As a young girl, Tepsy Eve Ntseoane never thought she’d grow up to be a farmer, let alone an advocate for agricultural biotechnology.
The South African maize (corn) and cattle producer joked that she had farming “forcefully pushed” on her by her mother, whose attentiveness to the family’s backyard garden at their city home instilled a passion in young Ntseoane that she carries with her to this day.
“I had to look after our garden patch at home and I would get a spank if I didn’t water or remove weeds,” she told the Alliance for Science. “So it was forced on me, but that has helped me a lot because I grew up loving farming and now I’m a maize and cattle farmer on 539 hectares of land.”
Ntseoane took an indirect path to her current profession, having first headed an organization that advocated on behalf of female farmers. When she decided to get into farming for herself in 2007 she was surprised by how difficult it was.
“I was excited about it but nobody told me about the challenges I’d face. I planted maize using the conventional methods and I was expecting to get high yields and more money," she said. "Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
In her first year, Ntseoane yielded around one ton per hectare. The second year was about the same. Thinking that she must have done something wrong, she nearly abandoned maize altogether in favor of raising chickens. By 2012, however, despite the pleasure she took in “mothering her children,” as she refers to chicken farming, that operation wasn’t making much money either.
It was around then that she was introduced to AfricaBio, a stakeholders’ association promoting the use of biotechnology in agriculture. Ntseoane initially had her doubts about growing GMO crops on her land.
“At first I was resistant due to some of the negative stories about biotechnology that are out there, like hearing that some people develop cancer and stuff,” she said.
After being persuaded to plant biotech seeds on one hectare of land, that resistance quickly faded away.
“Guess what? I saw the results and since then I’ve never turned back and I’m now a firm believer in biotechnology,” Ntseoane said, adding that her current yields of seven tons per hectare have changed her life by providing the needed income to expand into beef cattle management.
As for those safety concerns, Ntseona said she’s “a living testimony” to the “myth” that biotech seeds pose a threat.
“I’m eating biotechnology myself, my family is eating biotechnology and my cattle are eating biotechnology,” she said. “Five years later, I am here looking beautiful without any diseases.”
Despite the scare campaigns, Ntseoane argues that not only is it safe to use biotechnology, “it’s actually not safe to not to use biotechnology.”
“The world has a food security challenge and if we are not going to adopt the technology we won't be able to feed people in the future,” she said.
After so greatly expanding her own operation, the successful farmer who never thought she’d be a farmer now wants to help other women in South Africa follow in her footsteps.
“I feel that it is my duty to go out there and educate women who are still using conventional methods,” she said. “People need to be educated about biotechnology because the anti-GMO group has poisoned the minds of farmers in terms of saying it is not safe to use.”
“It is up to all of us to go out there and show the evidence,” she added.