Bringing together two world-class research-for-development CGIAR Centers is a major undertaking. However, the primary challenge is not implementing novel and efficient operations. It is doing justice to the Centers’ collective century-long research history, and charting a high-impact, coherent, and globally relevant research agenda that capitalizes on the expertise of both.

The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) achieved that in 2019 and has already made excellent progress in deploying its research strategy to serve society. This annual report highlights a sample of our most outstanding success stories from January through December 2019.

We would be remiss, however, not to address the critical predicament in which we currently find ourselves. Along with the rest of the world, we have observed with dismay the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which has drastically disrupted all aspects of life in such a short period. Our hearts and thoughts are with those who have lost so much. We are working arduously to ensure that the most vulnerable, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic, will not emerge from this current crisis to face one of food and nutritional insecurity.

When the Alliance produced its research strategy in 2019, the world was not in the midst of an unprecedented convergence of multiple crises: the pandemic, a global recession and an increasingly serious climate crisis. But the strategy has proven robust and is perhaps more relevant than ever given our current challenging context.

The Alliance’s response to the pandemic, for example, draws from our strategy and displays the breadth and depth of capacities, technologies and tools that are readily available to countries and actors across value chains to monitor and mitigate impacts on food systems and facilitate long-term recovery.

It is clear that delivering on our mission is even more urgent and necessary than ever before. By working at the nexus of food, nutrition and agriculture, the Alliance is fit for purpose, and we are ready to support the world’s recovery from the pandemic and any other crises that may eventually emerge. Through our research-for-development efforts, we are confident we can continue to contribute to building a better, fairer, healthier and more resilient future for all.

The Centers that make up the foundation of the Alliance have shown a long-standing record of producing game-changing research that is put into action through partnerships with governments, the private sector, academia and civil society organizations. During 2019, in preparation for the Alliance’s formal launch on 1 January 2020, both Centers worked more closely than ever before and, along with our partners, made major contributions through innovative, science-backed and pragmatic solutions that can apply from individual farms to regions, to the world as a whole.

Here we share a short list of research activities and outcomes from 2019 that highlight the scope and reach of our work.

  • Smallholder farmers now have more access than ever before to digital technologies. At a time when forest conservation and community empowerment are front and center, the SERVIR Amazonia program, led by the Alliance, gives smallholders across the Amazon Basin access to geospatial information to support sustainable land-use decisions.
  • While a digital divide remains in rural areas, farmers are becoming increasingly engaged as citizen scientists. In Nicaragua, Ethiopia and India, farmers collected and contributed data from more than 12,400 farm plots – in a crowdsourced effort to help smallholders respond to climate change. This innovative approach helps make local stakeholders key players in development actions and policy.
  • The climate crisis touches everyone, and smallholder farmers on marginal land are some of the hardest hit. From our longstanding efforts to breed hardier crops, we are deploying nutrient-rich, drought-tolerant and climate-adapted varieties of beans – a major source of vegetable protein – to farmers across Latin America and Africa.
  • Our data scientists are drawing from massive datasets to better understand how rainfall patterns have permanently changed and are already affecting major crops across the globe. Their work calls upon policymakers to start taking urgent adaptive measures to ensure long-term and sustainable food security.
  • The food on our plates has never been more important to understanding that in some places there is excess, while others do not have enough. Billions of people have diets that are damaging to their health and the planet, but change is possible, especially in the global north where there is a growing movement to eat more sustainable diets. Conversely, for urban poor in the global south, research shows that they can improve their diets when the market responds to their demands.
  • Increasing the diversity of diets with underutilized crop varieties has the potential to improve diets and the planet’s health, and conserve the biodiversity that is key to future food security. This was demonstrated through the renewed use of underutilized crops to improve diets and new global indicators of “neglected” crops that should be prioritized for research policy.
  • Global food systems have varying degrees of sustainability and for the first time, we have a baseline study that shows how sustainable many countries’ food systems are, and where progress on policy and foresight needs to be made.

In addition to building the Alliance in 2019, our Centers actively participated in the process leading to One CGIAR by helping plot out a successful path forward for the unified system. Our ongoing leadership of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and our co-leadership of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture make us especially well positioned to be at the forefront of new CGIAR collaborations across countries and regions.

As we reflect on our achievements in 2019 and traverse the challenging times that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the world in 2020, we know that resilience and preparedness are more important than ever. This is especially relevant as we embark on a critical period to meet the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and other major global commitments to curb climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation, among others.

Much remains to be done, but the Alliance is already among the key players that will help sustainably transform food systems to improve people’s lives in the years to come. We thank our funders and partners for having joined us in this journey, and look forward to continuing to work with you in delivering research-based solutions that harness agricultural biodiversity and sustainably transform food systems to improve people’s lives in a climate crisis.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre
Chair, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Board of Trustees

Juan Lucas Restrepo
Director General, Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)