“Carrying out superficial repairs to our existing food systems will no longer suffice. We need disruptive change within and across today’s varied and complex food systems. To be sustainable, food system policy choices must focus on environmental as well as nutritional and health consequences.” This was the stark warning from experts at the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS44) in October 2017.
That this disruptive change needs to include agricultural biodiversity was the central message in Bioversity International’s flagship book published this year. Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems: Scientific Foundations for an Agrobiodiversity Index presents the most recent scientific evidence on how to use agricultural biodiversity in diets and in production systems to help achieve sustainable food systems.
In Bioversity International's 2017 Annual Report, we celebrate our science, our partners, and how #agrobiodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet @JMartonLefevre @AnnTutwiler @BioversityInt
Agricultural biodiversity is the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture.
Bioversity International's vision is that agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet. Our mission is 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. Below are some research highlights from 2017 linked to our four strategic objectives which are to diversify diets, production systems, seeds and planting material, and to safeguard agricultural biodiversity.
In the research highlights section of the Annual Report, you will find ten stories based on scientific papers produced by Bioversity International scientists working with partners.
These highlights represent just a small selection of the 169 papers produced in 2017.
Bioversity International works with partners around the world including a wide range of funders and research partners who share our vision and mission 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.
Bioversity International is proud to be a CGIAR Research Centre. We participate in six CGIAR Research Programs and two Platforms supported by CGIAR Trust Fund members in close collaboration with the other 14 CGIAR Centres and hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector.
We thank all of our partners for their critical and continued support.
Mobilizing funds for international agricultural research remains challenging. Nonetheless, Bioversity International’s overall revenue from bilateral grants has grown by 21% since 2012 – the highest level of bilateral funding ever! We thank all of our funders for their critical and continued support.
In 2017, our relationships with the governments of Belgium, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Peru and Switzerland were further strengthened. Our partnerships with multilateral organizations keen to mainstream agrobiodiversity in sustainable food systems such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), European Commission (EC), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility have also been strengthened, as has our support from foundations. These commitments are complemented by many other supporters of our work who are listed in this report.
We would also like to highlight important additional in-kind contributions of facilities and experts from Belgium’s Katholieke Universiteit of Leuven and the governments of China, Germany, India, and Italy among others. We estimate the value of in-kind contributions amounted to at least $5 million in 2017.
For more information, download our 2017 Financial Statements
Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias
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
Writing: Arwen Bailey, Jeremy Cherfas, Samantha Collins, Mirna Franic, Marta Millere, with contributions from many of our scientists
Contributors: Nora Capozio, Oonagh Darby, Maria Garruccio, Karen Harmann, Annie Huie, Allison Poulos
Design: Pablo Gallo
Web Editor: Carol Blay
Project Manager: Samantha Collins
When it comes to the use of plant diversity, science is way ahead of policy. Bioversity International took part in a deep analysis of the difficulties, to guide policy regime changes that will strengthen access and benefit sharing.
Access and benefit-sharing (ABS) systems – including the Nagoya Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity or the multilateral system of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Plant Treaty) – set rules for exchanging genetic material. In return for getting access to genetic resources, plant breeders, for example, are supposed to share some of the benefits that new varieties they develop deliver, in the form of royalty payments, or research partnerships, or training. But there are some challenges because both the Nagoya Protocol and the Plant Treaty were drawn up before a dramatic expansion of new technologies in molecular biology.
Automated DNA sequencers have brought down the cost and time needed to decode an organism’s genome. Expression arrays make it possible to see precisely which genes are active in which varieties under what conditions. Digital sensors can keep a watchful eye on growing plants, either in a greenhouse or in outdoor fields, and build up a detailed picture of how the plants respond to environmental conditions. Advanced computers can link this phenotypic data to genomic data.
All these technologies and others, such as precise genome editing, have made it possible for breeders to develop new varieties more rapidly and with a greater likelihood of success. That ought to translate to greater benefit sharing, but there is a problem.
The current system of ABS arose at a time when making use of agricultural biodiversity required breeders to obtain the living material, and that is what the system is about. The rise of new technologies means that much of what breeders need exists as disembodied information, for example the genetic sequence that codes for a particular trait. This kind of information, unlike the plant material from which it was derived, is easy to copy and transmit, and is not subject to benefit-sharing obligations.
The challenges are augmented by the fact that the capacity to commercially exploit these new technologies resides primarily in the global north (with some considerable exceptions among the BRIC* countries for example), and much of the genomic data is derived from genetic diversity that was developed in the global south. It is important to ensure that these new technologies are used to shrink, not expand, the technological divide between developed and developing countries.
While the technology breakthroughs are new, they require us to re-examine, with increased urgency, long-standing questions. The ability of developing countries – and particularly poor farmers in those countries – to benefit from new sequencing and breeding technologies depends largely on how agricultural research for development is structured. The fact that these new technologies, and the benefits they can deliver, fall between the cracks in international ABS agreements underscores the challenge.
Some impediments are technical. The cost and efficiency of generating phenotypic data (which is necessary ultimately to link genes and traits) is lagging far behind. Genomic, phenotypic, geographic and climate data is widely diffused across different information systems around the world that are currently not interoperable. Research data is often not linked back in traceable ways to particular research materials. Without clear specific links between information and the material from which it was derived, there will be no way to know whether any future system of access and benefit sharing might apply. Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) – unique to every accession or sample – offer a potential solution that is being explored by the Plant Treaty.
Other impediments concern behaviour. At times agricultural biodiversity seems to look wistfully at biomedical science, where early agreements to make all information freely available greatly speeded up discovery and innovation. Digital data repositories analogous to genebanks have been suggested as a way to offer open access to data and to ensure that data are correctly linked to material. There is, unfortunately, a low level of mutual trust among the various actors, with developing countries especially concerned that they (and their farmers) will not receive a due share of the benefits.
A rethink of the current system of ABS is clearly in order. Rather than contribute to the benefit-sharing fund of the Plant Treaty after having developed a new variety, one suggestion is that plant breeders pay a subscription in advance, perhaps based on their global seed sales. Alternatively, countries could subscribe on behalf of their plant breeders, making payments based on seed sales within their borders. The subscription would give them access to the material and information about it. Norway voluntarily contributes 0.1% of seed sales to the Plant Treaty, and while Norway’s agreement says nothing about data, it does offer a precedent for a subscription system, and a possible way forward dealing with genomic information.
“The Plant Treaty and Nagoya Protocol meetings are buzzing with debates about ways to address this issue. It could take a very long time before all countries and stakeholders can agree on any new international norms,” Dr Michael Halewood, Head of Policy, Bioversity International says. “Meanwhile it is more important than ever to ensure that agricultural research organizations and farmers in developing countries are supported through training, technology transfer and partnerships to be able to use and benefit from genomic information.”
A just system of access and benefit sharing is crucial if the world is to stand any chance of using agricultural biodiversity to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, for example by increasing the resilience of food production in the face of climate change. That will require new approaches, which will require the full participation of those who are developing and using the new technologies.
* Brazil, Russia, India and China
'Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture: Opportunities and challenges emerging from the science and information technology revolution'
Michael Halewood, Head of Policy, Bioversity International is the lead author on this paper which was co-written with partner authors from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Global Plant Council, Scotland’s Rural College and the Earlham Institute in the UK, the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, the University of British Columbia in Canada, Arizona State University, Cornell University and Iowa State University in USA, the Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization in Iran, the Indonesian Centre for Biotechnology and Genetic Resources in Indonesia, and the Secretariat of International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Italy. Views are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the authors organizations.
Citation: Halewood, M.; Chiurugwi, T.; Sackville Hamilton, R.; Kurtz, B.; Marden, E.; Welch, E.; Michiels, F.; Mozafari, J.; Sabran, M.; Patron, N.; Kersey, P.; Bastow, R.; Dorius, S.; Dias, S.; McCouch, S.; Powell, W. (2018)*. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture: opportunities and challenges emerging from the science and information technology revolution. New Phytologist Vol.217(4), p. 1407-1419 ISSN: 1469-8137 http://hdl.handle.net/10568/92407 *Accepted for publication 2017
When it comes to the use of plant diversity, science is way ahead of policy. @BioversityInt took part in a deep analysis of the difficulties to guide policy regime changes to strengthen access and benefit sharing @CGIAR
New technologies in molecular biology are way ahead of policy when it comes to the access and benefit sharing of plant genetic resources @BioversityInt @CGIAR