Christian Bunn: making science when uncertainty remains

Risk is the possibility of something bad happens. So, uncertainty is unavoidable if we want to prevent or manage the risk… because at the end, we are talking about «possibility».

Por Erika Mosquera | Sept 4, 2019


Therefore, when we talk about climate risk, we have to face the uncertainty, a word that common people (like me) see very far (and apart) from science. Not the case of Christian Bunn.

When Christian came to CIAT in 2010, he had no intention to stay. All he wanted, was to find out what climate change would do to tropical perennial crops and nobody seemed to have a good answer but CIAT’s DAPA research area had just published some innovative ideas how the problem could be addressed. Nearly ten years and a PhD later, he finds himself still at CIAT, but now explaining to coffee and cocoa producers, traders, processors and policy makers what climate change will do to their livelihoods and what they can do about it.

In his work he faces the commendable challenge of translating science into actionable knowledge for climate change adaptation, and he had to figure out: how the different actors interpret the scientific data and what a good level of scientific analysis was (and what was too much) when communicating results; how to communicate risk and promote models of adaptation to change within a scenario that – even with scientific projections – retains a level of uncertainty, since it is about the future.


When I started we made climate impact research interdisciplinary by linking biophysical with economic models and qualitative research. Now we are using these tools to develop solutions to adapt millions of smallholders to climate change.

Christian Bunn

Postdoctoral Fellow - Sustainable Food System

Through maps, atlases, strategic country briefs (Honduras, Uganda, Guatemala, El Salvador, Indonesia), field workshops and different alliances, Christian and his team have managed to translate “the complex science on adaptation to climate change into useful information for key next users in both public and private sector.” This involved engagement with the Alliance for Resilient Coffee from the Feed the Future initiative of the United States Government, the World Cocoa Foundation-promoted alliance with more than 100 members representing 80 percent of the global cocoa and chocolate market, and the collaboration with CocoaLink to help young farmers mitigate the negative effects of climate change through digital maps. All of this work was recognized by CIAT last May when it awarded Dr. Bunn the best early career scientist. Christian’s contributions were considered highly relevant to the strategic directions of CIAT, and the scientific content and originality of his work, outstanding.

For all of that Christian is also a champion of CIAT. And like every champion who enthusiastically defends a belief, he is aware that he has many battles to win. From Christian’s perspective, CIAT works with learning products, and that is why it remains a challenge to lower the level of complexity of the knowledge we share so that actors can use it in the design of their interventions. Christian sees value chains as a means to reach millions of producers with forward-looking climate information – enabling  them to adapt, but that there is also a need to continue working with public and private partners to link producers in the design of interventions. Working in these partnerships, they can develop adaptation portfolios for the regions, which will undoubtedly require investment and the generation of incentives for producers to be, certainly, prepared to face uncertainty.