders is to ensure that production of crops is enhanced even in the most unfavourable conditions such as the current climate change which is a world ‘pandemic,’” Motšoene explained. 

Given that climate change and food security are among the biggest challenges facing the global community, the newly qualified Plant Breeder stressed that Lesotho and Africa at large are unable to produce adequate food to ensure food security in the coming years, this is exacerbated by climate change and the recent emergence of pests and diseases which require investment of large sums of money to control.

 “As much as this field has not been given much attention, especially in Lesotho, the government’s investment in this field will not only benefit the agricultural sector currently but there is assurance that production will be secured in the long-run,” he added.

He further emphasized that the El-Niño that was experienced in Lesotho around 2014/15 was a lesson enough that there is need to engineer plants or crops which can highly withstand such conditions, saying this lies in the hands of plant breeding.

“Not only is there assurance of production of high-yielding crops and disease resistance but the prevalence of malnutrition among other sickly conditions in Lesotho would be highly reduced through breeding of crops with higher nutritive value to tackle such.”

Climate change has a potential to extensively affect agricultural productivity to the irreversible level and drives hunger of millions of the global community however, “plant breeding plays a key role in tackling production hindrance of crop plants through developing varieties against these production constraints. Variability in genetic makeup within crop populations is the most significant attribute required for success in breeding programmes. This variation is then manipulated to meet the objective of the breeding programme which can either be through traditional methods or most recent technology such as molecular markers that shorten the breeding cycle whose objective is crop adaptation to change in climate.”

“The alarming increase in global population accompanied by diseases require us to come together through any programmes that will ensure survival of the growing populations. Climate change is a phenomenon that is yet to exist for years to come and investment in plant breeding programmes, education of farmers on relevant crop production methods in this era is what the government of Lesotho must prioritize.”

 “Agriculture remains the backbone of developing countries …”

Motšoeneng pontificated that agriculture remains the backbone of most developing countries. “For Lesotho to develop and be recognized on the global economic community, it is time to change the narrative and generational curse surrounding the field. For the world to achieve zero hunger as depicted by the Sustainable Development Goals; agriculture remains in the forefront specifically plant breeding as it ensures continuous improvement of already existing crop varieties to ensure adaptability to changing environments and this is the route the world ought to take.”

According to the World Bank Food Security Update Report (September 2022) the agricultural price index has remained relatively stable, closing 3 percentage points lower. Domestic food price inflation remains high around the world, with high inflation continuing in almost all low and middle-income countries. The share of high-income countries with high inflation is also high.

After some brief relief in the summer of 2022, fertilizer prices are beginning to rise again, and are expected to impact farmers’ profitability.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program (FAO-WFP) Hunger Hotspots: October 2022-January 2023 Outlook, acute food insecurity is likely to continue to increase in 19 hotspot countries between October 2022 and January 2023. Gender disparities in food security are increasing. Acute food insecurity is likely to continue to deteriorate in 19 hotspot countries between October 2022 and January 2023.

According to the report, based on information from the Global Report on Food Crises Mid-Year Update and additional data from the latest available analyses for eight countries and territories, the number of people who are experiencing acute food insecurity and will need urgent assistance is likely to climb to 222 million in 53 countries and territories that the report covers.