Seed World

Priorities, Politics, and Seed Testing’s Role: Thoughts from ISTA 2024 So Far

We’re three days into the International Seed Testing Association’s Centenary Annual Meeting and I thought I’d take a moment to get some of the thoughts buzzing in my head onto paper. Seed testing is an absolutely critical component of the functioning of the seed value chain, but it’s often easy to narrow it to terms like ‘compliance’ and ‘quality assurance’ rather than thinking of ISTA’s even more important attribute: people. 

This week has been all about seed people: passionately dedicated researchers, analysts and policy people, all of whom are — above all — industry advocates. Approximately 200 are here in Cambridge; many hundreds more stayed home to man their respective labs and stations around the world. A whopping 270 are part of ISTA’s many Technical Committees. It’s inspiring (yes, with all the weight that word really carries) to see the diversity that is ISTA. With languages and accents representing all corners of the world, this gathering is a reminder of how integrated the world’s global seed sector truly is, and a call to action for all countries to not just look at our own priorities, but to see our roles as critical pieces in the providing food security to the world. 

Madeleine Baerg, director of content, Seed World Group

I had the extreme honour of sitting down with Chikelu Mba, Deputy Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Plant Production and Protection Division. Chikelu is a gracious, articulate, classy individual who exudes competence and — for lack of a better word — power. Originally from Nigeria, Chikelu is currently based in Rome but made the trek to Cambridge this week because of how important seed is to his critical priority: feeding the world. Unlike some bureaucrats who understand government but miss practical reality, Chikelu comes from a very hands-on and global background.

Some of the highlights of his resume include being a plant breeder geneticist and cassava program coordinator at the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria, a research fellow in cassava molecular genetics in Columbia, and leading the Plant Breeding and Genetics Laboratory of the Agriculture and Genetics Laboratory of the joint FAO-International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria. 

I’m really excited to bring you my conversation with Chikelu: I intentionally let our interview run long as his passionate answers to each of my questions were such a reinforcement of the importance of all of our contributions in the global seed sector. Watch for that interview coming in the next couple days: it’s a conversation you won’t want to miss. 

While my chat with Chikelu was a highlight, it’s also been a highlight to talk, both formally and informally, with so many others here in Cambridge. Over the coming week, we’ll be bringing you interviews and video perspectives from quite a number of attendees who speak on subjects from how innovative technologies fit into seed testing, to what the future looks like in seed quality assurance, to — my personal favourite — what they’d change about seed testing if they could wave a magic wand. Stay tuned. 

Left to right: Madeleine Baerg – Seed World Director of Content, Dr. Keshavulu Kunusoth – ISTA President, and Dr. Andreas Wais – ISTA Secretary General