“There are 100 million small farms in Africa. That is going to have to change. Farms will get bigger, more efficient. We’re going to see Africa transformed. They’re not always going to be subsistence farmers. Right now, young people are are moving off the farms in Africa — they don’t want to do farm work that involves the drudgery of manual labor.

“There is a need for more professionals in crop protection. There are more weed scientists in the state of California than in all of sub-Saharan Africa.

“Weeding has traditionally been thought of as women’s work in Africa, and if you went to university administrators and government officials with proposals for weed control studies, you were laughed out of the room.

“The challenge is to change these attitudes, and I think the big push needs to be at the university level. They’ve got 40 years of catching up to do, and there is so much expertise and knowledge in the U.S. that we could share to help them use these technologies to become self-sufficient.”

Many developed countries have leapfrogged in telecommunications. They didn’t have the wired infrastructure that we have in the U.S., and went directly to cell phones. Everybody there has a cell phone. Can they do the same thing with crop protection technologies?

“The problem in Africa is that they didn’t begin adopting these technologies 30 to 40 years ago, as we did in the U.S.. What little crop protection they’ve had has centered around 2,4-D, atrazine, paraquat, and compounds that are generic, cheap, and widely available.

“The challenge is how are they going to leapfrog from older generation pesticides to transgenics? There is tremendous push by the biotech industry to get approval for GMO crops in Africa. But new products are more expensive. How do you sell this to 100 million farms?

“Ag dealers may be the key,” Gianessi says, “ because that’s where all the farmers go for seed and supplies. The biggest part of African agribusiness is seed. All the lobbying/regulatory efforts are on the GMO side. When an organization like the Gates Foundation gets involved, they don’t want to wait 30-40 years to achieve meaningful progress —they want to see it in three years. And they know GMOs can deliver that kind of progress.”

Given the bias of government aid organizations against crop chemicals and GMOs, how can this be overcome to achieve crop progress?

“A lot of the aid to Africa is tied to not being able to use chemicals or GMOs,” Gianessi says.

“We were in Malawi, trying to convince farmers to use herbicides and set up test plots. Because of what they had heard, farmers were concerned chemicals would kill the soil, that nothing would grow there the next year.

“We showed them that was not the case — that the weeds came back the next year where herbicides had been used. Demonstration plots are a part of the answer — to get enough of them out there, near agri-dealers, so the farmers can see what can be done.”

And things are changing on the aid front, Gianessi says. “The Chinese are a factor in this. When they provide funding, there are no rules, no strings attached; they say, ‘ You do it, you figure out how to make it work for you.’ The British aid agency does it the same say — they say, ‘Here’s the money, you do it your way.’