Genetic Innovation


Managing Director, Genetic Innovation

The Genetic Innovation Science Group is one of CGIAR’s three Science Groups. The group leads innovation to enable rapid improvement of crop varieties and helps steward the world’s genetic resources of crops and their wild relatives.

By working to increase the rate of genetic gain and varietal turnover in farmers’ fields, the goal of the Genetic Innovation Science Group is to improve food and nutrition security at global, national and household levels. This goal also involves enhancing women’s equality of access to genetic resources; ensuring that crop improvements lead to meaningful increases in household incomes and poverty reduction; boosting environmental performance of crops; raising nutritional content and diversity; and breeding for future climates and climatic instability.

The Genetic Innovation Science Group works very closely with peer National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) around the world to scale up uses of genetic advances in ways that benefit poor producers and consumers.


The Genetic Innovation Science Group delivers all CGIAR crop breeding and genebank work with the key aim of accelerating adoption and turnover of improved crop varieties among small-scale farmers in low- and medium- income countries. Research impact depends on all work being done within partnerships, particularly with NARES and with small and medium enterprises active in the national breeding and seed sectors. A core focus is to raise the NARES-CGIAR breeding networks’ collective strategic and operational capacity.

The interconnected Genetic Innovation Initiatives are at the core of delivering this strategy, by working with partners to:

  • Identify local demand for diverse genetic resources and improved crop varieties and translate this market intelligence into crop improvement strategies (Market Intelligence, Accelerated Breeding)
  • Conserve and future-proof crop genetic diversity as part of a global multi-partner system of genebanks (Gene Banks)
  • Co-deliver trait discovery, breeding, field trials, and farmer testing of improved crop varieties with an aim of (Accelerated Breeding)
  • Modernize crop breeding networks through shared services, impact-driven management systems, innovation adoption, and capacity building (Breeding Resources)
  • Innovate in seed systems so that they deliver genetic improvements to farmers more equitably and impactfully (Seed Equal)

Looked at holistically, genetic gains will be realized in farmers’ fields through innovations at multiple levels of crop stewardship. The benefits from these CGIAR-wide efforts are estimated to include:

  • More than 42.6 million people (or 9 million households) are projected to benefit from higher-yielding rice and wheat, and stress-tolerant maize.
  • More than 23.1 million people (or 4.7 million households) are projected to benefit from higher-yielding vitamin A-rich cassava and orange-flesh sweetpotato.
  • More than 2.5 million women producers (and 3.4 million women and girls in adopting households) are projected to benefit from high-yield fast cooking beans and orange-flesh sweetpotato.
  • More than 69.9 million people (or 14.7 million households) are projected to benefit from stress-tolerant maize.
  • 70,000 additional genetic accessions are expected to become available, increasing the total number of available accessions by 15%.

View the Genetic Innovation theory of change here.

Visit the Genetic Innovation Tooblox here.


The Genetic Innovation Initiatives were designed to complement one another, making cumulative impact as one.

Accelerated Breeding: Aims to develop better-performing, farmer-preferred crop varieties and to decrease the average age of varieties in farmers’ fields, providing real-time adaptation to climate change, evolving markets and production systems.

Breeding Resources: Supports improving and modernizing crop breeding operations, ensuring CGIAR-NARES (National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems) breeding networks access modern breeding practices, technologies, and analytics as institutionalized services.

Genebanks: Aims to support the global system for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Market Intelligence: Brings together strategic information on future crops, market segments and trait priorities aligned to the needs and preferences of farmers, agri-business and consumers.

Seed Equal: Aims to support the delivery of seed of improved, climate-resilient, market-preferred and nutritious varieties of priority crops, embodying a high rate of genetic gain to farmers, ensuring equitable access for women and other disadvantaged groups.


Our people

Management Team

Sonja Vermeulen, Managing Director of Genetic Innovation
Sharifah Syed Alwee, Senior Director, Breeding Research Services
John Derera, Senior Director, Plant Breeding and Pre-Breeding
Ian Barker, Senior Director, Strategy, Delivery & Scaling
Charlotte Lusty, Senior Director, Genebanks

Champions and Challengers of Genetic Innovation Group
System Council CCGIG members (6):
  • Sarah Schmidt (Convener / GIZ)
  • Hailu Wordofa / USAID
  • Masa Iwanaga / JIRCAS
  • Renee Lafitte / BMGF
  • Eric Huttner / ACIAR
  • Astrid Mastenbroek / NL
Independent members (3):
  • Mary Ann Sayoc (East West Seed)
  • Joyce Malinga (KALRO)
  • Kent Nnadozie (ITPGRFA, FAO)
  • Support team
    • Adam Hunt (Head of Communications)
    • Isabelle Osman (Administration)
    • Enrico Bonaiuti (permanent invitee for MELIA & ToC topics)
    • Philippe Ellul (Secretary)

    CGIAR’s Champions and Challengers of Genetic Innovation Group is an independent group of professionals in the field of crop genetic innovation, who meet periodically to provide CGIAR management team with informal advice to improve CGIAR work on genebanks, breeding and seed systems. CCGIG will be helping GI management team achieve the ambitions of CGIAR’s new strategy for a new era, the 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, which situates CGIAR in the evolving global context demanding a systems transformation approach for food, land, and water systems. The CCGIG held its first two meetings in 2022 with six members from CGIAR’s System Council and 3rd in Jan 2023 with 3 additional independent members, looking now to expand to a full membership of 12 members in the early part of 2023. Under the leadership of Sarah Schmidt (convenor), the style of the meetings is open and frank, with an emphasis on practical advice, exchange and problem solving, rather than emphasis on presentations and formal responses.