Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Our mission is a no-brainer, says incoming Board Chair Julia Marton-Lefèvre

01 Dec 2016

We stopped to chat with two special guests of the first International Agrobiodiversity Congress in Delhi – Julia Marton-Lefèvre and Cristián Samper – incoming and outgoing Chairs of the Bioversity International Board of Trustees.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the new Board Chair, joined Bioversity International’s Board of Trustees in 2015. Julia is of Hungarian origin and has French and US double nationality. She studied history, ecology and environmental planning in the US and in France. She was the Director General of IUCN for eight years, stepping down in January 2015.

“I’ve known Bioversity International for a very long time – and especially well when I was the Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Bioversity International’s objectives – to diversify diets, production systems, seeds and planting material, and safeguard biodiversity – are very important and make a lot of sense. They are kind of a no-brainer: a healthy planet requires healthy agriculture and biodiversity, and healthy inhabitants who understand what they should do and eat. 

Bioversity International may not be as well-known as it should be and I am inspired to help with that. In addition to the relevance of our mission, our being in a network with the other CGIAR centres is a strong point.

As I join the Board of Trustees at Bioversity International as Chair, I think we need to be bolder in the way we communicate our research to engage the lay person and the policymaker. A good opportunity for the latter will be the upcoming 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 13).

I have just visited the Indian branch of the Bioversity International ‘Seeds for Needs’ initiative, and could witness how important our work is as we face climate change. We have to make sure that people have the right seeds to grow in the right climate as the climate of tomorrow will not be the same as it was yesterday.

I’m pleased to be the new Board Chair and help raise awareness of new ideas that Bioversity International is coming up with – such as The Agrobiodiversity Index, mentioned recently at the International Agrobiodiversity Congress in Delhi. I am fully supportive of the three Bioversity International Initiatives that were launched in 2015 under my predecessor Chair’s – Cristián Samper’s – guidance.

There aren’t that many new ideas out there. There are just ideas that need to be put in the public domain. The link between agriculture and biodiversity is obvious to me but it hasn’t actually been talked about as much as it deserves because of the separation between the two communities. The idea for this [International Agrobiodiversity] Congress was brilliant and I hope that it will be repeated and the Delhi Declaration will be put into action.

We have a first rate Board and staff at Bioversity International. The Board of Trustees seeks to provide strategic advice both about the science and the important policy-influencing role. The current Board is multi-disciplined, experienced and its members work well together. Cristián Samper has played a key role in leading the Board and his hand-over to me will ensure a seamless transition. Cristián and I are long-time colleagues and friends, and thus we will not be losing his inputs to Bioversity International, even after his term as Board member ends in March 2017.

I’m very glad to see that our strategy is linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are very ambitious and they’re pushing us to work together and not remain in our silos. If we do this right, the way we do business will be very different and most importantly, the well-being of the Planet and its inhabitants will be much improved."  

Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society and outgoing Chair of Bioversity International’s Board of Trustees, has served on the Board for eight years and will be completing his term in February.

“The experience of having served as Chair for the past three years has been one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of my career. I have learned so much from all the scientists and in particular from all of the Bioversity International projects, many of which I have seen in the field.

I am convinced that our mission and what we are trying to achieve is more relevant now than ever. As we assess the situation in the world right now, the SDGs, the need to figure out how we will feed the planet but at the same time doing it in a sustainable way that doesn’t destroy it, it is pretty clear that the time of agrobiodiversity has come. There is an opportunity for Bioversity International to lead the way, especially within and beyond CGIAR.

There is no doubt that the reforms of the CGIAR system during the last three years have been challenging for all, but Bioversity International has a great plan, Board and Director General in place, now all we’ve got to do is focus on our goals. It is good to be part of the CGIAR system, but we also need to look beyond the CGIAR and work with other institutions. We need to leverage our resources to have a bigger impact, and do a better job telling our story.

What I will remember the most are the field visits. For example, when we visited Otavalo, a town in northern Ecuador, I was amazed by how passionately some of the local communities managed bean diversity. Not only did they have 20 something different varieties planted in their fields but their knowledge of their different uses and conservation techniques was eye-opening. They know which varieties respond better to climate change and pests. We need to conserve this diversity and local knowledge, and use it improve production systems and nutrition.

The upcoming Agrobiodiversity Index, the 'Seeds for Needs' initiative, a new strategy and Director General are just some of the things that I am very proud to have been part of at Bioversity International.

I would like to thank my colleagues on the Board for their friendship and support. I have learned a lot from them, and they have done a lot for Bioversity International. I know Julia very well, and we are working together to ensure a smooth transition. I am also delighted with the new Board members, and we will have a very strong Board to guide and support Bioversity International and our mission in coming years."

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