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Celebrating 40 years of agricultural biodiversity research

Bioversity International

M. Ann Tutwiler, Director General, reflects on Bioversity International's past, present and future, in her special 40th anniversary DG Dialogues blog.

This week marks a momentous milestone in our history - Bioversity International’s 40th anniversary. In 1974, when the foundations of our organization were laid, our first priority was to secure the conservation of plant genetic resources around the world – especially those traditional crop varieties and wild relatives increasingly lost from fields and natural habitats.

Today, we have evolved into Bioversity International, with a vision that agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet. Our integrated research expands our original remit, evolving from an initial focus on plant genetic resources and ex situ conservation to a broader understanding of the role of biodiversity in food systems.

We are a global research-for-development organization that delivers scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain sustainable global food and nutrition security.

Our unique combination of skillsets, provided from staff from over 30 countries and enriched by 40 years of experience, enables us to exercise thought leadership with an agricultural biodiversity-related lens on complex issues the world is facing, such as reducing the double-burden of malnutrition, sustainably increasing food production, adapting food systems to climate change and addressing shrinking diversity in our food systems.

Our network of over 500 partners – from global institutions to local research centres – makes us a unique resource on the knowledge and use of agricultural biodiversity. As a member of the CGIAR Consortium – a 1 billion US$ consortium of 15 international agricultural research centres amounting to 10,000 scientists and staff working together for a food-secure future – we are working on cross-cutting global research programmes such as climate change, nutrition and forests.

We have had many of the world’s science leaders participating, implementing, influencing and advocating our work and achievements – manifested by our pivotal role in the establishment of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and our recent Bridging Agriculture and Conservation Initiative, which is uniquely providing evidence for finalizing the priorities for the Sustainable Development Goals.

We have been leading a UN global programme on neglected and underutilized species together with IFAD for over 10 years, and this week, the first-ever FAO report on the State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources was officially launched – a report to which Bioversity International scientists were key expert contributors.

These achievements are only a few of the positive harbingers for the future, and I am honoured to be leading Bioversity International at such an important time in its history.

To end, I have the pleasure of sharing what I believe to be our highest accolade in celebration of our 40 years – words that are taken from a special message sent to us this week by Professor M.S. Swaminathan – a World Food Prize laureate, father of economic ecology and unyielding advocate for sustainable development, food security and the preservation of biodiversity.

"We look at agrobiodiversity for facing major challenges. One is the extensive prevalence of malnutrition. There is also a problem of 'hidden hunger'. The other aspect is climate change ...All these require new genetic material. This is why the next 40 years of Bioversity International are going to be even more challenging. And I am sure that Bioversity International will be the flagship of the human quest for the conservation of genetic resources."

Professor Swaminathan’s words will serve as a guiding light as we reflect on our great achievements and look forward to those which will be made ahead.
Click here to view the message by video or read the full transcript.

At the time of this significant milestone, we are launching our strategy for Bioversity International’s next decade and I am confident that this strengthened strategy will position us to continue to make great progress, together with our partners, in achieving our vision: that agricultural biodiversity nourishes people and sustains the planet.

Thank you for your continued support of Bioversity International.

M. Ann Tutwiler


Photo: Bioversity International Director Generals past and present, and our Board Chair (l-r Emile Frison, M. Ann Tutwiler, Cristián Samper, Geoff Hawtin)