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Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture #11 – Andy Jarvis

Our “Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture” series of interviews, which puts a face to the youth in agricultural research for development (ARD), hears their voices and obtains an insight into their roles, perspectives, experiences and aspirations, continues with Andy Jarvis. This award-winning scientist talks about the journey that now sees him spearheading a CGIAR Research Program. This is the second interview under the “Concerned with climate change” chapter. Click here to find out more about the series.

Mapping: a lifelong passion

Andy Jarvis has always been fascinated by maps. Indeed, his earliest memory is of his mother opening an atlas to show him where his father was staying during one of his many business trips overseas. That initial spark ignited a passion that would eventually take Andy to King’s College London to study geography, and then half way round the globe, with nothing more than a small backpack, to take up a research fellowship at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia.

“When a geography professor showed me slides of Colombia’s beautiful forests and ecosystems, I was so inspired that I just had to see the country for myself,” says Andy. “So when a job opening at the Center coincided with the end of my undergraduate studies, I jumped at the opportunity.”

Eleven years have passed since this affable young man departed his native England, and his passion for his work developing spatial modeling techniques to map biodiversity and climate change has garnered him a prestigious international award, seen him rise rapidly to the position of senior scientist at CIAT, and catapulted him to the forefront of the climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

While juggling his responsibilities as the leader of CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis Program, Andy also co-leads the fledgling CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change and Agriculture Food Security (CCAFS).

“My Program at CIAT, which employs a staff of about 75, looks at ways in which we can support decision making and policy decisions through spatial and economic analysis,” he says, “whereas my position with CCAFS co-leading a team involving all 15 CGIAR Centers is more of a System-wide leadership and management role. Currently, I’m delegating some of my CIAT responsibilities, so I can focus more on my CCAFS work.”

A constant juggling act

Andy, who at 33 has the distinction of being the youngest person to spearhead a CGIAR Research Program, talks openly about getting started with CCAFS while remaining loyal to his Center.

“Although I was interested in working with CCAFS, I didn’t want to give up all my work with CIAT,” he says. “So Andy Challinor, a well-renowned climate scientist who works at the University of Leeds, and I went out of the box and made a successful joint application to co-lead the Program Theme.

“I’m used to juggling more than one set of responsibilities at a time. When I first arrived at CIAT, it was to take up a joint position with Bioversity International. I’ve never seen myself as having two jobs; more like one job with plenty of overlap. During my early years at the Center, I also obtained my Doctorate on the spatial distribution of plant diversity in forests, while working with CIAT focusing on agricultural biodiversity – two fields that are largely unrelated.”

"Zen avocado": Andy showing his playful side

CCAFS – short and long term plans

Andy’s enthusiasm is palpable when he talks about CCAFS and the five-year plan that aims to get all 15 CGIAR Centers talking to each other.

“About five years ago, the Centers started waking up to the impact of climate change,” he explains, “but it was only two years ago that their activities began reaching a fever pitch. Unfortunately, the Centers focused on doing their own thing. Now that the CGIAR has a new structure, we have to work closely with each other. In the next year, I hope to get the Centers and the scientists who are working on climate change communicating with each other and thinking in terms of the CGIAR as a system and not as individual Centers, which means a big change in cultural values. This is where initiatives like the ICT-KM Program have a role to play.

“Once we have all the Centers working together for a number of years, we should be producing technologies and more knowledge about how agriculture can stand up to the challenges of climate change. At the same time, research on the ground should be showing that we have the agricultural knowhow to get the right solutions to smallholder farmers. Our responsibility as scientists right now is tremendous.”

Two Degrees Up

Two Degrees Up, a CCAFS video series on climate change narrated by Andy, highlights the possible impact of rising temperatures on smallholder agriculture in Colombia, Ghana and Kenya. Politicians and the scientific community often talk about keeping the average rise in global temperatures to within two degrees Celsius by the year 2050, but as the series shows, even a two degree rise will have a significant impact on agriculture. To learn more, watch the Two Degrees Up introductory video, followed by Part One, which focus on Colombia, Part Two, which looks at climate change in Ghana, and Part Three, which will take you over to Kenya.

Sharing international recognition

Andy’s passion for biodiversity conservation work was recognized when he received the prestigious Ebbe Nielsen Prize for 2009 for “combining biosystematics and biodiversity informatics research in an exciting and novel way.”

“I have to credit my team at CIAT for this award,” he says. “Their hard work made it possible. Since becoming a scientist at CIAT, I’ve encouraged many students, especially those doing their undergraduate thesis here, to get involved in the Program. As result, there is now a whole new generation of young people working with me. The Program is doing really well now and it’s all thanks to their energy.”

Andy also gives credit to his own mentors, who helped him earlier in his career.

“At CIAT, one of the principal mentors has been Simon Cook, who was the program leader before me,” he says. “When I first started working at the Center, he would give me a lift to work every morning. And for half an hour I’d ask him non-stop questions and learn from his experience. Another CIAT mentor was James Cock, who now works for the Decision and Policy Analysis Program mentoring some of the young people on some of the more complex projects.”

Collaboration and communication: the way forward

Andy strongly believes that the way forward for all scientists is in communicating their research.

“Climate change adaptation and mitigation is a great field to get involved in,” he says. “It’s moving at an incredibly fast pace and there are many questions and challenges ahead that are being asked of scientists working in this area. As scientists we need to communicate our work better. You can never under-communicate. Sure, it requires an investment, but that investment pays off. The time that you dedicate to communicating better will result in your work having a greater impact. Collaboration is also important. No one person is ever in a situation where they have all the knowledge to do what they want to do.”

Here at the ICT-KM Program, we’re inclined to agree with him.

 

Photos by Neil Palmer (CIAT)