To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, Landscapes News is publishing a series of stories honoring women with a laurel for their dedication to improving the landscape. In this profile, Marta da Silva Lopes, a wheat physiologist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) writes about Monica Mezzalama. Check Viewpoint all week for more laurel recipients.
Scientists at CIMMYT develop improved maize and wheat lines with resistance to globally important biotic and abiotic stresses, and improved nutritional and processing quality. These improved and conserved seeds are available without charge to any research institution worldwide.
The seeds are distributed every year in compliance with the terms and conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. These seeds are the only source of genetic diversity combined with high productivity in many countries, providing improved diversity to famers around the world and nutritional quality.
Data about the performance of seeds distributed are collected and provided back to the international breeding and research community where they serve as reference for further improvement.
However, with seed exchange, there is a great potential threat to agriculture and the environment: introduction and spread of exotic pests, weeds and pathogens from region to region carried by seeds.
Many historical famines were caused by the introduction of pathogens. For example, the blight pathogen which affected the 1845 potato crop in Ireland was imported from overseas.
International phytosanitary rules, set up to avoid the spread of plant diseases, have since been developed to avoid these damaging events.
Monica Mezzalama, a plant pathology expert working at CIMMYT, plays a pivotal role in maize and wheat seed distribution around the world. She helps make the seed germplasm available in different countries under the international phytosanitary requirements regulating the international exchange of seed.
Her activity helps to prevent the spread of exotic wheat and maize seed borne pathogens to new environments during the seed exchange activity that CIMMYT carries out as a basic part of its mission.
Monica developed and manages the Seed Health Laboratory where thousands of seeds are analyzed, and when threats are identified, destroyed.
Finally, Monica frequently travels to many countries in the developing world to empower and train young scientists, experts in gene banks and seed health laboratories to follow plant quarantine rules.