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Connecting Genebanks, Economics and Careers

16 November 2020

HANOI, VIETNAM, 16 AUGUST 2016: Genetically engineered Cassava plants are transplanted in a experimental greenhouse at the Hanoi headquarters of the International center for Tropical Agriculture. CIAT’s mission is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture. Backed by the Colombian government and Rockefeller, Ford, and Kellogg Foundations, CIAT was formally established in 1967 and began its research in 1969. CIAT’s staff includes about 200 scientists. Supported by a wide array of donors, the Center collaborates with hundreds of partners to conduct high-quality research and translate the results into development impact. A Board of Trustees provides oversight of CIAT’s research and financial management. CIAT develops technologies, methods, and knowledge that better enable farmers, mainly smallholders, to enhance eco-efficiency in agriculture. This makes production more competitive and profitable as well as sustainable and resilient through economically and ecologically sound use of natural resources and purchased inputs. CIAT has global responsibility for the improvement of two staplefoods, cassava and common bean, together with tropical forages for livestock. In Latin America and the Caribbean, research is conducted on rice as well. Representing diverse food groups and a key component of the world’s agricultural biodiversity, those crops are vital for global food and nutrition security. In its work on agrobiodiversity, the Center employs advanced biotechnology to accelerate crop improvement. Progress in our crop research also depends on unique collections of genetic resources– 65,000 crop samples in all – which are held in trust for humanity. Alongside its research on agrobiodiversity, CIAT works in two other areas – soils and decision and policy analysis – which cut across all tropical crops and production environments. Center soil scientists conduct research across scales – from fields and farms to production systems and landscapes – to create new tools and knowledge that help reduce hunger through sustainable intensification of agricultural production, while restoring degraded land and making agriculture climate smart. CIAT’s work on decision and policy analysis harnesses the power of information to influence decisions about issues such as climate change, linking farmers to markets, research impact assessment, and gender equity. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images for Crop Trust)

The Genebank Impacts Fellowship

Two cohorts of young professionals have had the opportunity to leverage their passion for economics and agricultural sciences through a Genebank Impacts Fellowship, supported by the CGIAR Genebank Platform and the Crop Trust. The fellows, selected from a wide range of countries and academic backgrounds, undertake research aimed at assessing the impacts of genebanks and the genetic materials they conserve and distribute.

“With the Genebank Impacts Fellowship Program, we want to make the connection between genebanks and other disciplines such as economics and social sciences,” says Program Coordinator, Nelissa Jamora, agricultural economist at the Crop Trust.

 

What makes the Genebank Impacts Fellowship special?

The Genebank Impacts Fellowship serves a double purpose. First, it provides an early-career opportunity for professional development and hands-on experience. But it also helps raise the profile of international genebanks, as the fellows’ work provides evidence of the various tangible contributions that genebanks make to livelihoods and development.

The fellows work on case studies, join workshops and bootcamps, and have access to mentorship from impact evaluation and conservation professionals. The fellowship is home-based and runs for at least six months. We typically ask fellows to visit one of the genebanks in person at least once over the course of the program.

I co-run the program with Melinda Smale of Michigan State University, who is one of the pioneers in the field of genebank valuation. 

Tell us about the Impact Fellows.

The first cohort included seven fellows, from Colombia, Italy, Kenya, Morocco, the Philippines and the USA. Some were interested in agricultural development, some in plant science, and they had different levels of prior exposure to genebanks.

We began working with our second cohort earlier this year. The five new fellows are from Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, the Philippines and the USA. This group has a strong background in economics.

What kind of work are they doing as Impact Fellows?

Each fellow works on their own research project, attached to one of the CGIAR international genebanks. This year, we have fellows working with genebanks at the International Potato Center (CIP), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Africa Rice Center.

Each project involves gathering data from the genebanks to quantify  the genebanks’ contribution to areas such as agricultural development and nutritional security. For example, last year, our cohort completed projects on subjects ranging from demand for banana germplasm in Asia to maize diversity rematriation in Latin America and biofortified beans in Africa.

At the end of the program, the fellows have high-quality research ready for publication. We’re especially excited this year to have a special section in the October 2020 issue of the journal Food Security. Every fellow from the 2018 cohort will have their work published, so we’re extremely proud of that.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the program?

Since the fellowship is conducted remotely, we’ve avoided some major issues, but we’ve moved our workshops online, and current fellows have to rely on secondary data for much of their work. Depending on where they are based, some fellows have still been able to collaborate with people on the ground. 

What’s your favorite part of working on this program?

It’s working with young people. I get to watch them make the same connection I am passionate about: between genebanks and economics. 

I love to follow the professional growth of the impact fellows and how their interests evolve. Of course, it’s challenging, but it’s also fun and rewarding. Many of these young professionals started the program with no knowledge of genebanks, and now, a year later, they are experts in their fields, ready to make an impact.

Did you catch Nelissa's lightning talk about the Genebank Impacts Fellowship Program at the GLF Biodiversity 2020 conference in October? Watch it now:

 

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