ILRI genebank manager elected ‘Fellow’ of the prestigious Society of Biology

Alexandra Jorge ILRI genebank manager

Alexandra Jorge, the genebank manager at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is one of four Africa-based scientists elected, this past December, to join the Society of Biology, a leading professional body that represents individuals committed to biology from academia, industry, education and research.

With over 80,000 members, the Society of Biology promotes advances in biological science across the world and awards fellowships to individuals who make ‘contribution to the advancement of biological sciences, and who have over five years experience in positions of senior responsibility’. The society is a particular supporter of work done by scientists in developing countries.

Jorge, a plant physiologist, works under the People, Livestock and Environment theme at ILRI, where she is managing the study, documentation and conservation of forage seeds in a forage genebank located at ILRI’s campus in Addis Ababa. The genebank, together with Ethiopian field sites in Soddo, Ziway and Debre Zeit, contains over 20,000 types of tropical grasses, legumes and tree forages, which are routinely tested to ensure they remain healthy and viable for use in farms.

‘To be invited to become a Fellow of the Society of Biology is a great honour to any scientist and I am very proud of this achievement,’ says Jorge, ‘I thank the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) program for nominating me for this fellowship and I look forward to working with the large network of scientists in the Society.’

Other Fellows elected to the Society of Biology in December 2010 are Stella Asuming-Brempong, Waceke Wanjohi and Sheila Okoth. These four women are also fellows of AWARD, a Gender and Diversity Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

For African women scientists, such recognition is significant.

‘It can be a struggle for scientists from the developing world to network successfully and maximize the benefits of international collaboration due to geographical and financial reasons,’ said Vicki Wilde, director of the Gender and Diversity Program and AWARD, ‘These scientist’s voices—and the unheard voices of millions of farmers, particularly women, in sub-Saharan Africa—will now be heard and their work taken seriously.’

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For more information see the following article: http://www.societyofbiology.org/newsandevents/news/view/210

Read about ILRI’s work in managing forage diversity on http://www.ilri.org/ForageDiversity and http://mahider.ilri.org/handle/10568/228

For more on crop genebanks and forages visit: http://cropgenebank.sgrp.cgiar.org/ and http://www.tropicalforages.info/

A woman in science: Jean Hanson

Jean  HansonJean Hanson leads the Forage Diversity team at the Ethiopia campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Having worked in the fields of genebank management and conservation of forage genetic diversity for over 35 years, later this year she will ‘go on to the second phase’ of her career, as she puts it, when she retires from ILRI. ‘I want to concentrate on sharing the knowledge I gained throughout my career,’ she says. ‘I plan to work on building capacity and training students in my fields and working and learning from them, too.’ Early on, Hanson knew she was not going to follow the traditional path of women of her day. She did not feel like becoming a teacher or a nurse. ‘I was brought up in an age where women were not scientists. But raised on a farm, I was always interested in science,’ she says. ‘When I was 16, I thought women should have the same right to choose their career as men did, and I knew I was interested in science, so I went to university and first studied agriculture.’

After obtaining a PhD in seed physiology, she started a post-doctoral assignment with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, working with curating the maize genebank, in Mexico. She then worked in Indonesia for 5 years with the British Cooperation (DFiD) as a seed physiologist, establishing a legume genebank with a national research institute. Later, Hanson worked in Rome with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, among other organizations. Then, in 1986, she applied for and got a short-term contract with ILRI’s predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and stayed for…25 years.

Azage Tegegne, an animal scientist colleague of hers, remembers her from those days. ‘In 1986, I was working around Zwai, where Jean had substantial research activities. I was looking at feed, she was working on forages. We then started a very good and long-lasting working relationship,’ he says. ‘She also became a very good friend of mine. I have never known a more hard-working, dedicated person. She also goes the extra mile to make people feel good,’ he adds. ‘And she is very loyal and committed to her work and this institute. If plants need watering at 5 a.m., she is there, always taking responsibility.’

Jean Hanson has been leading ILRI’s project on forage genetic resources since 1989. She was Interim Director of Institutional Planning from 1996 to 2001 before taking up the position of Senior Advisor on matters relating to strategies, technologies and operational procedures for conserving and managing plant genetic resources ex situ on a joint appointment with IPGRI (now known as Bioversity International) and ILRI from 2002–2004. ‘In the field of genetic resources, she is an expert,’ says Alexandra Jorge, Coordinator of the Global Public Goods Project for Bioversity International, who has been working with Jean for the past 7 years. ‘She is well known and respected at the international level and scientists really take her comments into consideration.’

‘I am a hard core genetic resources scientist,’ confirms Jean Hanson. ‘When I started, it was pure science, all about technical things. These days, since the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994, issues such as access and benefit sharing or the ownership of genetic resources make it more political.’

If Jean is a renowned scientist whose work is recognized and appreciated by the international scientific community, she is also very well liked and colleagues unanimously comment on it. ‘If I have issues I want to discuss, I go to her for advice. She is always there, never says no and finds a way to have time to give,’ says Jorge.

‘Even in times of difficulties, she seems to handle everything so calmly,’ adds Janice Proud, coordinator of a Napier grass project of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). ‘She sets high standards and I learned how to run a project thanks to her experience. I trust her judgment because she is good at dealing with the details as well as being able to see the big picture.’

Yeshi W/Mariam, research assistant and seed technologist, who has worked with Hanson for 18 years, confides, ‘We will miss her a lot. We are like a family here in the forage diversity team.’ According to Yeshi, ‘Gender is an important issue for Jean. Thanks to her, I am now taking a day leave per week to go back to university and study to obtain my BSc in biology. She is very encouraging because improving your career matters to her. But it is the freedom she gives me in my work that I appreciate most.’

Gender is indeed an important issue to Jean and she is involved in mentoring through the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development program to enhance the careers of women crop scientists in East Africa. ‘I believe women in science are capable and important. That’s why I agreed to be a mentor,’ she says. ‘You learn skills about how to be a better mentor. We learn from one another and provide support to the generation that will replace us.’  

Coming from that next generation is Esther Gacheru, research fellow and infosystems specialist. ‘She is inspiring people,’ says Gacheru. ‘Working with Jean has been a great start for me; she lets me do what I want to do and at the same time oversees my work to help me learn and progress. I don’t know if I will have that “space” or that type of work relationship later in life.’

About life and work, we will let the last words be from Jean Hanson herself. ‘If you are determined, anything is possible. Don’t give up when the going gets tough. Persevere. And you will end up where you want to be.’

As is said here in Ethiopia, where Jean has spent most of her life as a scientist, Yiqnash (‘May everything turn out to be good for you’), Jean Hanson!

Genebank community wins science partnership award

Research centres are honoured for their work to preserve the diversity of the world’s key food and forage crops.

Twelve centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recently won the CGIAR’s Outstanding Partnership Award for their management of genebanks and effective stewardship of plant genetic resources they hold in trust for the world community.

The Partnership’s genebanks are vital for achieving food security and protecting plant genetic diversity and represent the most important international effort to safeguard the world’s agricultural legacy. ILRI and the other 11 centres of the CGIAR hold more than 600,000 samples of crop-plant diversity. These include wild relatives and more than half of the global total of farmer-created varieties, which are a rich source of sought-after characteristics.

Base genebanks are used for long-term security storage of original germplasm collections. They act as a repository of materials that have been reasonably characterized and which may or may not have current interest or use by plant breeders. Collected materials are preserved until such time as there are enough resources available for them to be characterized and evaluated. Active genebanks are used for current research and distribution of seeds, with all seeds in active collections freely available in small quantities to all research workers and distributed both directly and through networks.

Jean Hanson, a plant geneticist working at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said, ‘This Outstanding Partnership Award recognizes almost 20 years of collaboration between staff of the CGIAR genebanks, first as an ad hoc working group and community of practice and later as the formal steering committee for the CGIAR System-wide Genetic Resources Programme.

‘Partnerships involving staff of 12 CGIAR centres are rare. This award recognizes an active and collegial partnership that has stood the test of time and changes in staffing and funding within the CGIAR genebank community.’

This Outstanding Partnership Award, announced at the CGIAR’s Annual General Meeting in Washington, DC, in December 2006, recognizes the teamwork that provided stewardship of global public goods central to the CGIAR’s work and also provided leadership to the whole plant genetic resources community. While discharging its duties as custodians of the CGIAR in-trust collections, the Partnership has advanced research in the many scientific disciplines providing leadership for germplasm conservation and use, raised awareness world-wide of the importance of genetic resources to development, and represented the CGIAR in important international fora, from the Earth Summit, held in Rio in 1992, to the first meeting of the Governing Body the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in 2006.

Collective action by the Partnership generated common policies and practices with which to administer the CGIAR collections under legal agreements governing their in-trust status. Employing these common policies and practices has ensured the highest standards in germplasm conservation and dissemination of that germplasm and related information. Achieving these two objectives demanded combining conservation and information science with smart legal and policy know-how, skillful negotiation and tactful diplomacy.

To secure the in-trust collections, the Partnership took an open, self-critical approach to meet the highest international standards. The Centres continue their work to take conservation technology forward by convening meetings to explore methodologies; publishing guidelines on field and in vitro genebank management and regeneration and other topics; scoping new areas for action, such as research on underutilized species and holistic approaches to agricultural biodiversity; and tackling research bottlenecks such as difficulties in storing clonal material. The Partnership has also conducted upstream research, examining the application of molecular genetics to genebanking, which led to wider developments such as the CGIAR initiation of a Generation Challenge Program.

Pulling technical, economic, policy and information components together, this Partnership helped materialize a vision of a co-ordinated global system for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. This Partnership is providing coherent leadership of a global genetic resources system underpinning food security for humanity into the future.
Last October, world leaders in agricultural research signed agreements to guarantee long-term access to some of the world’s most important collections of agricultural biodiversity by placing all their ex-situ genebank collections under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The agreements require commercial users to share benefits with the global community. Eleven centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) were party to the agreements, which will allow breeders and other researchers to tap the collections for solutions to some of the world’s most pressing development problems, including drought, desertification and food and nutritional security. ‘World’s Most Diverse Forage Collection Comes under New Treaty’. (http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/452)ILRI maintains both an active and base genebank at its principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As part of its commitment to maintaining the collection as a global public good, ILRI claims no ownership nor seeks any intellectual property rights over the germplasm and related information. ILRI conserves its diverse forage collection to make it and relevant information freely available to scientists and the national agricultural research systems of developing and other countries.

CGIAR Genebank Community
The genebanks of the CGIAR Centres
01  International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia (represented by Daniel Debouck)
02  International Potato Center (CIP), Peru (represented by Willy Roca)
03  International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico (represented by Thomas Payne)
04  International Center for Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Syria (represented by Jan Valkoun)
05  World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Kenya (represented by Tony Simons)
06  International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India (represented by CLL  Gowda)
07  International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria (represented by Dominique Dumet)
08  International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya (represented by Jean Hanson)
09  Bioversity International, Italy (represented by Laura Snook)
10  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines (represented by Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton)
11  West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), Benin (represented by Ines Sanchez)

Related organizations
12  United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Italy (represented by Linda Collette)
13  International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC (represented by Melinda Smale)
14  CGIAR Systemwide Genetic Resources Programme (SGRP) Secretariat, Italy, (represented by Jane Toll)

World’s most diverse forage collection comes under new treaty

On Monday 16 October 2006, world leaders in agricultural research signed agreements that guarantee long-term access to some of the world's most important collections of agricultural biodiversity.

In a ceremony that took place on World Food Day, 11 centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) placed all their ex-situ genebank collections under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, now ratified by 105 countries.

A livestock forage genebank maintained by one of these CGIAR centres, the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), conserves more than 18 thousand accessions of forages from over 1000 species. This is one of the most diverse collections of forage grasses, legumes and fodder tree species held in any genebank in the world and includes the world’s major collection of African grasses and tropical highland forages. In 1994, the germplasm collection held by ILRI was placed in trust under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of their international network of ex situ collections. Now, 12 years later, this trust collection comes under the purview of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture following the 16 October 2006 landmark agreement between CGIAR Centers and the governing body of the treaty.

As part of its commitment to maintaining the collection as a global public good, ILRI claims no ownership nor seeks any intellectual property rights over the germplasm and related information. Rather, ILRI conserves its diverse forage collection to make it and relevant information freely available to scientists and the national agricultural research systems of developing and other countries.

ILRI maintains both an active and base genebank at its site in Addis Ababa.

Active and base genebanks

The active genebank is used for current research and distribution of seeds. Seeds are dried in a dehumidified drying room and packed in laminated aluminium foil bags for storage in the active genebank at 8°C. All seeds in the active collection are freely available in small quantities to bona-fide forage research workers and distributed both directly and through networks.

The base genebank is used for long-term security storage of original germplasm collections. The base genebank acts as a repository of materials that have been reasonably characterized and which may or may not have current interest or use by plant breeders. Collected materials are preserved until such time as there are enough resources available for them to be characterized and evaluated. Materials are stored in the base genebank at -20°C.

Forage diversity activities at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Forage diversity as a global public good

ILRI and the other centres of the CGIAR hold more than 600,000 samples of crop-plant diversity. This includes wild relatives and more than half of the global total of farmer-created varieties, which are such a rich source of sought-after characteristics, for example to meet the challenge of climate change.
‘This really is an investment in food security,’ said Emile Frison, Director General of International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), which is responsible for the world’s banana collection. ‘The genetic diversity created in the past by farmers and researchers is the foundation of improvements to meet the challenges of the future.”’

’Unless we can meet those challenges,’ Frison added, ‘there will be no food security.’
Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), said that the new agreements would ‘allow breeders and other researchers to tap the collections for solutions to the most pressing problems, such as drought, desertification, and food and nutritional security.’

Centre directors ‘warmly welcome’ the agreements and ‘commit themselves to supporting and implementing the Treaty’. A statement issued by the Alliance of CGIAR Centres sets out the centres’ common understanding of certain provisions of the agreements and indicates some actions that the centres will be taking to implement them.

Click here to view the statement of the CGIAR centres regarding implementation of the agreements between the centres and the governing body of the international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.