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The CGIAR - a bridge to the future?

Tropical agriculture has benefited very significantly from the work of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). The success of CIMMYT and IRRI in the 1960s and 1970s with high yielding wheat and rice was the foundation of the Green Revolution. More recently, CGIAR centres have contributed to improvements in other cereals (African rice, maize, sorghum and millet), tubers, pulses, bananas, genetic conservation, forestry, agroforestry, water management and fisheries. But, where to next? Working solo, or with partners? And what are the new priorities in terms of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

The CGIAR held its annual general meeting in Mexico City at the end of October, with nearly 1000 participants from donors and academia as well as the CGIAR. At a crucial time for agriculture and development, discussions centred on how CGIAR research can best respond to priority needs for the future. The CGIAR's impact, since its founding in the 1970s, is an estimated US$9 return on every US$1 invested, but many feel that new approaches are needed to capitalise on the centres' comparative advantages. All agree on the need for increased emphasis on effective partnerships. Points of View reflects some of the views expressed during the meeting.

CIMMYT: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
IRRI: International Rice Research Institute

New directions

How can we advance the relevance and the impact of international agricultural research without losing the system's unique contribution to international public goods? How can we move from pilot projects to a scale that truly advances progress towards the millennium development goal, while maintaining the highest scientific standards? In our view, the future relevance and growth of the CGIAR rests on its ability to meet this challenge.
Glenn Denning, Director, MDG Technical Support Center

From the Centers' perspective, we are asking ourselves how can our programs focus on poverty? A starting point has been to realign the research to address the MDG as the specific vehicle for defining poverty eradication indicators and targets…An example of changes is a greater focus on human health and agriculture, natural resource management and policy research, and greater attention to rural wealth creation.
Ren Wang, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Improved production and processing systems for high-value commodities and products: here we think we need to do much more to generate wealth among poor people in developing countries. We need to move into areas where we have done relatively little work before… by looking at high-value crops, by looking at post-harvest processing and related matters.
Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Chair of the CGIAR Science Council

Increasing productivity is not just the solution for poverty and hunger eradication. We have to consider the commodity-chain approach to agricultural production, which means farm production, processing, post-harvest technology, marketing and fair trade. We need to make sure the markets work for the poor, not just for the big companies.
Mohammad Roozitalab, Chair of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR)

We're talking about a huge experiment which the world is proposing to do: a tripling of investments in development, completely new approaches… We need to experiment and learn, and I think here is, philosophically, where the CG has a role to play.
Carlos Sere, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Partnerships are essential

The CGIAR cannot be all things to all people. We cannot lose our focus at a time when challenges seem to increase. Nor can the CGIAR act on its own. The tasks that lie ahead are too crucial for that.
Ian Johnson, Chair of the CGIAR

I think that the challenges we're facing with the MDGs is really a daunting task. I think we need an innovation systems framework to tackle it, and partnerships are absolutely essential to do it. So I think we'd better quickly learn how to manage these partnerships effectively.
Carlos Sere, ILRI

A frequent complaint made by the communication community over many years is that communication strategies are designed as an afterthought, rather than integrated from the start into development strategies; they are accorded too few resources and implemented with too few personnel. Certainly, the central development strategy designed to meet the primary development objective of our time - halving poverty by 2015 - appears to back up the complaint.
H.E. Mamadou Koné, Minister of Scientific Research, Côte d'Ivoire

If agricultural research is to respond adequately to human needs in this century, institutional innovation, enormous scientific breakthroughs and creative energies at both the macro and micro levels will be imperative. The challenge is to build the relationships and create the new spaces required for this between the CGIAR as a global institution, the international private sector and the informal knowledge community of change-makers.
From the Executive Summary of the Final Report of the Independent Evaluation of the Partnership Committees of the CGIAR

One of the key characteristics of highly innovative partnerships is that a great deal of the innovation takes place at the interface between formal research and the end users of technologies...., these [partnerships] provide a laboratory for learning and experimentation.
Jacqueline Ashby, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Your researchers need to work alongside our organizations…and become aware of the problems so they can identify demand for research. They need to channel and adapt knowledge in a timely and appropriate manner to address our specific realities.
Member of a partner organization, quoted by Jacqueline Ashby, CIAT

Scaling up

The CG partnerships have to be designed and implemented thinking at the level of 900 million rural poor. Even if the partnership is focused on the local and the immediate, it must be inspired by the global.
Julio Berdegué, President of the Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion (CONDESAN)

If we're going to have a rapid spread of this knowledge, and also get over the problem of a lot of research sitting on the shelf and not actually being used, it's only going to happen with close adaptive trials with farmers on fields. There are not enough researchers to do it all, so let's engage more with the public extension services and non-government organizations.
John Russell, Consultant to GFAR

We have trained some 75,000 scientists since the CGIAR was created. Surely, we can aim at training 75,000 a year, every year, using new information technologies, and supporting such distance learning initiatives as the Global Open Agriculture and Food University.
Ian Johnson, Chair of the CGIAR

Centers are helping to develop new ways to get existing and new innovations to be upscaled as well as outscaled, to reach millions more, and particularly getting to young people.
Ed Rege, ILRI

Date published: January 2005


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