The report Agricultural Research in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Cross-Country Analysis of Institutions, Investment, and Capacities, published last April by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), shows that the overall share of female agricultural researchers is 36% higher (2013) in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) than in other developing regions.
While the figure may seem encouraging, most leading positions in agricultural research and management in many LAC countries are held by men.
One of the female faces in the agricultural research landscape is Gloria Mosquera, a CIAT plant pathologist, whose heart is beating for two crops: beans and rice. Gloria never expected beans and rice to take such a prominent place in her life but this is through them that she, today, contributes to enabling better livelihoods for thousands of farmers in Africa and Latin America thanks to improved varieties, and innovative methodologies, protocols, and tools.
When the spark first ignited
When asked why she became a scientist, Gloria says
“I never thought I’d become a scientist, let alone an agricultural scientist, even though I have always felt close to the countryside, where I was born and raised. In fact, I studied Bacteriology and Clinical Laboratory Sciences, a career that would have rather taken me far away from it. But then, while I was completing my internship at CIAT, I discovered an entirely novel environment, where I learnt something new every day, and where I felt constantly amazed by things that I had never seen before. I was back in the countryside, but this time as a scientist.”Gloria Mosquera
Looking back, Gloria feels that she was at the right place at the right time when the spark ignited. It happened in 1996.
In 2002, she completed her Masters studies in Microbiology at the University of Chile and, in 2007, obtained her PhD from Kansas State University. And that’s when CIAT’s door opened for Gloria again, as she was offered a junior plant pathologist position.
A two-fold agenda
Since 2009, Gloria’s day-to-day activities have been split between beans and rice. Through beans, she has reached out to Africa and is truly motivated to see the methods and tools developed at CIAT translated into concrete benefits for smallholder farmers. These include, among others, early detection of root and stem rot, germplasm assessment of related pathogens, and protocols such as Bean pathogens: practical guide for lab and greenhouse work – a publication she co-authored and which offers researchers, students, and technicians step-by-step instructions to manage eight important fungal and bacterial pathogens affecting beans.
Today, she dedicates part of her time to a project aimed to develop root rot resistance in inter-specific crossings, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to minimize the damage caused by this disease and increase yields to benefit small-scale bean producers in Africa.
Gloria is also keeping a close watch on wild relatives of domesticated beans that have responded surprisingly well to water excess and root-rot combined stress as part of a project funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT). “This proves once again the importance of genebanks, such as the one we have at CIAT, where we keep finding answers not only in crop wild relatives but also in landraces, which further translate into a very promising universe of solutions for food crops,” she says.
At the same time, Gloria continues to search for solutions of keen interest to Latin American rice producers, including resistance to rice diseases such as Pyricularia and panicle blight. “Exploring diversity is a long journey per se, but it’s plenty of positive results,” says Gloria while describing her search for disease-resistant genes in the 3,000 rice genomes jointly sequenced by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI).
Taking advantage of the fact that some of the diseases that reduce bean yields are common to both Colombia and Africa, Gloria in close collaboration with Clare Mukankusi, a CIAT bean breeder based in Uganda, have developed laboratory tools to study pathogens affecting roots and stems, develop protocols, and isolate banks. Thanks to the support of USAID, and under the supervision of Michigan State University, Gloria and Clare have contributed to solutions to address rot diseases in Uganda and Rwanda.
“Despite the geographical distance between us, my relationship with Clare has been one of mutual growth. She analyzes domestic samples with the aim of breeding bean varieties with improved resistance to multiple major pests and diseases, rather than breeding for resistance to a single disease; whereas I am more involved in the methodological component.”Gloria Mosquera
Being part of the team of researchers in charge of preparing the proposal for the second phase of the CGIAR research program on rice (GRiSP) was an amazing opportunity to interact with scientists from sister CGIAR Centers as well as other partner institutions, such as the French Research Institute for Development (IRD), the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), and the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS).
“This has been a very positive experience, being in a space for dialog, where we could contribute ideas, receive feedback, and better understand the challenges faced by other regions of the world,” Gloria recalls from this process that brought together a wide range of researchers from all over the world.
However, Gloria also finds her source of inspiration in producers. “I would like to have more opportunities to talk directly with farmers and provide them with more and more knowledge and tools, taking advantage of the fact that CIAT has an open-access policy,” says Gloria, reaffirming her commitment to working for farmers.
For Gloria, the most important thing about her work – resulted from an inspiring internship that led her to invest, so far, 15 years of her life in agricultural research – is the firm belief that CIAT research contributes to improving people’s lives, especially smallholder farmers, around the world.