Ezine, December 2010
Meet Carmen Thönnissen, CABI Liaison Officer for Switzerland
“The pace of technology development and adoption has been highly uneven across the globe,” says Carmen Thönnissen. “If we are to do something about poverty and long-term food security, science must address the needs of smallholder farmers and deliver realistic options for their development. This will be particularly important in fragile ecosystems where vulnerability to climate change is high.”
Carmen is in a good position to help make this happen. She combines her ‘day job’ in the Global Programme on Food Security Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) with her role as the Swiss Liaison Officer for CABI. As programme manager, she manages the Swiss contribution to various international agricultural research for development bodies and projects, including CGIAR and, of course, CABI. The aim, she says, is “to bring the different actors and initiatives in agricultural research for development closer to each other, focusing on the needs of smallholders and supporting demand-driven, pro-poor-oriented and result-driven agricultural research .”
As liaison officer for CABI, Carmen spends a lot of her time creating links between SDC-supported CABI projects and SDC projects, institutions, and organizations working in related fields. She also organizes meetings between CABI representatives and SDC; for example, she was behind the presence of CABI Chief Executive Trevor Nicholls at the SDC Rural Development Network meeting in May 2010. On a more mundane level, she reads and comments on the minutes of CABI Executive Board meetings, reads all CABI updates, and attends the biennial Review Conference with all of CABI’s Member Country liaison officers and the Executive Council.
In fact, she claims that the Review Conference and Global Summit in 2009 was one of the highlights of her time at CABI so far: “It was a great opportunity to get an update about the changing environmental context (food security in a climate of change: I particularly liked the title!) and how CABI positions itself in this context. It was a great pleasure to meet CABI members from all over the world, and CABI staff of course! I was suddenly able to put a face to the name of a person I had been emailing for some months!”
The relationship between CABI and SDC is clearly a strong one, and Carmen talks about funding discussions that are extending well into the future. But CABI’s Swiss Centre is also well positioned to develop contacts with a variety of other national institutions including Intercooperation (IC). Productive scientific collaborations have been established with national universities (e.g. Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Bern and Basel), the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Agroscope research stations of the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG).
“Personally I see a number of advantages for CABI to be located in a country with a stable economy which provides a number of excellent opportunities to collaborate with advanced research institutes and to obtain funding for project implementation in the centre’s core expertise such as biological control, invasion ecology, risk analysis, ecosystems management and crop health for food security,” says Carmen. “In addition, Switzerland has some of the world’s highest standards of sustainable agriculture and I know that the integrated crop health management team located at Delémont is making the best use of it to identify, test, and implement solutions for sustainable agriculture to tackle environmental issues, alleviate poverty and enable food security.”