Healthy Animals - Healthy People - Healthy Environment

Meet Christian Wirz, our new programme manager in Bern

VSF- Suisse, 31.01.2018

From January 2018, VSF-Suisse has a new face at the head office in Bern: Christian Wirz, the new programme manager for West Africa. Christian Wirz is an expert in sustainable land use and will be a great support for our team in this area and many others. You will immediately recognize his passion for rural development in the following interview.


Welcome to the VSF-Suisse team, Christian. We are glad to have you here with us in Bern. 

Can you give us a summary of your life? Where did you grow up, what did you study, where did you work before? I lived in Nepal until I was ten years old and then moved to Ittigen with my family. After finishing high school in Bern, I completed a pre-study internship for the HAFL (School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences) at an organic farm in the canton of Ticino, a farm with extensive livestock breeding, by the way. I then started studying geography at the University of Berne. Within the North-South programme (cooperation between researchers from the North and the South), I had the opportunity to do my master thesis on “pasture management” in the “foothills” of Tajikistan. There I spent four months researching and creating a map of different pasture management systems (intensive, semi-intensive, extensive).


After completing my master’s degree, I worked at the Federal Office for Spatial Development for five years and worked for the Alpine Convention, among other things.

This convention aims at a sustainable development of the Alps. I was thus in touch with sustainable development and land use early on. After completing my master’s degree, I worked at the Federal Office for Spatial Development for five years and worked for the Alpine Convention, among other things. This convention aims at a sustainable development of the Alps. I was thus in touch with sustainable development and land use early on. Since it was my dream to enter into development cooperation, I enrolled in the NADEL (Master in Development and Cooperation at the ETH Zurich). In this context, I had the opportunity to go to Kosovo as part of the SDC’s project DEMOS. The project is implemented by Helvetas and supports the communities in Kosovo in organizing their spatial and mobility planning. During these ten months I lived in Pristina with my wife and little daughter.

After completing NADEL, I substituted as a programme manager for East Africa at the NGO Swisscontact. Afterwards, I worked for Urbaplan in the French-speaking part of Switzerland as a consultant for SDC, SECO and AFD (French Development Bank) projects. This position gave me the opportunity to get to know West Africa better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend enough time with my family, so I started looking for a new job which allows me to work in development cooperation, but also to be closer to my family. That’s how I came to VSF-Suisse, an association I have always perceived as likeable, small and committed.


What motivates you to work in a non-governmental organization like VSF-Suisse? What I like about this NGO is that idealists are at work. I see that we want to bring about change. The willingness to make a difference in the beneficiaries’ lives and the organizations’ work as well as to implement the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development are decisive for me.
I share the values of VSF-Suisse and I am convinced that cooperation with the populations living from livestock production and agriculture, be it settled farmers, pastoralists, nomads or semi-nomads, is very promising. In sub-Saharan Africa and in Africa in general, millions of people depend on livestock production for their livelihoods, that’s why the support of VSF-Suisse is essential. I also fully share VSF-Suisse’s approach to making land use more sustainable in the six African countries. If there are too many herds in one place, it damages the environment. Sustainable land use has thus a social, an economic and an ecological goal.
During my studies and my previous work, I have dealt with topics that are also relevant in the projects of VSF-Suisse. At Urbaplan, I have analysed the livestock trade flow from the Sahel zone to the coast of West Africa. I have also tackled the cross-border circulation of people and goods at the borders of the countries Benin, Niger and Nigeria and I have seen how important the livestock sector is. I hope, of course, that I can put my professional background to good use for the implementation of the projects of VSF-Suisse.
What I particularly like about VSF-Suisse is the long-term approach. In my previous positions, it mostly worked like this: I had a mission, I fulfilled it, I wrote a report and then the project was completed. VSF-Suisse, however, has been active in the region for a longer period of time, hence we know the region better and the project generates added value – it benefits the population, their livestock and the environment.
Of course, I don’t mind that VSF-Suisse’s office is in the Matte-Quartier of Bern and I reach it from my home in ten minutes ;).

What will your tasks at VSF-Suisse be and what kind of work are you looking forward to?

At VSF-Suisse I am responsible for the countries of Mali and Togo. My task will be to cooperate with the country offices, to acquire new projects and to develop partnerships, and perhaps also to work with other countries such as Chad or the Ivory Coast, in other words to strengthen VSF-Suisse in West Africa, if possible.

Through my previous position at Urbaplan, I got to know the region of West Africa and I am even more pleased to be connected to West Africa through VSF-Suisse in the long term.
I am particularly motivated to work for West Africa, because this region has a lot of potential. In my previous work, I met many young people who are well educated, cosmopolitan and have a lot of innovative ideas.

Mali is currently in a critical phase, and I am sure that VSF-Suisse’s commitment to the country’s most vulnerable populations despite the difficult security situation is appreciated. And I find Togo exciting, among other things, because of the variety of land uses from the Sahel in the north to the coast in the south: VSF-Suisse is mainly active in the centre of the country, where these land uses are all present, meaning that settled small farmers and nomads have to deal with each other. I believe that with our project APFA we have found a solution that benefits all land users and the forest.
Another goal that I will pursue as programme manager is to expand our network and to work more closely with VSF-International so that VSF gains a better visibility in West Africa. I also hope, of course, that VSF-Suisse will become better known in Switzerland’s IZA (International Cooperation) landscape, so that the SDC will show more interest in us. A strengthened partnership with the EU is of course a further goal.


Now on to one last question for you: What do you do when you are not working? I like to play the flute. This is also my intention for 2018, to play the flute more often. Furthermore, the mountains are very important for me, on the one hand I love to go to the mountains, and on the other hand the protection of the Alps is close to my heart.

Thank you very much for your participation in the interview! We look forward to working with you!
(Interview: Selina Baumberger)




Tags: VSF-Suisse has a face 

Leave a comment

Name* Email*



Every donation Counts. Thank you so much for your support!

Online donations: please click here

Bank Transfers:

Donation account: 30-24633-4
IBAN: CH78 0900 0000 3002 4633 4 




Subscribe to our newsletter and stay informed about VSF-Suisse's activities