Public policy support is one aspect of why we do what we do
Nicolas de Menthière, who was previously Director of Support for Public Policies at the Valorization and Contractualization Department (DIVaC) at IRSTEA since 2017, will be joining INRAE in a similar capacity in a role that reflects his deepest convictions. “Public policy support is one aspect of why we do what we do,” says Nicolas de Menthière. “This type of support draws on scientific data and skills to help policymakers tackle the major challenges ahead of us through a variety of approaches: expertise, foresight studies, continuous training for public agencies, research and standardisation. This is an exciting position for me that will promote these goals. Nicolas has plans to develop a range of multidisciplinary public policy support services between scientific divisions to address the complex issues of agroecological, energy and food transitions.
A calling in research takes root
Nicolas de Menthière’s love for forests took root during childhood walks in the Cantal area of France with his grandfather, who was an agricultural engineer. He went from admiring forests in the summers to studying them at university, where he got an undergraduate degree in Biology from the École Normal Supérieure (ENS) followed by a Master’s degree in Plant Physiology from Paris VI. His thesis focused on the various origins of maritime pines based on several water regimes at two INRA units. “That was my first contact with INRA in the eighties!” says Nicolas with a smile. “From that point on, the common thread throughout my professional career has been forestry, the environment and research.”
In 1982, he passed the external civil servant exam to become a rural, water and forestry engineer (IGREF) with a specialisation in forestry. After completing his military service, he became the head of the Forestry and Environment Division at the Office of Agriculture and Forestry for the Haut-Vienne French administrative department. In 1989, he joined the Directorate of Rural Affairs and Forestry (DERF) at French Ministry of Agriculture. “At the Sub-Directorate for Forest-Based Industries, I was responsible for the Research and Technology Office, which coordinated forest and timber research conducted in various organisations such as Cemagref, INRA and the Institute for Forest Development,” explains Nicolas.
Protecting forest resources
Two years later, he was seconded to the former CTBA (now the French Institute of Technology for Forest-Based and Furniture Sectors – FCBA). His work focused “on the downstream part of the sector: timber harvesting, exploitation and processing”. Along with a team of engineers, he advised companies in the sector on project development and quality and environmental management. “These activities were in the same vein as my previous position, but I was also in contact with the professional world.” Nicolas de Menthière’s activities at the CTBA were “diverse and fascinating” with an international scope. For example, he co-chaired the European Committee for Standardization on round logs and timber. He coordinated a European initiative on more eco-friendly forestry exploitation in mountain areas and launched a European project on post-storm forest management following severe windstorms in Europe in December 1999. This project led to a methodological and technical guide on management practices for this type of situation, including proposals for conservation systems for waterlogged or underwater forests tested in Germany.
Moving towards sustainable agriculture
In 2001, he joined Cemagref as the Deputy Director of Information Systems and Communication (DSIC). As part of his role, he represented the former IRSTEA on the steering committee for the collective scientific expertise report being produced with INRA on reducing pesticides and limiting their impacts. “This critical analysis of the international scientific literature was a milestone for the environment: in 2005, two public research institutions publicly confirmed for the first time that agriculture based on the use of pesticides was not sustainable,” explains Nicolas. “It opened the door to launching research programmes to reduce the amounts of pesticides used, or even eliminate them altogether.”
Scientific scenarios to avoid catastrophe
In 2009, de Menthière became the Director of Foresight Studies, Monitoring and Valorization of Scientific and Technical Information (DP2VIST) at Cemagref, which was “created to disseminate a culture of foresight within the Institute and clarify its strategic positioning, as well as to lend robust support to public policymakers on long-term challenges such as the environment and agriculture.” From 2013, he was the co-leader of the AllEnvi multidisciplinary foresight study group. He first worked on a meta-analysis of major international scenarios of environmental change (ScenEnvi), followed by the “La mer monte” (Dealing with rising sea levels) report, which dealt with the consequences and mitigation actions that could be taken with regard to rising sea levels between now and 2100. “Without a rapid response, we will have to adapt to critical situations on the fly given the large populations and economic stakes in coastal areas. We have identified scientific research that can help policymakers prepare.” In 2017, Nicolas de Menthière became the Director of Public Policy at the DIVaC at IRSTEA, which put him in a position to be able to connect with public policymakers through his foresight study work, as well as bring a solid background and vision to INRAE.
- 2017-2019 : Director of Public Policy at the Valorization and Contractualization Department (DIVaC) at IRSTEA.
- Since 2013: Co-leader of the AllEnvi multidisciplinary foresight study group.
- 2009 - 2016 : Director of Foresight Studies, Monitoring and Valorization of Scientific and Technical Information (DP2VIST) at Cemagref.
- 2001 – 2009 : Deputy Director of Information Systems and Communication (DSIC) at Cemagref.
- 1991 – 2001 : Head of the Wood and Sawn Timber Department at the former CTBA (now the French Institute of Technology for Forest-Based and Furniture Sectors – FCBA.
- 1989 – 1991 Head of the Office of Research and Technology at the Directorate of Rural Affairs and Forestry (DERF), French Ministry of Agriculture.
- • Master’s degree in Plant Physiology from Paris VI.
- 1982 : Civil servant exam in engineering (IGREF), forestry specialisation.
- Ecole Normale Supérieure Ulm in biology.