An interview with Dr. Sarah Evanega, Director, Cornell Alliance for Science
Plant scientist Dr. Sarah Evanega believes that the conversation on plant biotechnology will not change unless unlikely allies are brought together around shared goals. She discusses how the Cornell Alliance for Science program is working with global allies to promote access and choice in agriculture.
What is the Cornell Alliance for Science’s mission?
Our mission is to promote access to scientific innovation, which includes plant biotech, as a means of improving food security, enhancing sustainability, and improving quality of life globally. What that boils down to is promoting choice.
We are building an alliance of organizations and individuals who share our mission, and together, we are creating a platform that allows them to join our effort, amplifying the voices of farmers and scientists who have stories to tell about plant biotech. We also offer training programs that help people around the world communicate the science in their own communities.
What kind of training programs does the Alliance for Science offer?
The Global Leadership Fellows program is really the centerpiece of what we do. Each year, we bring together 25-30 champions from around the world who are passionate about science and agricultural innovation and want to advance it in their countries. They are from all walks of life and all corners of the world.
Our fellows come to Cornell for 12 weeks in teams comprised of two to five people from the same country to learn how to communicate science and develop their own leadership skills. All of these countries are at different stages with regard to biotech access, so we see the fellows leveraging the experience and learning from each other.
Who participates in the fellowship program?
We bring together diverse people– you might find a group that includes vegan activists from Portland, Oregon; a Catholic priest from the Philippines; a farmer from Ghana; a scientist from Malawi; and the daughter of a papaya farmer in Hawaii. What they have in common is a passion for improving the lives of people in their countries, fighting for social justice, advancing food security and protecting the environment. We train them on the science – and how to communicate it.
What is the Alliance for Science working on besides training?
The Alliance for Science and our network have developed, and continue to build, a digital library of multimedia assets that tell stories about public sector biotech that are based on science and backed up with data. We travel throughout the world with cameras and pens to talk with farmers, scientists and aid workers who are struggling with climate change or working with food insecure people; and we are capturing their stories. Our fellows also contribute reports from their home countries.
We encourage other organizations to use our assets. For example, we probably have some of the best footage around on Bt eggplant (see example below). So, a reporter who doesn’t have the resources to travel to Bangladesh can use our multimedia assets to tell a better story. If we can provide the journalists telling these stories with compelling images, and accurate information, we can make a difference.
What are some of the challenges to communicating about plant biotechnology?
The real challenge is reaching the truly curious people who actually want science-based information. How do we provide them with information that helps them understand that the choices they make as consumers in the grocery store have societal impact? They need to understand that the conversations we are having here in the developed West have an impact on less food secure people in the developing world, and very real implications for our global response to climate change.
Now is the time for those who are really concerned about climate policy to come together — as a country and globally — with people who share our core values of caring about the environment, but who may not yet be on the same page regarding plant biotech. We have more in common than not. We need to bridge the divide and unite as environmentalists and social justice champions.
See other videos from the Cornell Alliance for Science Program here: