2020 Annual Report An Alliance for food system transformation

Juan Lucas Restrepo

Director General of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Trustee for Bioversity International UK/USA

An Alliance for food system transformation

Ensuring our population has access to healthy, sustainable food is one of the world’s greatest priorities, not only due to the pandemic’s ongoing impact on economies and health, but also the increasing threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

These crises are inextricably linked and require urgent, sustained action.  

How humanity feeds itself is the top driver of biodiversity loss and a major contributor to global warming. Our food systems are also highly unequal. We waste about one-third of all food produced while 2 billion people do not receive proper nourishment and 900 million people do not have enough to eat. 

Food system transformation is not only necessary, but imperative. If done correctly, food system transformation will improve human lives, preserve and improve ecosystems, and make significant contributions to fixing the climate crisis.  

It is of particular importance that food system transformation takes into account the world’s low- and middle-income countries, which are not only facing hunger but also need greater access to more and healthier food for improved nutrition. Food system transformation must be equitable across the globe. 

The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT works at the nexus of food systems, the environment and agriculture. In 2020, a year of both tremendous loss and challenges, the Alliance successfully advanced its work in all priority research areas, including on global, regional and local food systems.  

In this annual report, we look at how our work will help influence a decade of food system transformation that will lead to healthier people and planet.  Much of this work is carried out in partnership with our multiple supporters and collaborators including individual communities and farmers, many of whom are part of the United Nations Food System Summit. 

A difficult year, but one to be proud of

Despite its challenges, 2020 was a major success for the Alliance. Not only did we quickly unify two organizational cultures, but we also did this against the backdrop of tremendous tragedy, economic strife and personal loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We would first like to thank the Alliance’s workers, especially those who are essential to the day-to-day operations of our genebanks and laboratories and perform essential tasks that cannot be done remotely.  

We’re particularly proud of the on-the-ground staff at our campus in Colombia who kept the facility running during turbulent times thanks to their dedication, ingenuity and perseverance. 

And before celebrating our achievements we would be remiss to not mention those we lost this year. The pandemic claimed beloved colleagues and devastated families across the Alliance. We would like to dedicate this year’s report to them

Thank you to our staff who kept our genebank running throughout the pandemic. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT / N.Palmer

We’re proud of this year’s institutional achievements – such as successfully uniting our two centers administratively, breaking our record for scientific publications and finishing with a budget surplus. Achievements like this will never seem “routine” again. 

As you will read in this report, we made significant achievements last year in influencing policy, supporting national partners during the pandemic, publishing cutting-edge science, and influencing local, regional and global dialogue on food system transformation. 

We were also very active in the historic consolidation of One CGIAR. The Alliance has shown that diverse institutions can unite and thrive around common goals.

We are confident that One CGIAR will emerge as a robust system and make significant contributions to the urgent goals of the next decade, including food system transformation, climate action, biodiversity conservation, and lasting progress on poverty and inequality. We’re especially focused on equality of opportunity for women, youth and minorities, who generally do not benefit from business-as-usual food production. 

From farmers to market vendors and consumers, the last year exposed vulnerabilities across the food value chain. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT / N.Palmer

This year’s annual report does more than just record the milestones of the past year. To put our work into a broader context, we asked our contributing scientists to reflect upon how food systems thinking has evolved, place our recent successes in the context of how science grows and improves with time, and how our work is on a clear path to supporting global targets on improving biodiversity conservation, adapting and mitigating the climate crisis, and transforming food systems. 


With confident wishes for the better days ahead, 

Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General of the Alliance

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Chair, Alliance Board of Trustees