Dr. Jean-Marcel Ribaut

Generation Challenge Program Molecular Breeding Platform

Dr. Ribaut is Director of the Generation Challenge Program. This large global network uses genomics to improve staple crops in developing countries to alleviate poverty and hunger. 

Ribaut has served as CIMMYT’s group leader for biotechnology, where his research focused on drought tolerance, marker-assisted selection (MAS) for corn and wheat improvement under abiotic stress, and development of new molecular breeding strategies. He has also been responsible for the capacity-building and training of many students and scientists from developing countries. Dr. Ribaut holds degrees in plant physiology and genetics from Lausanne University (Switzerland).

What are the particular features of your public-private partnership (PPP) with the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA)?
We are now about in the middle of a 5-year sorghum performance project for Sub-Saharan Africa. CIRAD* in France leads the science; the field work takes place in Mali with input and technical support from Syngenta in France, including genotyping analysis. This is a very practical example of how “Research for Development” (R4D) can work in true partnership: support from a foundation, overall management by a global program, scientific leadership from a public research institute, strategic technology from a corporation, and partnerships with African organizations.
What brought you into contact with the SFSA?
SFSA is a CGIAR donor and we are a CGIAR program.
Why does a PPP work best to accomplish the project goals?
This project is a proof of concept with a high chance of success. Partnering with a company increases that chance. Many public sector attempts fail because of missing elements or expertise. Depending on a company is not a long-term option, but eliminates some of the risk over a set period. The Generation Challenge Program is tapping into Syngenta expertise, and running experiments with experts from a well-known public institution. If this approach doesn’t work, it probably wouldn’t work with only public sector partners either! I would also add more generally that private companies are a very useful source of advice. They cannot share secrets, but they can indicate some approaches that haven’t worked. That saves us repeating things unnecessarily.
From your general experience of PPPs, what would you personally say are the most important topics to consider in the planning phase?
Identify the objectives and discuss them openly, one by one. Most approaches have limited impact if you sit too many people around the table and just create a broad strategy. That is especially true if you have more than one company present. My other advice would be: Find out exactly who is doing what projects, approach them and create win-win situations with very clear common objectives and a clear agenda. And remember that good personal relationships help a lot.
What do you see as the future of PPP?
There will be more PPP, but their form is difficult to anticipate. Attitudes have changed in multinational corporations, and most of them are now more open to working together. I’m optimistic that future PPP will have even greater impact on R4D.

*Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement