illustration Ségolène Halley des Fontaines: exploring the world

5 min

Ségolène Halley des Fontaines: exploring the world

Ségolène Halley des Fontaines’ career has been characterized by an international dimension in a range of sectors such as public health, agriculture, the environment, forests, etc. In September 2017, she joined INRA as Head of International Affairs. She is also Director of the joint INRA-CIRAD International Relations Unit. Goals for INRAE in 2020, career, positions – Interview with the dynamic Ségolène Halley des Fontaines.

Published on 30 December 2019

Linking up researchers, elected officials, embassies and international agencies

Ségolène Halley des Fontaines is INRAE’s Director of International Relations. She began by explaining, “My day starts off with a call to one of the four corners of the Earth or by reviewing upcoming missions or the arrival of a delegation with my team. Several team members focus on specific geographic areas such as Latin America, the Pacific Islands, North America, China-Japan, the Mediterranean or India-Southern Asia, as well on relations with international bodies or conventions/agreements. One colleague oversees and supports the mechanisms that structure our relationships with our main international partners.” Team meetings are vital for sharing information on key upcoming dates on the global agenda and identifying opportunities for the Institute. “Then we respond to requests from our international partners, ministries, French and foreign research agencies along with those from INRAE researchers, division heads and centre presidents to have good contacts, make good connections and get the best possible impact at the international level (…) What interests me most is successfully linking up researchers, who have projects or models; elected officials, who have to meet expectations; and embassies, international agencies, and the like, which provide opportunities and often have resources that converge with our objectives, subject in some cases to exerting a bit of influence,” Ségolène said with smile.

From public health to the environment 

Public health, international regulations and diplomatic relations were the key-words of Ségolène Halley des Fontaines’s early career. “In particular, I did an internship at Danone on the issue of the relationship between science, regulations and information about food products, including special types of food, e.g. for the elderly, children, those who are ill, and their effect on world trade. I then learned to leverage other types of public action such as ministry budgets, but I quickly returned to the international scene, multicultural contacts, diplomacy, influence and negotiations.” 

Seeing the world through a dual lens: the short- and long-terms simultaneously

She then took charge of France’s forestry policy for five years, an experience that opened new horizons for her. “It showed me the need to see the world through a double lens, i.e. the short- and long-terms simultaneously,” she explained. So, while the short term is needed to make commitments, sign agreements, approve regulations, manage budgets or day-to-day matters, she realised that the very long-term and sustainability are concepts that need to be kept constantly on our radars. “It taught me that in our everyday decisions we always need to examine the longer term impact of our actions, sometimes above and beyond our own lifetimes, and not limit our thinking to the short term, for the good of the forests, but beyond that, the good of the climate and biodiversity and ultimately our humanity.”

The right knowledge for the right decisions

She joined INRA in September 2017 and was appointed to work with Jean-François Soussana, Vice-President for International Affairs, on implementing the Institute’s action plan at the international level. “I joined INRA after serving as the Agriculture and Food Security Adviser to the Ambassador who represents France and its positions at FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) in Rome.” During that time, she had noticed a deep “thirst for knowledge” in international forums on the issue of natural resources so as to inform decisions, particularly during COP 21 and preparations for the Paris Agreement, and during approval of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She realised the tremendous strengths but undervalued potential of French research in those areas. “For example, with the Paris Agreement, the idea was to go from a North-South divide on agriculture to a consensus around the concept of sustainable and responsible farming that would take into account climate change and food security issues,” she said. In that way the dual nature of the issue of agriculture was acknowledged, i.e. the need to adapt it to climate change to ensure food security, on the one hand; and its potential to mitigate the effects of climate change, on the other. That is how the “4 per 1000” Initiative on soil and climate change came into being.  

A French school of thought 

Dietary habits are a major determinant in changes to farming systems 

“Governments make agricultural and food policy decisions. But in order to change farming practices, they need to understand the interconnections between topics like non-communicable disease trends in humans, soil fertility, pesticide use, anti-microbial resistance, the growing water scarcity, farming practices, etc. INRA and CIRAD scientists had powerful voices at the international level when I worked with the FAO because a French school of thought exists that is truly innovative and generates a wide range of solutions. That is why I wanted to become part of INRA but also work with CIRAD. The potential for solutions has been substantially strengthened in INRAE, notably through research on the water cycle.” Now her goal is to tie INRAE research to the international agenda and position that research as a means of providing solutions to global issues. In addition to environmental concerns, we are faced with a growing three-pronged burden in public health, i.e. undernutrition, obesity and overnutrition, and malnutrition. “I am convinced that dietary habits are a major determinant in changes to farming systems. It is vital to think about how the two are linked in order to facilitate these crucial transitions!” Ségolène Halley des Fontaines recalled. 



“I have 4 children, teens and pre-teens, who I spend time with and share my curiosity about the world, my enthusiasm about meeting and getting to know other cultures.”

Ségolène Halley des Fontaines loves to go cycling: “It’s very important for clearing one’s thoughts!”
Reading, particularly novels and about voyages of exploration (e.g. North Pole, sailing)

Work experience 

  • Since 2017: Head of International Affairs at INRA and now at INRAE, and Director of the joint CIRAD-INRA Support Unit for International Relations (UMARI).
  • 2013 - 2017: Agriculture and Food Security Advisor to the Ambassador, French Permanent Representation to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome.
  • 2010 – 2013: Rapporteur to the Cour des comptes (French national audit office): Sustainable development and transport.
  • 2005 – 2010:  Forestry and Wood Division officer; Agricultural Policy, Agrifood and Territory Department, French Ministry of Agriculture: steering national forestry policy, management, budget, overseeing government agencies such as the ONF (French national forestry office), IFN (national forest inventory), CRPF (national forest property centre).
  • 2003 -  2005: Technical Advisor, Office of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries’: plant production and biomass.
  • 2003: Head of Rural Development Sector, Ministry of Agriculture.
  • 2001-2003: Assistant to the Office Manager, Budget Department, Ministry of Finance: ministry agriculture budget (advice to the offices merged into France- AgriMer, food security agency ANSES).
  • 1999-2000: Economic monitoring, External Economic Relations Department, Ministry of the Economy.
  • 1996-1999: International and European Community Regulations, Food Department, Ministry of Agriculture: human food, nutrition, European Commission and international Codex alimentarius committees (FAO/WHO).

Anaïs Bozinotranslated by Sheryl Mellor


Ségolène Halley des Fontaines Director of International Relations