Honorary Doctor of Humanities

Photo of Cary Fowler
Photo courtesy of Cary Fowler

Cary Fowler is perhaps best known as the “father” of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Located near the North Pole, this underground facility provides secure protection for a million unique samples of crop diversity.Fowler headed the committee that planned the facility and for many years chaired the international council overseeing its operations.

Until 2012, Fowler served as executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an endowment fund tasked by governments with developing a global system for the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Prior to this, he was professor and director of research in the Department for International Environment & Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. He also was a senior advisor to the director general of Bioversity International. In this latter role, he represented the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in negotiations on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

In the 1990s, he headed the efforts of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to produce the UN’s first global assessment of the state of the world’s plant genetic resources. He drafted and supervised negotiations of FAO’s Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources, adopted by 150 countries in 1996. That same year, he served as special assistant to the secretary general of the World Food Summit.

He is a past member of the National Plant Genetic Resources Board of the United States and the board of trustees of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed him to the seven-member board for International Food and Agricultural Development, which oversees and advises the U.S. Agency for International Development.

He is the current chair of the board of trustees of Rhodes College.

In 2010, the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences awarded him the Vavilov Medal for his “exceptional contribution” to the cause of conserving plant genetic resources for present and future generations. Subsequently he was one of two foreign members elected to the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He received a 2010 Heinz Award for his “vision and efforts in the preservation of the world’s food supply.”

In 2018, he will receive the Jefferson Medal for Citizen Leadership granted by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the University of Virginia.

Fowler attended Rhodes College in Memphis before transferring to Simon Fraser University in Canada, earning a bachelor’s degree with honors. He earned a PhD at Uppsala University in Sweden. Fowler was a professor at the Norwegian University of Live Sciences for a number of years and a visiting professor at the University of California-Davis. He is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University.

He is the author of several books and many articles in biological, social science, and law journals.

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