The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21) convened its fourth scientific conference this week in Cotonou, Benin. Spread over five days, the conference – a collaboration between the scientific world and the private sector – facilitated plenary presentations, technical and scientific sessions and state-of-the-art presentations on a wide range of issues from biological, molecular and genomic advances, to progress in value chain development made on cassava over the last three years.
A surprise award was made to Dr Claude Fauquet, Executive Director of GCP21. The International Scientific Committee of GCP21 took the opportunity to bestow the award in recognition and appreciation of Dr Fauquet’s dedication to the research and development of the cassava crop and, through GCP21, to creating a global cassava community for the future.
The award was made as part of the ceremony for the prestigious Golden Cassava Prize, which this year was awarded to Dr Hernan Ceballos of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Dr Alfred Dixon of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), two of the world’s leading cassava breeders, in recognition of their contribution to cassava development.
Presenting the Award on behalf of the Committee, Professor Andrew Westby, Director of the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, congratulated Claude on his leadership, dedication, energy and persistence in driving forward GCP21 since its establishment. GCP21 has provided an important convening mechanism for cassava researchers to share progress, concepts and ideas, as well as supporting the development of early career scientists.
The co-founder of GCP21, Claude, soon to retire as Executive Director, has expertly guided its mission to improve cassava worldwide with outstanding commitment and determination. GCP21 is a global partnership of institutions that together are leveraging plant breeding and biotechnology to transform cassava into a more productive and resilient crop. Through his role at GCP21, Claude is an effective convener and a driving force behind united efforts to further cassava research and transform the crop into a future-proof staple food and income source for millions of smallholder farmers worldwide.
“Claude spoke of cassava the day I first met him and every other time I met him over the past 15 years. He loves cassava science, he loves cassava researchers, and he loves those who depend on this crop for their food and livelihoods,” said long-time friend Lawrence Kent, Senior Program Officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Claude has orchestrated four productive international science conferences since the formation of GCP21 in 2002. The first conference was held in Belgium, 2008, the second in Uganda, 2012, the third in China, 2016 in collaboration with the International Society for Tropical Root and Tuber Crops and this week, the fourth in Benin. Claude has brought together a global collaboration – a cassava community – demanding more organisation, action and information about cassava. “Claude’s enthusiasm is contagious and his dreams limitless. He has the capacity to engage people and GCP21 is the best example of this remarkable capacity,” added former colleague and co-awardee of the Golden Cassava Award, Hernan Ceballos.
An initiator with no shortage of grit, purpose and sheer willpower, Claude’s recognition, more than 30 years ago, that a multidisciplinary and concerted effort was needed to respond to cassava disease and to strengthen both the resistance and production of the staple crop, continued throughout his career. “Claude is one of those rare people who think and act big. Who else but Claude would have come up with the idea to declare war on and defeat cassava viruses and persuade so many of us to go to Bellagio to make the battle plan!” said Graham Thiele, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB).
Spanning more than 40 years, Claude’s prestigious career began after he received his PhD in biochemistry from University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France in 1974. From there, he went on to the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), a French public research institute, where he served as a plant virologist for 28 years, 14 of which were spent in Ivory Coast, West Africa. During this time, Claude worked with 45 different viral diseases affecting both food and industrial crops.
In 1983, with one of the first research grants from the European Community, he established a four-year research project that generated an epidemiological study of cassava mosaic disease (CMD), which poses one of the greatest constraints to cassava production throughout Africa. With the conclusion of the project in 1987, Claude brought together a wide group of experts for a pan-African meeting on CMD which took place in the Ivory Coast, during which it was proposed that cassava biotechnology was needed to respond to this devastating disease. “I first met Claude Fauquet in the cassava fields just outside Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire around what now feels like 200 years ago! What I learned from Claude and the advances he had made in the study of CMD in those early interactions, formed the basis of my fundamental understanding of this complex disease syndrome,” Eugene Terry, former IITA Root Crops Pathologist and respected cassava scientist.
The following year, while on a two-year sabbatical at Washington University working with Prof. Roger Beachy, Claude was awarded grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and IRD to work on rice and cassava biotechnology. His work with Prof. Beachy continued when the pair co-founded the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ILTAB) in 1991 at The Scripps Research Institute, California, USA. ILTAB scientists focused on biotechnology research for virus diseases of cassava, tomato and rice, and obtained the first transgenic cassava in 1995.
From 1999 to 2012, ILTAB was hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, USA. With Claude at its helm, the laboratory’s research projects included cassava genetic transformation for virus resistance and biofortification, promoter studies, gene silencing and molecular plant virology of geminiviruses.
Claude’s discoveries have helped the research community to understand many of the genetic secrets of cassava disease, supporting the development of technologies and approaches to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate the impact of cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and CMD. Over the course of his career, he has published a monumental 300 research papers in peer review journals and books, and has been a powerful and outspoken advocate for cassava research, regularly featuring in the media including the New York Times and the Economist.
In 2002, Claude, together with Dr. Joe Tohme, founded the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century – which is now a legacy in honour of his drive and ambition and a platform to continue what he started.
He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of the American Phytopathological Society (APS) and a member of the St Louis Academy of Sciences. In 2007, Claude was knighted “Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques” by the French Minister of High Education and Research.
He is described by those he works with, as a, friend, colleague, convener, initiator and mentor.
“Claude is also a good, loyal friend. He often makes me smile, laugh, and drink good French wine. Thank you, Claude, for putting your considerable energy and talents at the service of others for so many years.” – Lawrence Kent, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“It’s been a personal pleasure to have worked with Claude on several GCP21 convenings, as we overcame some quite challenging obstacles in pursuit of this dream for our amazing crop.” – Graham Thiele, RTB Director
“Congratulations for this beautiful career dedicated to science and development of Southern countries.” – IRD colleagues who crossed your path
“I particularly, and we the members, generally, of the ‘Cassava Fraternity’ and the GC Partnership Mafia owe Claude a huge debt of gratitude which we hope this Special Award to him represents.” – Eugene Terry
“You don’t sleep. We appreciate you.” – Peter Kulakow, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
“For his retirement, I would like to bestow him with a Doctor of Philosophy in persuasion.” – Alfred Dixon, IITA
“I admire Claude for his dedication to cassava and he deserves great appreciation and a big ‘Thank you’ from the cassava community.” – Wilhelm Gruissem, Plant Biotechnology
“Your ‘Can Do’ Spirit deserves to be transferred to the future ‘Claudes’ in our globe.” – Lateef Sanni, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria.
“We will all remember Claude as one of the pillars on which cassava biotechnology research was built.” – Luis Augusto Becerra, CIAT
GCP21 consists of 45 member institutions working on the research and development of cassava, a staple crop relied on by more than 500 million people worldwide. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to improve cassava productivity through scientific research and development. The Partnership serves as an advocate for cassava issues and leverages research and development by facilitating dialogue among farmers, stakeholders, producers, researchers and donor agencies via scientific and technical meetings, collectively seeking smart strategies, funding opportunities, and catalysing solutions to technical challenges such as cassava genomics.
Committees for the organisation of the fourth International GCP21Cassava Conference http://www.gcp21.org/BeninConference/committees.pdf
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