Dr Mfegue Crescence Virginie

What inspires plant scientists and why is their job so important? Dr. Virginie Mfegue explains:

Why did you want to be a plant scientist?

During my undergraduate studies, I was deeply inspired by female scientists such as Marie Curie. The choice to be a plant scientist probably came from memories of my vacations while I was teenager; I was inspired by seeing my grandparents taking care of their crops and how important it was for them to have healthy farms.


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Can you explain what your job involves?

As a plant pathologist, my work consists of combating plant diseases for sustainable food production, including lab work and field work. The lab work helps to identify, characterize and understand the living traits of plant pathogens, while the field work aims to assess disease incidence and severity and develop efficient control strategies. I specialize on pests and diseases prevailing on cocoa in West and Central Africa. In my current position, I work on the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus (CSSV), a viral disease endemic to West Africa which is transmitted to cocoa by a species of mealybug insects.

Can you describe how damaging these pests can be for farmers?

West Africa produces 70% of the world cocoa through efforts from an estimated 2 million small-holder cocoa farmers. Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus is responsible for more than 15% of global cocoa loses, and can kill cocoa trees within 2 to 3 years of infection. Farmers are at risk of having entire cocoa farms destroyed, with massive implications on income and livelihoods.

 

Why is your profession important in the challenge to feed the world?

Plant diseases pose a serious threat to the world food security, not only in Africa but worldwide. As a plant pathologist, I work to help reduce crop losses from pests and diseases and try to mitigate their impact on food production. My main goal is to help low-income cocoa farmers in West Africa exit the cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

What inspires you about your job?

I had the opportunity to work with a senior plant pathologist, Dr Jean Ristaino, at North Carolina State University and was inspired by her achievements and enthusiasm. She really ignited my desire to contribute to solving the issue of plant diseases and follow in the footsteps of her and other female scientists.

 

Virginie is the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus (CSSV) Program Manager in West Africa at WCF. Dr. Mfegue is in charge of leading a multicomponent Research and Development program aimed at developing tools for the control of CSSV and the protection of cocoa farms.