At the end of 2016, representatives from 200 countries gathered in Mexico at the 13th meeting of the Conference to the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13). The Conference theme was ‘Mainstreaming Biodiversity for Well-Being’, reflecting the groundswell of interest by the global community in biodiversity’s potential role to achieve sustainable development, in particular on the importance of agrobiodiversity’s role in achieving more sustainable food systems. Agrobiodiversity holds the promise to make our food systems healthy for both people and the planet to meet today’s global challenges such as malnutrition, climate change and degradation of ecosystem services.
As a result of this groundswell, we are seeing growing interest in Bioversity International’s vision and mission. In November, at the inaugural International Agrobiodiversity Congress co-organized by Bioversity International and the Indian Society of Plant Genetic Resources, 900 participants from 60 countries came together to adopt the Delhi Declaration on Agrobiodiversity Management. The Declaration calls for urgent action to mainstream agricultural biodiversity for sustainable development which Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, described as “a treasure of valuable agrobiodiversity that we have not explored scientifically yet.”
"Agrobiodiversity holds the promise to make our food systems healthy for both people and the planet to meet today’s global challenges such as malnutrition, climate change and degradation of ecosystem services."
Agricultural biodiversity is the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture.
Agricultural biodiversity is the backbone of sustainable agricultural intensification. For example, agroforestry, home gardens, integrated crop–livestock systems, mosaic land uses, intercropping, cover crops, integrated pest management and crop rotations all typically benefit from using agricultural biodiversity.
It is also a rich resource for year-round healthy, diverse diets by providing nutrient-rich species and varieties, which are often well adapted to local conditions. Increasing the number of food groups grown on farms is associated with greater diversity on the plate.
Households which grow a diverse set of crops are less likely to be poor than households that specialize in their crop production. Additionally, crop diversity reduces the probability that a non-poor household will fall into poverty and the probability that a poor household will remain in poverty.
While agricultural biodiversity is by no means the only component needed in a sustainable food system, a sustainable food system cannot exist without agricultural biodiversity.
Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems
Productive and Resilient Farms and Forests
Effective Genetic Resources Conservation and Use
In 2016, Bioversity International produced 184 scientific publications on topics that include:
- Banana genetic resources conservation and management systems
- Biodiversity and ecosystem services
- Diet diversity and nutrition
- Forest genetic resources and restoration
- Fruit tree and tree crops diversity
- Genetic resources policies and institutions
- Neglected and underutilized species
- On farm and in situ conservation.
Bioversity International works with partners around the world to identify and deliver innovative solutions to ensure agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet.
Our partners are national and international research systems and advanced research institutes, non-governmental organizations, foundations, private sector organizations, government ministries, UN agencies and international bodies.
Bioversity International's work would not be possible without the support of the CGIAR Fund members and a wide range of funding partners who share our vision and mission.
The continuous and fruitful collaboration with our partners is critical for Bioversity International to deliver scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural and tree biodiversity to attain sustainable global food and nutrition security.
Mobilizing funding has become more challenging as governments of many high-income countries that support CGIAR have cut their aid budgets, diverted resources to crisis management, and seek clear lines of sight to development results. Nonetheless, Bioversity International’s overall revenue from bilateral grants has grown by 25% since 2012 including the first legally decreed contribution from Italy in 2016 and an additional voluntary contribution. Even without the extraordinary voluntary contribution from Italy, overall bilateral revenue increased 8% over the period. Meantime, development of several ‘transformative innovations’, evidence-based products that promise large-scale results ripe for support by development budgets, will help Bioversity International to recover and grow again following the cuts in revenue in 2015 and 2016 from the CGIAR System Fund.
Revenue in 2016 amounted to US$32 million against expenditures of $30.8 million, resulting in an operating surplus of $1.2 million for 2016. Bioversity International’s reserves were at $12.2 million (154 days of expenditure) at 31 December 2016 compared with $10.7 million (115 days) at 31 December 2015, both of which are above the target of 90 days set by the Board.
For more information, download our 2016 Financial Statements
Cristián Samper (until November 2016)
Julia Marton-Lefèvre (from November 2016)
Maria Helena Semedo
M. Ann Tutwiler
Douglas van den Aardweg
Bioversity International created a UK registered charity (no. 1131854) in October 2008 to increase awareness and support for its research agenda and activities. Bioversity International UK is governed by an independent Board of Trustees.
M. Ann Tutwiler
Bioversity International USA, Inc aims to engage and inspire a wide range of partners and donors to ensure that agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet. It is led by a committed and highly regarded Board of Trustees:
M. Ann Tutwiler
Thanks to new insights from genetics, 2016 was a fruitful year for banana research. New studies from Bioversity International and partners have shed light on the diversity, origin and domestication of this delicious crop that provides nutrition and income to hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
In Belgium, in a large room at 16°C, thousands of vials sit undisturbed under fluorescent lights. Each vial contains a small banana plant: a precious sample of the genetic diversity of a delicious crop that provides food and income to hundreds of millions of people in the tropics and subtropics.
This is how the world’s largest collection of banana diversity is maintained at the Bioversity International Musa Germplasm Transit Centre (known also as the ITC), hosted at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.
This image of the ITC in vitro storage room may give one the impression that life in a genebank is quite static. Yet this could not be further from the truth. In a genebank, even maintaining crop samples – or as scientists call them, accessions – is a complex and cumbersome task, especially when preserving crops like potato or bananas that cannot be stored through their seeds.
But there is much more to a genebank than conservation. A fundamental scientific endeavour is understanding and characterizing the diversity conserved there. This helps to determine the characteristics and traits – such as nutritional content, tolerance to drought, resistance to pests and diseases, to name but a few – the accessions possess.
This is where genomics comes into play, allowing us to understand diversity at an unprecedented depth. Bioversity International scientists have been working hard for the past years to make the most out of the latest advancements in genomics and apply them to the banana.
By the end of 2016, they had sequenced 37% of the ITC accessions. This data will be used for multiple purposes, from managing the collection more effectively to helping to further decipher the domestication of banana.
“Understanding the domestication of banana is crucial,” says Bioversity International scientist Julie Sardos. “Cultivated bananas do not bear seeds and have very low fertility in general. So when we breed bananas, in a sense it is like reproducing what happened with domestication. Reaching a better understanding of domestication processes, allows us to reproduce them.”
Using banana accessions from the ITC, Sardos led a study published in PLOS ONE to unravel the genetic traits linked to seedlessness. This is a desirable trait in many fruit crops. “I don’t think that any of us would like to get a cracked tooth from a hard banana seed, would you? It almost happened to me once while tasting a banana in Indonesia. I wouldn’t recommend this experience to anyone!” laughs Sardos.
For the first time, Sardos and colleagues were able to use a technique that was thought impossible to apply in bananas – a genome-wide association study or GWAS. This kind of analysis has been used in human genomics to associate certain disease to specific variants in the genome, and it is now increasingly used for crop plants as well. For instance, GWAS led to the discovery of many candidate genes for traits related to agronomy in rice, barley and sorghum, for disease resistance in maize, root traits in rice or leaf architecture in cereals.
The result of Sardos’ study, which identified 11 genes associated with seedlessness, has also paved the way to other genome-wide association studies on bananas to identify traits of interest, such as drought tolerance and disease resistance. These traits are extremely important for farmers and breeders, especially in a climate change scenario with rising temperatures and unpredictable rain patterns.
To further shed light on the diversity conserved at the ITC, Bioversity International scientists and colleagues from partner research institutions have conducted additional molecular and genetic studies, providing insights on the evolution and taxonomy of the banana. According to the findings of one of these studies, bananas have two centres of domestication, southeast Asia and New Guinea. In New Guinea, domestication probably followed different schemes than previously thought.
“Many scientists around the world are studying domestication. I suspect that what they are after goes beyond breeding and practical applications. We tend to forget this, but humans and crops have shared a long history. The birth of agriculture was one of the most important innovations in human history. It is when we started to control nature. In a way, by studying the history of domestication, we are also discovering our own origins... and it looks like it has been a bit of an adventure. An adventure that tightly binds humans and plants,” concludes Sardos.
This research contributes to the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas and the CGIAR Genebank Platform, which are supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
This work is also supported by the Directorate-general Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD, Belgium), the Crop Trust and KU Leuven.