“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
The low cost and simple nature of new kinds of trials means that farms previously bypassed by participatory research for any reason – such as social conflict or remoteness – can contribute to researching the future of their planting diversity. At the same time, high-tech approaches allow farmers to show breeders where to look for the genes that make a variety more desirable.
Asking farmers to set priorities and take part in research to improve their systems is nothing new, especially at Bioversity International, but it does require additional resources. Spending time working with farmers to uncover their needs can be very difficult in remote locations. Farmers may be too busy with the practical business of farming to spend much time on scientific investigations. And for mainstream researchers, there is always a nagging doubt that the traditional knowledge accumulated by farmers will really help with the business of scientific innovation.
Over the past few years, however, research has shown both how to make it easier for farmers to participate and that their insights and participation are invaluable. The result will be a diversity of high quality seeds that better meet the farmers’ needs now and in the future.
Jacob van Etten, Senior Scientist, Bioversity International, and his colleagues, have pioneered a new approach to the selection of improved varieties that turns farmers into citizen scientists. The approach is called tricot, for triadic comparison of technologies.
Rather than getting a few farmers to evaluate lots of varieties – which requires training and time – tricot enrolls many farmers, each of whom evaluates only three varieties, answering a simple question for a few characteristics (e.g. vigour, pest resistance, quality): Which variety is the best and which is the worst?
Answers are easy for the farmer, and easy for the researchers to collect in person, in writing, and even by automated mobile phone messages. Software then turns the individual replies into an overall ranking of the varieties based on the so-called wisdom of crowds: if you ask enough different people to answer a difficult question, the average of their collective responses will be pretty close to the actual answer.
That is the theory, and van Etten and his colleagues have shown that it works in practice. But are the farmers’ replies accurate?
Jonathan Steinke, who led the research, is at pains to point out that they are not questioning the validity of the farmers’ knowledge, overall. Rather, they wanted to know whether this aspect of the farmers’ knowledge corresponds to other types of knowledge, as measured by the ‘scientific’ ranking.
It does. The ranking of varieties based on farmers’ observations corresponded with the agronomist’s ranking.
A crowd of 35 farmers, therefore, can make field observations at least as well as an agronomist. Based on those data, the researchers demonstrated that a bigger crowd would be even more accurate. They simulated tricot experiments on a computer, showing that 10 observers can reliably discriminate 4 out of 12 varieties. A crowd of 500 observers can discriminate 10 of the 12 varieties.
Steinke and his colleagues conclude that the aggregate, tricot-based trials contain sufficient information to give researchers statistically significant and relevant results. One hope now is that this technique will allow researchers to tap into farmer knowledge that is embedded in context and therefore not easily accessible even to the farmers. Hints that this may be possible are emerging from Bioversity International’s research halfway across the world, in Ethiopia.
Carlo Fadda. Senior Scientist, Bioversity International, and his colleagues have been working with farmers in Ethiopia to assess a range of 400 wheat varieties, most of them landraces, conserved by the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute. In an approach similar to tricot in Honduras, for one study they asked farmers and agronomists to assess the varieties. The farmers gave their opinion of four characteristics: flowering time, the shape of the wheat ear, how effectively the plant made new branches and something more ineffable, described as overall quality. The agronomists measured 10 different metric traits, such as days to 50% flowering, which is a scientific expression of flowering time.
Armed with those data, the researchers went back to the laboratory and analyzed the genome – the DNA – of the 400 varieties. The DNA contains tens of thousands of markers, each associated with a particular place, or locus, in the genome. Researchers can ask whether any particular trait assessed by either the farmers or the agronomists is associated with any markers on the genome of that variety.
This technique is called a genome-wide association study, and has been widely used to study genetic links with complex characteristics, such as human susceptibility to specific types of cancer. In this study, the researchers wanted to know whether there was any genetic basis to the traits assessed by the farmers and whether they matched the measured traits.
There were indeed 124 loci that associated with farmers’ traits, 30 that matched the metric traits, and 20 that reflected farmer traits and metric traits. So the traits farmers prefer in wheat can be traced to differences among wheat genomes.
Most of the loci associated with farmer traits concerned the shape of the ear and the overall quality. Preferences for particular spike morphology – as the scientists refer to the shape of the ear – probably reflect the farmers’ accumulated experience and knowledge of how different morphologies are likely to perform, but they don’t map exactly to any combination of the scientific measures. This is even more true for the farmers’ assessment of overall quality. This is understandably a very important trait for farmers, who bring a lifetime’s experience to judging it. As the study shows, genetic differences among varieties underpin their assessments of overall quality. And yet, as the researchers point out, farmers’ overall quality cannot be effectively summarized by any of the metric traits, alone or in combination.
What this suggests is that there definitely are genes that underpin farmers’ notions of quality. Breeders have yet to discover what those genes actually do, but they will. Thanks to the genome markers associated with farmer preferences, they have a much better idea where to look.
Taken together, the research in Honduras and in Ethiopia shows how farmers can play a much more concrete part in developing a diversity of seeds to plant. The tricot technique gives many more farmers the ability to provide valuable information on different crop characteristics that are important to them. At the same time, linking what farmers want to the genes that underpin those qualities gives plant breeders targets to aim at in developing new varieties to plant.
The insights from the work at Bioversity International have been picked up by other important research initiatives, such as the Next Generation Cassava Breeding Programme led by Cornell University. The Scientific Director of the Programme, Jean-Luc Jannink from the United States Department of Agriculture, is planning to use the tricot method in cassava trials. "We recognize that factors we cannot measure on the research station or we may not be aware of, may lead to smallholder farmers adopting or not adopting new varieties. By using the tricot method at scale, farmers will be able to give input on new varieties, that can help us narrow down to the few that will go to be tested in national trials," Jannick comments. "We believe this practice could help us breed varieties with a better chance of being farmer preferred, and therefore adopted."
'The accuracy of farmer-generated data in an agricultural citizen science methodology'
This paper was co-authored by Jonathan Steinke, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany, Bioversity International Senior Scientist Jacob van Etten and Pablo Mejía Zelan
Citation: Steinke, J.; van Etten, J.; Mejia Zelan, P. (2017) The accuracy of farmer-generated data in an agricultural citizen science methodology. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 37(32) ISSN: 1774-0746; http://hdl.handle.net/10568/83478
'Genome wide association study to identify the genetic base of smallholder farmer preferences of durum wheat traits'
This paper was co-authored by Bioversity International scientists Yosef Kidane and Carlo Fadda with partners from the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and the University of Bologna, Italy, Mekelle University and the Sirinka Agricultural Research Centre, Ethiopia
Citation: Kidane, Y.G.; Mancini, C.; Mengistu, D.K.; Frascaroli, E.; Fadda, C.; Pe, M.E.; Dell’Acqua, M. (2017) Genome wide association study to identify the genetic base of smallholder farmer preferences of Durum wheat traits. Frontiers in Plant Science 8: article 1230. ISSN: 1664-462X; http://hdl.handle.net/10568/82830
Farmers in #Honduras & #Ethiopia show breeders where to look for the genes that really matter to them @Seeds4Needs @CGIARClimate @BioversityInt
Which variety is best? Which is worst? Can paricipatory farmer research really be that simple and yet provide reliable information? Tricot trials show the answer is yes @Seeds4Needs
This research has been carried out through Bioversity International’s ‘Seeds for Needs’ initiative. It is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and is supported by CGIAR Trust Fund Donors.
For a full list of donors and partners, and other published papers, visit https://www.bioversityinternational.org/seeds-for-needs/
'Joining smallholder farmers’ traditional knowledge with metric traits to select better varieties of Ethiopian wheat' (co-authored by Bioversity International scientists Yosef Kidane and Carlo Fadda with partners from the Workaye and Melfa Villages Farmers Communities, the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Italy and Mekelle University, Ethiopia)
Central American professionals learn about farmer citizen science for climate adaptation
Farmer experimentation for climate adaptation with triadic comparisons of technologies (tricot): A methodological guide
First experiences with a novel farmer citizen science approach: crowdsourcing participatory variety selection through on-farm triadic comparisons of technologies (TRICOT)