Andy Jarvis

Andy Jarvis

An interview with Andy Jarvis, agricultural geographer, CIAT and Bioversity

Q: You say you have two “mantras.” What are they?

A: One is “crop wild relatives.” (Note: A crop wild relative (CWR) is the wild variety of a domesticated food crop.) When you look at the status of crop wild relatives, it’s actually very scary. They’re not conserved in the wild. And the degree of conservation in gene banks is appallingly low. Many have gone extinct already—and we have no idea what genes they might have had—for disease resistance, productivity, drought or salt tolerance….

At the same time, there’s exponential growth in the demand for and use of these genes through biotechnology. In the past, when you bred a wild crop relative with a cultivar you might get what you wanted—say disease resistance—but along with that came a tough seed coat or small pod or other things you don’t want. Now, you can use molecular markers to take just what you want.

Q: If they’re not in the genebanks, how do you find wild crop relatives?

A: We’ve been going through 30 major crop genepools, including beans, potatoes, wheat, rice, sorghum, cassava, some forages, coffee…. We collect all available information, through herbarium and genebank databases, of every point where wild crop relatives have been observed. Then we model the species distribution see what all these habitats have in common, to come up with suitability requirements.

So if, for instance, we know something exists in ten sites with these characteristics—where else in the world has those characteristics? That’s where you’re likely to find the species.

Q: For example…?

A: Geneticists were searching for wild chili peppers in Paraguay. We found records of 18 places with chili populations in the past, but they weren’t there any more, nor in collections So we modeled the conditions in the sites the botanists had described—and came up with 20 places with similar environments where people might look. It worked–they found the chilis in seven of those places.

In beans, there are 70-plus wild species, all in the Americas. There are 170-plus wild relatives of potatoes. But in lots of crops—maize being one of the most notable—there are just a few wild relatives left. Most of the species have been lost.

A massive global initiative is urgent for our major crops. That’s what the Global Crop Diversity Trust, housed at FAO, is trying to do.

Q: And the other mantra?

A: Climate change and crops. We’ve taken the 50 biggest crops, by area, and modeled how climate change will change their geography. After the biggest—rice, maize, wheat and a couple of others—no one has done this. We’re using a simple, niche-based approach: this crop grows in an environment with this rainfall and other characteristics, based on expert knowledge.

The shocking thing is that there are huge changes, for both 2020 and 2050. For instance, the models show that maize goes way down in Africa. But cassava gains area. Already, there’s anecdotal evidence of farmers shifting from maize to cassava or sorghum.

In a few areas farmers will lose all sorts of options. Maybe today they have 20 crop options; in the future, maybe they’ll only have 3. Some regions are in serious trouble: Southern Africa. Parts of Sahel. Eastern Brazil, northern Africa and the Mediterranean, including southern Europe.

But in East Africa—the rainy parts, such as most of Uganda—massive increases in rainfall are predicted. So farmers may have more choices. And they may be able to crop continuously. But the models show that pests and diseases also rise.

The bottom line is that everything’s changing, and quickly. The first users of climate-change information should be researchers themselves. Most agricultural research programs take at least 10 years to come to fruition out in the fields. So researchers need to target a 2020 world for their 2020 research results—not work toward better strategies for a 2009 world in 2020.

Q: Why do you call yourself a “promiscuous geographer?”

A: I use the same geographic tools—but apply them to all sorts of things: what we’ve been talking about, plus forest biodiversity, coffee quality, forage, threats to protected areas…. I’m interested in so many things, I seem to need to keep moving around.

You can hear Andy’s perspective on BBC Digital Planet – available at ICT-KM Blog on Famers’ productivity

Day one of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop kicked off in earnest in Penang, Malaysia, with a history lesson of sorts. Chronicling the joint efforts of CGIAR communication specialists over the last two decades, Collective Communications in the CGIAR: A short history of a longstanding effort elicited a lively discussion among participants, some of whom were around when the Public Awareness Association (PAA) was established way back in 1988.

Ruth Raymond

Ruth Raymond

Ruth Raymond, Head of Public Awareness Unit, Bioversity International, recalls the early days of the Association and its role with Future Harvest.

“The PAA supported an attempt to rebrand the CGIAR System,” she explains. “It established a small office in the CGIAR Secretariat that was tasked with promoting the work of the Centers under the new brand of Future Harvest. As a result, each of the Centers became a Future Harvest Center. For example, IRRI became known as ‘IRRI, a Future Harvest Center’. Although we kept the formal acronym of the CGIAR, the Centers were promoted collectively under the new brand.”

As the Chair of the PAA from 1998 to 2002, Ruth was active during the establishment of the Marketing Group, which succeeded the PAA.

“In 2002, the PAA merged with the Resource Mobilization Network (RMN) to become the Marketing Group,” she says. “This arose from a recognition that the resource mobilization people and the communications people needed to collaborate and coordinate their efforts since the activities are (or should be) dependent on each other. So the PAA and RMN started meeting together during the annual CGIAR meetings. Then we had a big meeting in Annapolis in 2001, where we decided that we would merge the two groups and become the Marketing Group.”

The rise
At the time the Marketing Group was created, there was a good relationship between Future Harvest and the CGIAR Centers.

“Future Harvest was helping the Centers get their stories into the media” explains Ruth. “The Centers were working together on a lot of different projects and often attended major international conferences representing the System. Although this did not discourage individual Centers from promoting their own roles, it told the outside world that we were a system: an alliance of scientists working together to support agriculture research for the benefit of the people. We appreciated the association with Future Harvest: the name is easy to remember and has a certain ring to it, unlike the alphabet soup of Centre acronyms.”

The fall
Although Future Harvest was successful in raising awareness of the Centers’ work, the initiative was to be short-lived

”For a time, Future Harvest had strong support throughout the System. Certainly, the communications specialists in the Centers appreciated the support they received from the initiative. But the overall support seems to have been more personal than institutional and it was questioned by new donors and managers coming into the System who had not been involved in the design and development of the new brand. Many donors identified closely with the CGIAR brand. Also, there was a feeling that Future Harvest should have led to additional resources coming into the System following its success at awareness raising. We were probably overly optimistic about how quickly that would happen.”

With support ebbing, it was only a matter of time before Future Harvest was forced to close down operations. The apparent lack of support for collective action under Future Harvest led the Marketing Group to lose its way, and some Centers didn’t see the benefit anymore of being part of the Group, so they backed out altogether.

“It was heartbreaking for those of us who had worked for years to try to get Future Harvest and the Marketing Group up and running,” Ruth says of that time. “The resource mobilization people never really integrated themselves with the communications people and vice-versa. Despite the obvious link between the two areas, coordination is still lacking in many Centers. In some cases, they are still in different silos and don’t talk to each other nearly enough. It’s not a fight that’s easy to win.”

The future
“There is formally a Marketing Group, but other than sharing information and experiences on a listserv, we really don’t do anything much together anymore. I hope that as a result of this workshop we can come to some sort of an agreement on how collective communications will work in the future, because I feel there are real benefits from working together.”

In the context of this workshop GFAR invited us to submit organizational profiles in order to allow GFAR to do some assessment work. Participant organizations were asked to share their needs and priorities with regards to Agricultural Knowledge Sharing, Education and Learning. Concrete suggestions for action were also part of the form.

See the profiles:

Eight participants, and two facilitators of the first KS Workshop are joining efforts to write a joint article about their multiple perspectives around knowledge sharing in the context of our workshop experience. I am talking about Alessandra Galié (ICARDA), Ben Hack (consultant), Alexandra Jorge (ILRI / Bioversity), Florencia Tateossian (CGIAR Secretariat), Andrea Pape-Christiansen (ICARDA), Vanessa Meadu (World Agroforestry Centre), Michael Riggs (FAO), Gauri Salokhe (FAO), Nancy White (consultant) and myself.

What are we trying to do?
We want to share and document a snapshot of our professional lives, at the moment when the KS workshop took place. Clearly, our backgrounds, current responsibilities, and applications of tools and methods learned in the KS workshop are diverse and we hope that we can provide readers with multiple perspectives on, and examples of, the contributions of “modern” KS approaches to our development work. Overall we will look at the value or significance of KS approaches (and the KS workshop itself) to us as international development professionals?

How are we getting this done?
In order to get such a joint article done, we benefit from the help of Gerry Toomey, a science writer who will coordinate our efforts and edit the different pieces as a whole. Gerry had short interviews with each of us and just sent us some guidelines so we can work on our individual contributions. For this enterprise we use a wiki set up as a private space. Each of us has a personal page where we can compose or paste in our texts. While we will not be editing anyone else’s text, we are all encouraged to leave comments, questions, suggestions, or words of encouragement on each other’s pages. Gerry will then work with each of us individually on our drafts.

We are all looking forward to it and hope to come back to you soon with a useful piece. Happy writing to all!

Everything seems to be ready for the three-day meeting of the FAO-CGIAR Knowledge Sharing Workshop that starts tomorrow. It will take place at Bioversity HQ in Rome just after the first 4-week on-line phase.

We expect 35 participants and our facilitators will be Nancy White (consultant), Pete Shelton (IFPRI), and Gauri Salokhe (FAO). Open Space is one of the meeting dynamics that we will be using.

Watch out Gauri’s blog for frequent updates, the photo gallery for pictures, and the KS Toolkit wiki for real time summaries on the workshop and open space sessions.