Market of traditional grains in Kastamonu, Turkey (Photo: Alessandra Giuliani)

Archive: SFIAR Interview

With a fixed set of questions, this series asks Swiss participants in Agricultural Research for Development for insights into their current work and thinking.
see current interviews

Interview No 19 / April 2014

Marlene Heeb

Marlene Heeb,
Programme Officer,
SDC Global Programme Food Security

What are your profession and thematic focus?
Our vision in the Global Programme is a world free of hunger and malnutrition to which smallholders contribute with healthy food accessible to all while increasing their income and safeguarding the environment. My portfolio covers the research cooperation with Swiss organizations and nutrition in the food security dialogue.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I contribute a little bit to assure that all children have enough nutritious food every day so that they can grow healthy, play around and go to school and learn. Nobody should have to go to bed hungry.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
My biology teacher had a certain influence in my choice to study biology, as I became fascinated by nature’s complexity and performance. Travelling and living abroad before and during my studies opened my eyes to the challenges of drastic inequalities in the world and motivated me to work in humanitarian aid and development cooperation.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Change needs courage, patience, persistence and trust in your own vision. But also trust in other people’s capacities and interest in understanding their visions. Having the courage to ask one more time “WHY” things are in a certain way can often contribute significantly more to fruitful solutions than many studies or systematic analysis.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
When I realized that understanding my own cultural background is the basis for understanding and giving space to other cultures. This may sound simple, but proves to be a lifelong learning process. Sharing my daily life for several years in different cultural contexts was a good start for this ongoing process.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would invest in education about healthy nutrition and assuring access and affordability of it. Finding the most appropriate means would depend on the context and I would also consider cash transfer programs. I am convinced that investing in healthy nutrition and education for children is extremely effective for further development of whole societies.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
The lack of connections between rural areas and fast developing urban centers (reg. infrastructure, market, education, political influence etc.) seems to be a major obstacle to rural development, as many people are hesitant to voluntarily stay in slower developing areas.

Contact Marlene Heeb: marlene.heeb[at]eda.admin.ch

Interview No 18 / February 2014

Monika Messmer

Monika Messmer,
Head of Plant Breeding,
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL)

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I have studied agrobiology and completed my PhD in plant breeding. I have been working with several crops on different topics. At FiBL I am involved in breeding research on plant microbe interaction, nutrient use efficiency and breeding for innovative cropping systems. Presently I am running a project on participatory cotton breeding in India in close collaboration with Indian partners. Combining scientific knowledge with farmers’ experience and retailers’ demands, we are trying to develop cotton cultivars with high fiber quality adapted to organic and low input farming in marginal regions.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I am working with the cotton plant, which is cultivated to harvest its fiber for your t-shirts and jeans. We are trying to breed a cotton plant with lots of fibers that needs less food and water and that can protect itself against bugs so that the farmer can grow it more easily without any poison. Clothes produced with such organic cotton are free of harmful substances and feel very good on your skin.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I have always been very much attached to nature as my grandparents and uncles had small family farms in Germany. My cousin showed me how to raise caterpillars so that they can develop into a butterfly. During graduate school I had a very dedicated biology teacher who showed us a film on crossings of wheat. From then on I wanted to become a plant breeder.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
I have learnt that nature is very complex and that a plant is much more than the sum of individual organs, substances or genes. Plants are not only incredibly beautiful, but also very innovative in the way they interact with their environment. Whenever we are trying to answer one scientific question ten new questions appear and keep us busy. I strongly believe that there are always different ways to reach the same goal. Therefore, scientists have to be very creative and open minded, and they should try to feel like a plant to see the full picture.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
When I was in Kenya many years ago, I realized how it feels when everybody is gazing at you because the color of your skin is different. Also, I was astonished how many people fit into a minibus if you reduce your personal safety distance and I learned that happiness and hospitality is negatively correlated to the standard of living.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would invest in participatory breeding programs of traditional legume crops and local vegetables in mixed cropping systems in order to diversify crops on farm level and to increase food diversity. This might help to reduce risks due to weather extremes and improve nutrition of smallholders. In addition I would invest in research on mixed cropping systems in different pedoclimatic conditions and in the development of research networks.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
In my point of view the biggest obstacle is the brain drain from rural areas to megacities. Farmers have the important task to take care of the food not only for themselves but for the urban population as well. Therefore, farmers should receive the appropriate recognition from all citizens and they should be able to be proud of their profession. But in order to become successful farmers also need access to soil, water, seed, information, local markets and insurance. They should be empowered to find their own solutions consistent with their values and way of life.

Contact Monika Messmer

Interview No 17 / December 2013

Christian Andres

Christian Andres,
Researcher at FiBL and Winner of
SFIAR Master Thesis Award 2013

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I am currently employed as a researcher on tropical production systems. I study the comparative agronomic, economic and ecological performance of organic vs. conventional production systems in India (cotton-based systems) and Bolivia (cocoa systems).
More information: www.systems-comparison.fibl.org

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I am working with small farmers to make the world a better place: healthy soil and plants make people happy because we get natural chocolate and clothes, and the farmers in the hot countries of this world may get more money as well.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
Certainly my mother; since I was a child I helped producing organic vegetables in her garden. This is how my passion for plants came about. Furthermore my first trip to Africa; when I helped building up a school in Madagascar my fascination for developing countries started taking root.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
I learnt that the scalability of field trial results (plot level) to higher system levels (i.e. farm) is a very complex issue which requires a lot of extra information. If we want to make a change in the farmers’ context, we therefore need to start working more in inter- and transdisciplinary teams.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
It was during the time of my Master thesis. Working closely with scientists from Africa made me aware of the cultural differences, and I realized how important the right way of communication can be for a fruitful collaboration.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would try to bring forward microcredit schemes for smallholders in West Africa. Providing money without beneficiaries having to (i) provide collateral and (ii) pay interests, has worked in Bangladesh. I would study the necessary adaptations for making it work in the West African context.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Firstly, the approach matters; do we apply rural development (top-down) or participatory rural appraisal (bottom-up)? Specific obstacles are the lack of good education, insufficient physical and social infrastructures, and incentives (to promote local entrepreneurship) not reaching target groups.

Contact Christian Andres

Interview No 16 / November 2013

Beat Röösli

Beat Röösli,
Head International Affairs,
Swiss Farmers' Union

What are your profession and thematic focus?
Since 2010 I am working with the Swiss Farmers' Union. I am responsible for our international relations and the political engagement in the area of trade and in other subjects related to Swiss agriculture in an international context. Further, I am working on rural development, spatial planning and protection of agricultural land.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
My work is to take care that Swiss farming families will still produce good and healthy food when you're grown up.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I became a replacement teacher so that I was free to travel a lot between the jobs. After a few years I started to study international political economy, geography and history of economics. During my studies the Doha Round just started, the EU expanded to the east hence EU agricultural policy was a big issue.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Advocacy can be done in different ways and everyone has to find his style. Only by being authentic, the counterpart will take you for serious. This is not always easy when sometimes you have to lobby for a position that you personally do not share entirely.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
I had an intercontinental relationship for some years which gave me the chance to have a deep insight into a different culture. But even though there are many differences, I still found that people are similar in many ways.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
Half of it I would invest in the capacity of a family farmers' cooperative so that they can, for example, setup and operate their own model farm for training and advisory services. This will help them to develop their own strategies. With the other half, I would establish a bank for microcredits.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Decent rural development in favor of the farming families does need much more than technological innovation and agro-economic efficiency. The focus must also be on social and environmental aspects, on livelihood, local markets, availability of credits, etc. It is a highly complex and fragile system!

Contact Beat Röösli

Interview No 15 / September 2013

Barbara Becker

Barbara Becker,
Director for Global Transformation Affairs,
ETH Global

What are your profession and thematic focus?
My background is tropical agro-ecology. However, my first degree was in math and biology. For the last 15 years I have been a research manager. So, I am a generalist in research for development (R4D) with special interest in food security and natural resource management.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
ETH Zurich is a place where some of the brightest people of the world study and develop new ideas and technologies. I try to help that these bright people invest their ideas in solutions for the really big global problems like overcoming hunger and poverty and protecting the environment. I also try to provide opportunities for more students from poor countries to join this inspiring environment to become qualified professionals in their home countries.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
At university I was member of a Christian student group. In the wake of the 1968 movement we discussed our responsibility towards society. This led me to direct my interest in natural sciences towards development cooperation. During my first stay in a practical agricultural development project, I got attracted to research on indigenous wild food plants. Since then I have pursued my career in either research or research management.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
To be at the same time modest and ambitious with respect to what we can achieve in development. I also learnt to differentiate and look beyond simple black-and-white interpretations of the world around us.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
After having lived in Peru for four years, I was terribly homesick, because I had immersed myself so deeply in the Latino society. For example, triggered by a well-known commercial with cowboys in a mountain landscape, I cried for a whole weekend by nostalgia for my Peruvian friends and environment.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would support students or young researchers from developing countries to pursue their academic careers and become scientists who hopefully someday would return to their country and strengthen a local university.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Rural development requires an enabling policy environment throughout all sectors of society, from education to trade to rural infrastructure. It needs economic and social conditions that allow farmers to generate sufficient income and keep young people from migrating to urban centers. It further needs incentives for rural enterprises and the appreciation of the rural sector by the rest of society.

Contact Barbara Becker

 

Interview No 14 / July 2013

Markus Giger

Markus Giger,
Head of Global Change Cluster,
Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I have studied agricultural economics at the ETH Zürich and have done a post-diploma course on rural development in Montpellier, France. My thematic focus is sustainable rural development in the context of global change, which includes the study of drivers for change such as climate change policies and land acquisitions.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I would take a simple example about a child living in the mountains of Central Asia. We have developed methods for better insulation of houses. Thanks to these methods, families will stay warm in winter and will need to use less fuel wood and manure for heating. With the manure they save they can produce more food. This way they will live a better life.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I often spent holidays working on my uncle's farm. Later on I was also part of a group that set up a "Third World Shop" (as it was called during this period) in Aarau. This motivated me to choose a profession that could contribute to development. And there was also the desire to see the world – not as a tourist but through professional involvement.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Developing capacities of partners is very important. If you see that people or institutions continue to develop ideas, concepts or projects then you have achieved something. But it is a difficult balance between the need to achieve tangible results in a short time and building up capacities.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
What means "intercultural"? The first pizza? The first time on an Interrail trip to Morocco? Aside from a long list of that kind: Working over many years together with local people in a project in Indonesia gave me the opportunity to try to see the world through the eyes of people with a different cultural background.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
In one of our projects. We presently work with the International Land Coalition to foster more transparency and equitable decision making around commercial land investment. It would help us to support observatories in a number of countries affected by international land acquisitions.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
In many countries in the south, rural people do not have enough political influence, and therefore the priorities of national policy are not in favor of rural areas. The need to invest in sustainable management of natural resources is not sufficiently considered, many decisions are made towards short term goals. We need to show the implications of this with more facts and figures.

Contact Markus Giger

 

Interview No 13 / May 2013

Martin Fischler

Martin Fischler,
Programme Coordinator East Africa / Senior Advisor Sustainable Agriculture & Extension,
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation

What are your profession and thematic focus?
After my studies in agronomy at ETH Zurich I worked for six years in international agricultural research in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where I completed my PhD on improving soil fertility in maize-bean cropping systems through green manures. Then I moved to development concentrating on sustainable agriculture and rural advisory services. Another focus is monitoring and evaluation and (participatory) impact assessment.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I tell my seven year old son: "Many people in this world have a difficult life because they do not have many things you have: a good house without a leaking roof, enough and good food, clean water to drink and to wash, good schools with sufficient teachers, good roads and transport, doctors and hospitals, enough money to buy food, clothes, medicine, school books, and sometimes something nice like sweets... Through my work I try to help these people to get the most necessary things and have a better life".

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
A key moment was in the late seventies when - as a secondary school pupil - I attended a presentation of a development worker of my own village who had been working as a project coordinator for SDC in an agricultural development project in Bolivia. This was the "trigger" point when all started.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
To pick a single one is difficult! Keep listening to peoples' genuine demands and respond to them with a self help approach. The saying "better teach people how to use a fishing rod than give them the fish" still applies today. As an agronomist I would translate this into something like "Better foster capacities of farmers to grow crops or raise livestock in a sustainable manner and enable them to sell their produce at a fair price". And: stop making gifts!

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
If I leave aside some incidences of voodoo during my four years in Uganda, it was the participatory technology development work I conducted there in a village called Ikulwe. The encounters with the many farmer families during the whole process of needs identification, trying out new things, analysing results together and taking joint decisions what to change and to try next. This was a most rewarding life experience!

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
This is currently 1.2 million CHF. I would invest 1 million CHF in a project on capacity building of farmers (especially women). With the remaining 200'000 CHF I would launch a competitive fund for agricultural innovation.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Development being too politicized, bureaucracy, corruption, big but too short-lived funding of initiatives instead of a joint vision to achieve longer-term objectives; "reality-blindness" (too much belief in paper rather than verifying what is happening on the ground); initiatives nurturing an attitude in people to expect to get things for free; and increasingly: conflicts that can destroy (rural) development of whole decades. This list can be extended, but one should rather focus on success factors for development.

Contact Martin Fischler: martin.fischler[at]helvetas.org

 

Interview No 12 / March 2013

Alessandra Giuliani

Alessandra Giuliani,
Scientific Collaborator, School of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences (HAFL)

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I work as Scientific Collaborator at the School of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences (HAFL), a department of the Bern University of Applied Sciences. Among my tasks is teaching within modules of the Bachelor programme in Agriculture (Major International Agriculture) and the Master in Life Sciences. I provide technical backstopping to research and networking projects related to agricultural research for development, in particular on agrobiodiversity, market chains, and food security.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Many people's food and livelihood security depends on agrobiodiversity. Many farmers - especially those living in marginal areas - rely on a wide range of crop and livestock types as well as wild plants and trees. This helps them maintain their livelihood in the face of risks, such as droughts, pests, changing prices and socio-political problems. Agrobiodiversity can play a fundamental role in food production for poor farmers: many plants grow in arid or eroded soils, and are crucial to family nutrition and income generation, when they are sold on local markets.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I studied statistics and economics at the University of Rome, with a constant wish to work on environmental issues. That is why I opted for a European MSc programme on environmental management in Belgium and the Netherlands. For my thesis, I worked at UNEP. Through that experience I became more and more interested in development work. Later on, I was appointed for 3 years at Bioversity International (CGIAR centre) based in Aleppo, Syria. This was definitely the experience that shaped my career in agricultural research for development.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
I have conducted applied research on market chain of local products with rural communities in Syria. Giving back research results to these rural communities has been the most rewarding aspect of my work there. The target communities should be fully involved in the research from the first step, if we want to see any results of it. The answers to our research questions most of the time lie with their knowledge.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
During my assignment in Syria, I was astonished by people's level of acceptance of another culture by letting a young foreign woman - alone and not veiled - drive a car to some small rural villages in Northern Syria, carrying three male and experienced Professors from the University of Aleppo. I appreciated their confidence and respect for me and my work.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?

I would invest in a project that supports the conservation and use of the biodiversity of crops and wild plants (including trees) to fight micronutrient deficiencies, in particular affecting children and pregnant women in poor areas. I strongly believe that diversity plays a crucial role in ensuring dietary adequacy, since there can be a radical difference of nutrient contents between different food crops and among varieties/cultivars/breeds of the same one. Awareness rising on the nutritional content of local specific food crops/species would be a strong part of the project.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
I think that there is an imbalance in power between small producers and big corporations in the food and agricultural sector. This is reflected in terms of unequal access to resources (e.g. land), information, technology, education and markets. The potential of smallholder farmers in meeting increasing global food demands is debated but I am convinced that small producers are the solution for reducing hunger and malnutrition and for conserving cultural and environmental values. Their role should therefore be more widely recognized and supported.

Contact Alessandra Giuliani

 

Interview No 11 / December 2012

Anton Stöckli

Anton Stöckli,
Scientific Collaborator,
Federal Office for Agriculture

What are your profession and thematic focus?
An effective and efficient exchange of knowledge within the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System is the main focus of my job. I do stress exchange rather than transfer of knowledge, since know-how and experience are found in all parts of the system and there is no simple linear flow.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Imagine a classroom where students and teachers all have a lot of knowledge, but not necessarily the same. By sharing it, they all learn from each other and increase their knowledge. By keeping open the doors and windows of the classroom they also learn from outside experience.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
Although I grew up on a farm, I only decided to study agronomy towards the end of my years in a college run by missionaries. I became aware that the world is not as harmonious as our farm; that injustice prevents a lot of people from leading a dignified life; that assisting them may allow them to decide on their own destiny; that food is one of the most basic human rights and that agriculture is therefore a top priority worldwide.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Never stop to listen and to try to understand. When working in Madagascar in a soil conservation project aiming to prevent water-runoff, it took me one year to understand that farmers in fact needed the water down on their paddy fields. The challenge was not to stop runoff, but to make water run down without eroding the slopes.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
While on a training course on agroforestry in Costa Rica, an old small scale farmer explained his entire life in just one hour: He had to move from the highlands to the tropical rain forest area. He evolved from growing maize and beans to cropping cocoa, and finally he made his living from managing the timber trees on his cocoa plantation. If this humble farmer could adjust to new circumstances: why not mankind?

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
In human development. Knowledge is more important than infrastructure or equipment, awareness more important than money. The ability to manage their own lives, farms and projects makes people much less vulnerable. But you need to give them the chance to act on their own.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?We human beings tend to repeat the same mistakes rather than learn from each other.

Contact Anton Stöckli: anton.stoeckli[at]blw.admin.ch 

 

Interview No 10 / October 2012

Michelle Grant

Michelle Grant,
Executive Director,
World Food System Center, ETH Zurich

What are your profession and thematic focus?
The work of our Center focuses on addressing the challenges of the world food system and the four pillars of food insecurity. We focus on four thematic focus areas, namely sustainable production systems, food for health, connecting to markets and resource efficiency (including the elimination of food losses and waste).

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Imagine your 7 best friends, and they represent all the people in the world. One of them would be constantly hungry, one or two would be sick because they do not get all the nutrients they need from the food they eat, and one of them gets too much of the wrong food and is overweight and unhealthy. What we are trying to do is improve and find new ways to grow, produce and distribute food to your friends so that they get everything they need to lead a healthy and active life. But at the same time we want to do this in a way that the earth and environment are protected, so we maintain the resources we need to keep feeding people in the future.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
My upbringing in Australia had had a big influence on, and was a motivation for, the work I do. My parents have a small farm and are very interested in questions of human and environmental health, and this was translated to me from an early age. When I was young we moved and travelled a lot, and that has certainly shaped my interest in global challenges, development and collaboration across boundaries

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
The importance of investing time in understanding the needs and interests of different stakeholders and based on this working collaboratively to achieve what no individual could on their own. This, of course, needs time and patience!

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
I once led an education program for Masters students in the Sinai Desert in Egypt, where we lived with a Bedouin community for two weeks and learnt about their food and water related challenges and the impact of the related development and aid programs. During this stay there was no electricity and little running water, which left plenty of time for sitting under the desert sky each night next to the fire, drinking tea and exchanging stories with the local people.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would most certainly invest this money into projects or organizations addressing the issues of food security, which I think are the defining challenges of our time. I would perhaps look at some interesting social enterprises led by dynamic, motivated and intelligent people that are having a tangible impact through what they do. There would have to be some connection to education, as I strongly believe this is key to any lasting change.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
The challenges facing rural development are multiple and complex, and priority challenges differ depending on the local context. Years of underinvestment in agricultural research and development have hit rural areas the hardest, along with rapid demographic change and rural to urban migration. The food insecure status of many of the world's smallholder farmers also means that their children lack access to food of the right nutritional quality early in life, leading to micronutrient deficiencies and impaired cognitive and physical development, that continues to trap generations in cycles of poverty. These vicious downward cycles remind us of the importance of appropriate interventions that take complex local contexts and factors into consideration, and look at the challenges from a systems perspective.

Contact Michelle Grant

Interview No 9 / August 2012

Adrian Dubock

Adrian Dubock,
Executive Secretary, Golden Rice Humanitarian Board / Golden Rice Project Manager

What are your profession and thematic focus?
Originally a PhD vertebrate zoologist I worked for the UK Government and then from 1977-2007 in commercial roles in agribusiness. I was also a sheep farmer for 15 years. Since 2000 I have additionally worked for the Golden Rice project www.goldenrice.org to assist alleviation of vitamin A deficiency.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Rice feeds half the world. Many poor people eat only rice, which has no vitamin A.  Because of lack of vitamin A about 6000 children die each day, every day.  Or they go blind. Half a teacup of Golden Rice eaten daily can prevent this. We are trying to give Golden Rice to people who need and want it.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
Living in rural environments, I learned to love nature.  My earliest memories are of robin chicks when I was three, and pond ‘dipping’ for tadpoles and newts when five.  Experience of agriculture in developing countries taught me the importance of and need for the dignity of food self sufficiency.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
That nothing very worthwhile is achieved without effort and persistence, that one must seek critical information before making decisions, and that personal influencing skills are very important to progress.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
Picking one is difficult!  Several involve the hospitality and openness to ideas of very poor farmers, and were humbling – in the Nile delta, at an oasis in central Oman and in western Kenya.  In India recently two Dalits (‘untouchables’) travelled extensively to encourage the Golden Rice project.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
Golden Rice could do with funding to increase future adoption rate. More countries could be breeding the trait into the local rice varieties now so that life and sight could be saved more quickly. Public sector agriculture and health people need direct contact to catalyse work in the new biofortification arena.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Poor understanding of agriculture’s risks, and poor investment in its needs, by governments. Poor infrastructure. Significant disparities in land access, opportunities and wealth of individuals. The first medicine is food. “Knowing is not enough: we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do” - Goethe.

Contact Adrian Dubock: adrian[at]dubock.eu

 

Interview No 8 / June 2012

Tina Goethe

Tina Goethe,
Policy Advisor / Food Sovereignty,
SWISSAID

What are your profession and thematic focus?
Since 2003 I am working with SWISSAID. I am responsible for our political engagement on the issue of food sovereignty. Trained as a sociologist with a Master of Advanced Studies in development cooperation I mainly focus on the socio-economic and political aspect of agriculture in a globalized context.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Although we are producing more than enough food for everybody in the world, one out of seven people is suffering from hunger. My work is to highlight the root causes of hunger and try to influence policy and political decisions in order to change the situation. Producing fuel from feedstock, for example, needs to be revised as it leads to more hunger and environmental damages.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
At university I got more and more interested in understanding why societies are organized the way they are and what the reasons are for the persisting inequalities – between rich and poor, men and women, natives and foreigners within societies, as well as between countries on a global level. An internship in Ecuador led me more into the direction of development policy.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Development starts with a self-determined vision where to go to. Imposed strategies from outside are bound to fail. Nevertheless, industrialized countries and the globalized economy are heavily influencing countries in their development opportunities. Strengthening civil society to organize themselves and engage for their rights is the most important role of development cooperation.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
In 2007 I participated at the global forum on food sovereignty in Mali. More than 600 farmers, fishermen and –women, pastoralists, farmworkers and activists came together from literally all over the world to discuss their visions for a democratically controlled and sustainable food system. The diversity of people, experiences and cultures was overwhelming and very inspiring.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would invest in the capacity of women’s organizations, small farmers’ and farm workers’ organizations and networks. They need to build up more strength to develop their own visions and strategies. Strong and independent farmers – women and men – are the backbone of food security.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Farming needs to become an attractive profession again, able to provide a decent living for a family. The model of industrialized agriculture and food production has led to environmental destruction, negative health impacts, and marginalized peasant farmers. A handful of multinational agribusiness companies have gained a threatening control of the market, leaving less and less space for ecological and socially sustainable farming models.

Contact Tina Goethe

 

Interview No 7 / April 2012

Kristin Davis

Kristin Davis,
Executive Secretary,
Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I am the executive secretary of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services, which provides advocacy and leadership on extension and advisory services. We focus on providing a voice for people working in advisory services, evaluating how to make the services work better, and strengthening capacity of actors and organisations through experience sharing.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
There are people called advisors who are trying to help poor and hungry people through teaching them and giving them information. But these advisors don’t have any help to do this. GFRAS helps these advisors to help poor people by giving them information and training, especially by learning from other advisors.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I grew up in Kenya and was always interested in both the natural world and the lives of people in rural areas: their challenges and opportunities. I studied biology for my undergraduate, and then worked in agricultural development in Africa for some years before going on to get a PhD in agricultural extension to better conduct my work.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
The most important lesson I have learned is that the answers to most problems lie with the people we are trying to “help.” They have the answers and only need to be facilitated and empowered to realise their potential. Development cannot work with just outside solutions; we must appreciate the local culture and knowledge to be effective.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
The most memorable intercultural experience I had was sleeping at a village in Kenya. The Pokot people walked 5 km one way for water, built their own homes from local materials, collected firewood to cook, and lived off milk/meat/blood and maize meal bought 20 km away. The nearest hospital, government office and post office were 100 km away. Self-sufficient!

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
If I had a million Euro I would invest in a project that appreciates and builds on local capabilities. It starts with what local people have, investigates their aspirations and ideas, and facilitates them to reach these goals. It would have a holistic approach, not just focused on technical aspects but cultural and social as well.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
The main obstacles for rural development are (1) not recognizing the capabilities of rural people and (2) the tendency summarised in the proverb “if you are a hammer, all of your problems look like a nail.” We must come to rural development with the recognition that the world is much bigger than our little slice of it and that a holistic approach is needed.

Contact Kristin Davis

Interview No 6 / February 2012

Manfred Grossrieder

Manfred Grossrieder,
Integrated Crop Management Advisor,
CABI, Switzerland

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I am currently working as an Agricultural Advisor for CABI, an inter-governmental not-for-profit organization that provides information and applies scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. Personally, I am very interested in the possibilities of the application of knowledge transfer and capacity building to complex topics such as sustainable agriculture. This might be influenced by my earlier profession (teacher).

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I am trying to help farmers to produce more food without using more water, more fertilizer or more pesticides. In the countries I work in, I am trying to find the right people: farmers, scientists, politicians, teachers in agriculture etc. Together, we try to find ways to produce more and then make sure that everyone knows about it.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I first trained to become a teacher. Whilst teaching, my interest in natural sciences increased. This led me to study ecology, during which time I realized that more applied work was of interest to me. At some point I became aware that I had not made the wrong choices, I just needed to combine all the disciplines. I was influenced by the career itself, I suppose…

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Ensuring that there is enough time to (or better: I need to be patient enough to) identify the right people for joint projects, making them first communicate with each other and later finding solutions together.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
This is in my case a quite ambiguous experience in Pyongyang, visiting the mausoleum and somehow feeling forced to display sadness about the place and pay homage to an embalmed ex-leader. In the long run, experiencing this helped me a lot to understand – not only with my head – what the people in this country are exposed to. Feeling and understanding this pressure was an important prerequisite to improve the project work with the Korean partners.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
This would go in the direction I currently try to work: using biological control of insect pests in a relevant crop as an entry point from which the farmer directly benefits. Stakeholders and partnerships built around the technical question set the stage for exchange and capacity building of all involved.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
I prefer to think about the main obstacles in my project world, since this is currently the only world where I can try to influence things. I often feel that there is not enough time to embed the changes that could be achieved into the local communities and local government structures. Another issue is the somewhat difficult relationship between agricultural education, research, extension and policy. I often encounter a lack of functional mechanisms to link them together to solve common problems.

Contact Manfred Grossrieder

 

Interview No 5 / November 2011

Yuan Zhou

Yuan Zhou,
Head of Research and Policy Analysis,
Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture

What are your profession and thematic focus?
Our Foundation focuses on improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries. I work primarily on research and policy analysis in international agriculture and food security.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Our goal is to help small farmers grow their plants well and sell the extra food at a good price. The money they earn lets them live a better life, and also pays for their children to go to school. How do we do that? We help farmers to get good seeds and other inputs they need and show them some ways to farm better. Grown-ups call that “access to agricultural inputs and extension, and better links to markets”.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
My interests have led the direction of my career. I relate well to farmers as I grew up in a rural environment and used to help in the field. I know the difficulties and challenges farmers in developing countries are facing, and I want to be part of the solution. Above all, I am passionate about farming and agricultural resources management.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
I believe that the right attitude and the ability to understand and respect other cultures are a key factor for success in our work. Forming productive partnerships with local institutions and working together closely in each different setting are crucial for generating real impact on the ground and ensuring project sustainability.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
My most intense intercultural experience was during my studies at the UNESCO-IHE Institute. My classmates and I came from a wide range of cultures, backgrounds and countries, and yet we ended up with a perfect group and cultural fit after only a year. The breadth and depth of learning and exchange from each other were marvelous.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would invest in girls’ education, and encourage and fund women to start small businesses in rural areas. Alternatively, I would invest in solving the water crisis in poor rural communities.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
There are many. The most important are low education levels, poor rural infrastructure (especially transport systems), an underdeveloped agricultural sector, and the lack of good governance and policies. Failure to invest adequately in agriculture and its value chains can hinder poverty alleviation. It also slows the broader process of structural transformation, in which non-farm sectors generate an increasing part of economic output and employment.

Contact Yuan Zhou: yuan.zhou[at]syngenta.com

 

Interview No 4 / September 2011

Markus Bürli

Markus Bürli,
Deputy Head,
SDC Global Programme Food Security

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I am currently the Deputy Head of the Global Programme Food Security at SDC. Our group complements SDC’s bilateral projects in agriculture and rural development with regional and global projects. It assures the Swiss contribution to the strategic steering of the multilateral organizations in the sector (CGIAR, IFAD and UNCCD) and takes care of the global policy dialogue on food security.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Our goal is to contribute to eradicating poverty and hunger. Our work is to influence other organizations with similar mandates worldwide so that they do their work more efficiently. We also work to influence national and international regulations that can help to reduce poverty and hunger.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
I grew up on a farm and made the agricultural apprenticeship. After working on several farms in Switzerland I studied at the Swiss College of Agriculture SHL, where my interest in international agriculture grew steadily. The practical training I carried out in Vietnam was definitely the turning point, when I realized that I wanted a job dealing with international agriculture issues.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
A long-term commitment to certain issues is more important than the amount of funds and the number of experts available. The key to get results in this field of work is the willingness to engage in complicated processes and the energy to keep the engagement over a long period. Going through easy and difficult times not only gives credibility and appreciation by the partners but also helps to really change things.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
During my three year assignment as associate expert at the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria, I had the possibility not only to learn a lot from my Syrian and international colleagues but also to develop some important personal relationships. Irrespective of religion or culture, we could very well work together on a common goal and discuss problems openly. Unfortunately, due to the critical situation that Syria is going through, communication has become very difficult and the achievements of our work are challenged.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
Somehow this feels like my daily business and the last SFIAR interviews show that there is certainly no single answer to that. I am convinced that money is needed to support nearly any activity towards food security, rural development and poverty reduction. However, to make a real difference money is not enough. Only people, real partnerships and personal commitment can bring the change. An Indian colleague of mine uses a sentence of Mahatma Gandhi to accompany his email signature: “We must be the change we want to see!”

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
Rural people - particularly women and youth - are not heard around the world, but even worse, they are even ignored in the capital cities of their provinces or Countries. Empowering rural people and their organisations is key for rural development and for fighting widespread corruption.

Contact Markus Bürli: markus.buerli[at]deza.admin.ch

 

Interview No 3 / July 2011

Beate Huber

Beate Huber,
Head of the International Division,
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL)

What are your profession and thematic focus?
FiBL is a center for research and consultancy in organic agriculture. Our group with its advisory and research mandates, operates mainly in developing and transition countries. Our vision is the development of sustainable systems of farming and nutrition that ensure that all people have access to sufficient food of good quality and at fair prices.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
We are working with farmers and traders all over the world to promote organic agriculture. We do this in different ways: by training farmers and trainers, by helping farmers to sell their products for a good price and by cooperating with governments in order to support organic agriculture in their countries. We further conduct research in agriculture for increasing yields and quality of products.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
After school I have been working on an organic farm and found the farm live and work so inspiring that I studied agriculture. My first jobs were in the field of marketing and then in certification. My passion is working with people preferably in an intercultural environment. So finally I found the perfect job at FiBL – combining international cooperation with organic agriculture, working in the fields of marketing and certification.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
When you are looking for partners or selecting staff for projects it is not the professional experience that is the key for successful cooperation but the ability for learning, the willingness to take over responsibility, the commitment, and the communication skills. And certainly, a good education is very important.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
During the last years Lebanon suffered from a serious crisis: an internal political and economic crisis was accompanied by the war with Israel in 2006. During the most severe periods the people in Lebanon were desperate and the atmosphere in the country was depressing. But only a few months later, when the situation relaxed, the people were back to their optimism and lust for life. This situation in Lebanon is ongoing – since decades. This was a very impressive experience.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
I would invest it in business ideas that support ecological production, e.g. processing units for organic farmers. Such a unit would allow farmers to get better prices for their products and it would create jobs in rural areas. Another option is a training center for organic agriculture and related topics, e.g. in South Eastern Europe or Africa, which would not only provide excellent education but could also become a social focus point.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
The lack of willingness of the political elite to strengthen rural areas by sharing power and by investing in those areas; the exodus of young and qualified people due to lack of opportunities in rural areas; the lack of infrastructure (streets, trains, airports, harbors, sometimes even internet…).

Contact Beate Huber

 

Interview No 2 / April 2011

Doris Herrmann

Doris Herrmann,
Programme Manager ISCB,
EPFL, Lausanne

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I am the Programme Manager of the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology (ISCB). ISCB is a bilateral research and development programme jointly funded and steered by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Government of Switzerland) and DBT (Department of Biotechnology, Government of India). The programme supports networks of projects with at least one Swiss and one Indian partner in the area of biotechnology in agriculture and environment.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
Our objective is on the one hand to further educate Indian researchers and help them to establish/improve their laboratories. On the other hand, we develop products like improved plants that may contribute to making the life of Indian farmers easier.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
After working ten years in research, I decided to switch to a more applied work. For me it is important that the outcome of my work goes beyond published research results. My current position gives me the possibility to work in the interesting area of management as well as to apply my research experience.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
The most important factor for the success of a programme is the readiness of the involved partners to contribute more to a project than the tasks defined in their project contracts. I am in the happy situation that currently a lot of such partners are integrated in our programme.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
It may not be one special experience, but more a general impression of India. I am normally not only most welcome at the institute of our project partners, but also often very welcome in their private house. I think this aspect is rarely found in European programs.

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
There is a long way to go from a promising product developed at a research institute until the product reaches the farmer. I think filling in this gap is very important even though very challenging.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
I think one obstacle is that a lot of programs or projects are limited to a few years. Although we are working with the same project partners for ten years and we have some very promising products we are further developing in collaboration with private partners, we are still more than one step away from the application of these products at the farm level.

Contact Doris Herrmann and ISCB

 

Interview No 1 / December 2010

Andres Tschannen

Andres Tschannen,
Country Director,
Biopartenaire

What are your profession and thematic focus?
I am a business man now. The company Biopartenaire works for several thousand certified smallholder cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. My thematic focus is people and teams, finance and business development. Agriculture comes in at all levels, from sustainable farm management, certification, to trading with farmers.

How would you explain to a child, what you are currently working on?
I work with farmers in Africa. They grow cocoa, out of which chocolate is made. Because many of the farmers are very poor and produce little, my company helps them to earn more money and produce more cocoa. We also want to make sure that the farmer’s children can grow cocoa in the future.

What / who influenced you in choosing your career?
After doing a PhD in agriculture and coordinating North-South research for 6 years in Abidjan, I switched to the private sector because I wanted to really create a difference for farmers. I believe that a private sector approach is the most sustainable model. If it pays, it’ll stay, as opposed to a donor-fed NGO approach.

Which is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?
Here’s a short list: It is people who can change something, not objects or technologies. To create motivation for oneself and for others is what makes things work. It is very difficult to succeed in my mission, but I have to try and try again. I need to take a step back and see the whole thing and remind me, what we want to achieve.

Which is the most memorable intercultural experience you have had?
A good friend of mine, a cocoa grower, believes in witchcraft and once, he told me how to ensure your wife will always love you. I listened to him and then told him my recipe. We agreed that regardless of culture or means, each individual aspires to fulfil a similar set of needs. Isn’t it fantastic?

If you had 1Mio Euro: In what kind of project would you invest?
In my own company. One good idea would be to provide microcredit and technical support to farmers to rehabilitate cocoa fields and plant more shade trees. The outcome is higher yield and very effective poverty reduction, but the effect is long-term. Please write me if you’ve got that million to invest.

In your opinion, what are the main obstacles for rural development?
As I am living in Côte d’Ivoire, the obvious culprits “war/unrest” and “corruption” spring to my mind. On a system level, I would also mention the inconsistence of objectives of donors (short term, sector-focus) and of beneficiaries (livelihood), and the timid support to the private sector.

Contact Andres Tschannen: andres.tschannen[at]gmail.com

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