CGIAR and CIAT are an anchor for building a sustainable future: Cristián Samper

CGIAR y el CIAT son un anclaje para la construcción de un futuro sostenible: Cristián Samper

He proudly says that he has known CIAT for the past 50 years. When he was a little boy, his father brought him to the Center uncountable times; few years later he came back as a college student; then, being director of the Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute, he spent time at CIAT’s genetic laboratories applying molecular biology tools for the study of biodiversity and here he established a tissue bank. Today, he returns, this time to join the Board of Trustees, like his father, Armando Samper, one of the main architects behind the creation of CIAT. “Hence my affection and admiration for this place,” he says.

It’s Cristián Samper Kutschbach, biologist from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, with master’s and doctorate degrees in Biology from Harvard University. He was founder of the Humboldt Institute in Colombia and, for nine years, he was director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Since 2012, he is the president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) headquartered in New York.

With regard to the celebration of CIAT’s 50th anniversary, Samper recognizes the importance of “reflecting not only on everything that has been done, but also on the impact achieved and the global impact that we could accomplish.”

“The issue of how to feed the planet, without destroying it, is one of the greatest challenges faced by humanity in this century. I think that science and genetic resources are a fundamental part, and CGIAR and CIAT are an anchor for building a sustainable future with a focus on food security and the environment,” says Samper.

CIAT's first Board of Directors. Armando Samper stands in the back, second from the right. Samper would become CIAT's only official Chairman Emeritus.

CIAT’s first Board of Directors. Armando Samper stands in the back, second from the right. Samper would become CIAT’s only official Chairman Emeritus.

A couple of years ago, he learned about the Future Seeds initiative – which seeks to revitalize CIAT’s genebank – and right away, he says, he felt such a thrill that he became “ad-hoc ambassador” to the initiative.

“What CIAT’s germplasm collection represents in terms of that huge diversity is essential. We need new facilities to conserve it and share it. I have no doubt that as we increasingly have more molecular and bioinformatics tools, and more challenges such as climate change adaptation, that genetic diversity will be tapped for new uses in the future.”

When he is asked about how to tell potential partners that this project is important for humanity, his answer is compelling: “This iconic genebank is the cornerstone for the development of crop production systems in the years to come. We need to preserve it. It is a small investment that will benefit billions of people around the world, especially those living in marginal areas. It’s them who will feel the greatest impact.”

Cristián Samper is known for his work in the ecology of the Andean cloud forests, conservation biology, and environmental policy. Besides being a member of CIAT’s Board of Trustees, he is also part of the board of the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP). He is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS), and also served on Harvard University’s Board of Overseers.

Last Friday the Colombian was officially introduced to Center staff before a packed Kellogg auditorium, during this year’s first all-staff meeting hosted by director general Ruben Echeverría.

“I love CIAT’s concept and its systems approach. Crops and productivity are both very important topics together with ecosystem services and climate change adaptation. The changes to come over the next 50 years are huge and we need different, resilient production systems. And that’s the great opportunity that we have now,” he added.