Director and Chief Technology Officer
Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited (Mahyco)
Dr. Usha Barwale Zehr is the Director and Chief Technology Officer at Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited (MAHYCO) in India. She received her PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For the past 20 years, she has been utilising new technologies and tools including biotechnology for improving the quality and productivity of seeds and agriculture. In addition, Dr. Zehr serves as Director of the Barwale Foundation, a non-profit research foundation. She also serves on the Board of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa.
Mahyco focuses on research and development, production, processing, and marketing of seeds for Indian farmers. Founded in 1964, Mahyco is the pioneer of high-quality hybrid and open pollinated seeds, through the use of cutting-edge technology and intensive research activities.
Dr. Zehr served as a geneticist at Purdue University, studying sorghum and millet and focusing on the application of plant biotechnology for improving agricultural production. During her graduate and post-graduate studies, she worked in the area of tissue culture and transformation. Her group at the University of Illinois was the first to develop a system for soybean regeneration. As a result of her work at Purdue University, the first transgenic sorghum plant was produced. Her work in plant biotechnology is aimed toward implementing emerging technologies in the developing world.
Small holder farmers and science of tomorrow
Small Holder farmers in India have benefited from the scientific advances be it the high yielding varieties of Green revolution or the most recent revolution with the use of Bt cotton leading to livelihood improvement. The small holder farmers in India will continue to feed the nation and more under several environmental constraints which require rededicated effort in agricultural sciences. Application of new science to agriculture is critical be it New Breeding Technologies, greater focus on soil health, water use efficiency and more. Farmers are also constrained by what they have access to, where their inputs come from and where they will go to market their harvest. Indian farmers are using mobile phones in large numbers, from basic to smart phones and with relatively cheap access to data, are using these devices to share information. Digital platforms which provide information on weather, soil health, carbon status, predict yield, financial transactions or market opportunities in addition to the genetic improvements are being delivered to farmers in local languages and impacting their decision making and improving lives. Policies around new innovation must be clear to deliver the benefits of these advances to the farmers. These innovations are shaping the future of science for small holder farmers and may even entice the youth to continue to farm.