Guy Henry: a torch bearer

This man has the will of a flint.

For those who do not know what a flint is, it is a variety of quartz, compact, and translucent along the edges, that produces sparks when struck by another flint. And many sparks have jumped throughout Guy’s life; some of them to light torches whose fire remains alive to this day.

In 2012, he knocked on Ruben Echeverría’s door – whom he knew since the end of the 90s, when he worked in the Southern Cone – with an earnest concern because CIAT’s strategy at that time was about to expire. And he received the praiseworthy mission of facilitating the construction of the new 2014-2020 strategy, which is the one we have today. One of Guy’s sparks that jumped into this new strategy, and that is today a lit torch, was a very promising initiative for 2020: sustainable food systems for an urbanized world: today, one of our research programs.

Starting 2014, this and other more specific topics, such as urban food policies, urban consumption and rural-urban links – a legacy, in part, from his colleagues at CIRAD, a place with which Guy has been associated to since 1996 and for which he is now a representative for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela- were pushed hard by this Dutchman, adopted for the second time in his life by Cali.

With more effort and awareness than many citizens of this city, he proposed to start organizing ‘the house’ in terms of food security, and he succeeded. Today, CIAT is a co-author of the new food and nutrition policy of Cali, which is ready to be voted on by the Municipal Council, and now the City has an academic platform for food and nutrition security to support the implementation of this policy through scientific dialogue and innovation. What’s the next step? The city of Palmira, home of CIAT and neighbor to the city of Cali, where Guy’s team has already started a path to scale out the initiative.

Where did Guy’s commitment to Cali come from? Is it born of some natural exemplary civility? His scientific commitment? His strategic focus? All of the above? Perhaps. But the truth is that Guy’s connection with this City goes beyond reason. Here he met his wife, Gloria Arboleda: Colombian, paisa, architect, photographer, painter, and sculptor; who was director of Cali’s Botanical Garden for 5 years. It is enough to see the sparks jumping from Guy’s eyes when he sees the photo of his marriage, to understand that she has undoubtedly been a determining factor in Guy’s story.

A story that dates back to 1988 in Colombia, year in which Guy first came to CIAT (along with Joe Tohme and Gérard Chuzel) to do postdoctoral research in the Bean Program: he became an expert in green beans while leading a feasibility study in it; just as he became an expert in horses while cultivating his passion for them. He was the leader of the socio-economics team of the Cassava Program, until the crisis of 1995, when he decided to work in France with CIRAD and married Gloria.

A golden age for Guy, during which his two children were born: Philippe and Barbara. He worked in the Southern Cone (6 years based in Brazil and 7 in Argentina) and was responsible for coordinating different research projects in bi-regional policies between the European Union and Latin America, as well as for promoting the theme of Bioeconomy through scientific and technological cooperation platforms (bi-regional as well) such as ALCUE Net. During those years, he was also the regional expert of the French Cooperation in the area.

Bioeconomy is in fact another of the torches that Guy leaves lit at CIAT. In April 2017, he organized a National Bioeconomy Forum in Bogotá, an important step towards positioning this important issue in the national agenda and a call to stablish a political framework that encourages investment and the development of bioeconomy as an indispensable tool for the sustainable use of biological resources and the use of residues resulting from their transformation, production, and consumption … in short: as an engine of integral development of Colombia.

Additionaly, Guy is a point of reference on this issue for national actors such as Colciencias, the National Planning Department (DNP) and the Technological University of Pereira, which has just invited him to join its partners in the public and private sectors in the development of a bioeconomy for Risaralda, next 8 July.

Also, in October 2015, Guy fostered an initiative to promote multiactor and interdisciplinary discussions on food, health and the environment through EATxCali, an event that aimed to bring together representatives from different academic and governmental institutions, as well as international agencies, companies and civil society, to rebuild food systems and ensure that consumers get access to healthier and sustainably produced food. It was the first time in the history of CIAT that a representative of the Ministry of Health opened an event of this nature. In fact, the first time someone from the Ministry of Health opened an event at CIAT.

Guy Henry opened the door to me as I started my career in international research and development.  At that time, I was eager to have an opportunity and willing to do my best. Guy nurtured my desire to learn and innovate with his out-of-the box ideas that led CIAT to become a leading CGIAR center.  Assessing the impact of cassava integrated projects generated the evidence on the importance of research and development approaches that go beyond the farm. The value chain approach was nurtured by Guy’s idea of using an assessment we did of the sour starch agroindustry in Cauca to promote evidence-based discussions among the different value chain actors to design a sector plan to strengthen the cassava value chain. These are some of the examples on how Guy helped CIAT not only to think out-of-the box, but breaking it.

María Verónica Gottret

Senior Technical Advisor for Agricultural Livelihoods Research, Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

Interestingly, the word precursor refers to the one who opens the way for those who come behind… while the torches, on the other hand, are, in a figurative sense, a symbol of a political movement or idea that has an important positive influence. With this in mind, we may understand why Guy was given that flint-like will. It was necessary. It was necessary in CIAT, it was in his marriage when it was almost over, and it was to overcome cancer last year.

Now Guy says goodbye to CIAT and goes to CIRAD for one more year to complete the time he needs for retirement. Well, to complete the time he needs before taking ten-month vacation that he has accumulated and then retire. Then, 4-day weekends, his house in Providencia and work topics in which his life and Gloria’s life can intertwine more deeply, is all that he has planned. His elder son is already studying in the Netherlands and his younger daughter will soon leave to Asia to travel along the paths that connect her with his father, who began his academic journey in the early 80’s in a university that is focused on training professionals to work in the Dutch colonies, mainly from Indonesia, where she will now go to work as a volunteer before studying in Rotterdam (the Netherlands).

Two last sparks Guy leaves us before his departure. First, a lunch that he himself organized for 40 CIAT colleagues (assistants, associates, technicians, secretaries, security guards, waitresses, gardeners, cooks) to whom he wants to say: “thank you for all your support, friendship, advice, good vibes and sincere greetings for so many years!” The second, a panel discussion on the progress made with the sustainable food system for Cali, which will take place at CIAT next Wednesday, 27 June, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 m. Topics such as the process followed in the construction of municipal public policy, the support that the academic dialogue platform will offer, the work topics included on the agenda, and what is expected in the future will be discussed. For us, it will be a great opportunity to see this burning torch shine. For him, it will be a potential environment where his flint will sparkle once again.

Thanks, Guy!

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