Onyaole Patience Koku, Nigeria; Diana Lenzi, Italy

Why are farmers like us embracing gene-editing in regenerative agriculture?

A photograph of two rows of corn plants with soft lighting

In February 2024, the EU Parliament found a position for new rules on plants obtained through 'New Genomic Techniques' (NGTs) – commonly called gene editing – after the EU Commission had tabled a legislative proposal the previous year. 

As farmers who worry about the future of food security in an era of climate change, we think this is an encouraging sign. 

Science-based gene editing technology holds the promise to advance regenerative agriculture, an outcome-based model of farming that aims for both economic and environmental benefits, such as productivity gains, better soil health and climate resilience. For example, gene-edited plants can produce higher yields and better resist pests and pathogens, reducing the need for pesticides and making food production more robust. 

Woman and man on filed working and smiling

Promoting food security through gene editing

On the surface, farmers like us don’t have much in common: One of us grows corn in Nigeria, and the other runs an organic vineyard and olive grove in Italy. We live in different places, serve different customers, and face different challenges.

Yet we’re united in our belief that NGTs present a tremendous opportunity not just to farmers striving to adopt regenerative farming practices, but also to consumers who understandably want to see more sustainably produced food on supermarket shelves.

The EU’s proposed regulation on NGTs is an important step forward to understanding and accepting the great benefits of gene-editing technology for agriculture and civil society. Many European farmers, stakeholders, and agricultural organizations already support this important innovation and recognize its enormous upside. 

That is encouraging.  Because in a global market, standards and practices adopted in Europe matter to the rest of the world, not least the EU’s trading partners. And at the same time, the EU needs to keep pace in the global innovation arena to maintain competitiveness, because others have already advanced in these technologies.

A photograph of Diana Lenzi's family farm, Fattoria di Petroio

Science-based climate change mitigation

With NGTs, crop scientists can speed up the slow process of traditional breeding that farmers have used since the birth of agriculture. They get results quickly by nudging existing genes in helpful directions, leapfrogging conventional trial-and-error experiments that can take generations to complete.

The technology can also involve everyone, from big-time producers of major commodities and small breeders to academia and farmers like us. 

In Italy, NGTs could help farmers overcome the devastating effects of climate change and the spread of uncontrollable pest and fungus that the traditional methods of control and contrast can no longer defeat. And they can make it easier for organic farmers to produce affordable food and compete in the marketplace while remaining true to their core principles.

In Africa, where agricultural productivity trails the rest of the world, NGTs can help farmers grow better crops that make more food, nourish our neighbors, increase household incomes and improve livelihoods.

Advancing sustainable farming in Europe and beyond

For all these reasons, Europe’s political and scientific leadership on gene-editing is needed more than ever. 

In recent months, various bodies within the EU’s political bureaucracy have considered the promise of NGTs. Going forward, they must strive to come up with a consistent and evidence-based approach that begins to settle the matter in favor of this excellent technology.

NGTs give us a chance to embrace science as the guiding light for Europe’s transition to a regenerative future in agriculture. It is about adopting technologies and innovations that can make global food production more climate resilient, more sustainable, and more fruitful.

Onyaole Patience Koku co-founded and manages Replenish Farms where they grow mostly maize under irrigation in Nigeria.  Through their company 1hectare1 family, they are providing access to knowledge transfer supporting input and market access for smallholder farmers in Nigeria. Patience is an outspoken advocate for making sure that all farmers have access to innovative technology and is a member of the Global Farmer Network.  www.globalfarmernetwork.org 

Diana Lenzi runs her family’s organic winery, Fattoria di Petrorio, in Tuscany where she grows grapes to do Chianti Classico and olive for Extra Virgin Olive oil available on the international market and direct sales on the farm. She also manages an arable crop farm in the Marche, is a professor for Agri-business, sustainable agri-business and food and beverage management.  Diana provides leadership to young farmers’ organizations and is a member of the Global Farmer Network.  www.globalfarmernetwork.org 

Onyaole Patience Koku
portrait of farmer Patience Koku
Onyaole Patience Koku
CEO, Replenish Farms, Nigeria
Diana Lenzi
portrait of farmer Diana Lenzi
Diana Lenzi
Farmer, Immediate Past CEJA President, Italy
4 min read