I started ‘DG Dialogues' during my first weeks as Director General back in 2013, inspired by a field trip to our research sites in India. Bihar was suffering from severe drought. The longed-for monsoon rains were late and the crops in the fields were desiccated. Together with our scientists and local partners, I met the farmers – the 'citizen scientists’ we work with to find wheat and rice seeds to help them adapt to the changing climate. Because together we were able to find drought- and heat-tolerant varieties, the fields that are part of our research programme were in much better shape than the surrounding ones.
I returned from that trip truly inspired and ready for action. I had seen firsthand the innovative approaches used by our scientists – in this case citizen science where farmers are active participants in the research – and how agrobiodiversity is delivering results on the ground to the people who need it most. Since then I have spent much of my time on the international stage, educating policymakers, corporate leaders and funders about the importance of agrobiodiversity to nourish people and sustain the planet, as well as returning to the field as often as I could.
For my final blog, I wanted to highlight some of the many events and experiences that have shaped my time as Director General, so I reviewed all my past blogs to see what had driven me to put virtual pen to paper. What struck me most was how the recognition of agricultural biodiversity as a solution for sustainable food systems has become mainstream during the last six years. One of the reasons for this is the mounting scientific evidence of just how agrobiodiversity can contribute to food systems that nourish people and nurture the environment, enhancing environmental, economic and social health. During my six-year tenure alone, our scientists contributed to more than 800 peer-reviewed publications. Regretfully, I cannot cover all of these in my blog, but I sincerely encourage you to browse them here.
Perhaps the most significant driver of this sea-change occurred two years into my tenure – with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 Goals connected previously standalone challenges – for example, zero hunger, strengthening climate resilience and halting biodiversity loss – to global food and agricultural systems. By making these connections across different global challenges, the goals made it clear that our food systems are a major part of the problem and had to be a major part of the solution.
As Cristiana Pasca Palmer, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) neatly summed up in a recent oped for Devex: “It is a false dichotomy to choose between producing food and protecting biodiversity. Thriving ecosystems enable us to grow food, while greater genetic diversity in the crops we grow can increase yields and even improve the nutritional quality of foods.” This was a strong positive declaration, given that in the past many have seen agriculture and the environment as mutually exclusive or even mortal enemies.