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The future of agricultural research for development

Does agricultural research need to listen more carefully to those it is working on behalf of? (WRENmedia)
Does agricultural research need to listen more carefully to those it is working on behalf of?

There is no doubt that in the last 50 years, agricultural science has helped to overcome the threat of famine for billions of people. But a billion remain undernourished and the spectre of poverty remains. With climate change, rising food prices and a burgeoning global population, the demands on agriculture to become more efficient and productive are greater than ever.

In the midst of these complex challenges, agricultural research stands at a crossroads. The call for the international research system to be reformed is louder than ever, not just from donors seeking results-oriented research but from those who want researchers to be more accountable to farmers, and for research to be driven by the real and not perceived needs of the poor.

At the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (CGARD) held in Montpellier in March 2010, almost 1,000 delegates, including those responsible for generating as well as using research, gathered to discuss the transformation of the global research system. "We must reshape and rethink the very architecture of the agricultural system," said Monty Jones, newly inaugurated Chair for GFAR (Global Forum for Agricultural Research). We present a selection of opinions on the priority for doing this, and what needs to be done.

Does agricultural science deserve greater priority?

We have not been realistic in the programmes we have put forward for eliminating hunger and poverty in Africa. Why don't we place food and nutrition security as a public good; raise it to the level of education, of national health, of national security? If we do our thinking and our policies in this way, our allocation of resources will be different.
Namanga Ngongi, president, Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

I do not think that it is realistic to say that we are going to eradicate poverty by focusing on agriculture only because poverty is multi-faced and it also has a face of culture, it has a face of gender, it has a face of so many things. So just increasing productivity may not necessarily deal with poverty.
Monica Kapiriri, development facilitator, Uganda

Should the priority be doing more research, or getting existing research into use? (WRENmedia)
Should the priority be doing more research, or getting existing research into use?

Research alone cannot solve all the problems faced by those living in poverty. There's no question that we have reached billions of small farmers but there's a billion we haven't reached. The question is 'How do we reach them?' Some of it can be done through farming, some of it has to be achieved off-farm. What we do know is that countries that have a broad-based strategy for growth have succeeded better than those without.
Uma Lele, former senior advisor to World Bank and lead author of the global report, Transforming Agricultural Research for Development

It's important we don't just focus on the research but the role of institutions as well, that we remember that civil society organisations and extension are important. In moving forward, we need to generate different forms of agriculture that work for people, which generate new types of rural development.
Jules Pretty, University of Essex and co-author of Transforming Agricultural Research for Development

A new vision for agricultural science

We have to develop a better vision. We can't simply fund good deeds. We have to supply a good strategy and we have to create the funding.
Cary Fowler, Global Crop Diversity Trust

It is essential that we appreciate the need for focus and for selectivity and for understanding what agricultural research can achieve and where other instruments come into play. I think if we can build that appreciation, and if we can use more of an evidence based process in how we decide what we want to do, we can greatly improve the efficacy of agricultural research for development.
David Raitzer, IRRI, Philippines

Women have huge responsibility for food production, but typically have little influence over research agendas. (WRENmedia)
Women have huge responsibility for food production, but typically have little influence over research agendas.

We need to focus on problems, not programmes, focus on partnerships that bring people together and relate to the needs of stakeholders, and breakdown barriers between research disciplines.
Sir Gordon Conway Imperial College, UK

Women are farmers, but much research is not differentiated to meet the needs of women, and is still very crop-orientated. It needs to be broader, based on food systems.
Anne Marie Sorenson, Danish Development Research Network

The ingredients for change are within reach... But to turn the debate we must build a stronger, longer lasting bridge between research and farmers. We have to shape a new food system.
David Navarro, UN special advisor

Research must address real problems

Researchers need to tailor the research to the actual needs of farmers. I think that is a major weakness that you see all over Africa. Researchers don't want to go down the steps and find out what the problems of farmers really are. As a result, there is a need to encourage or develop incentives for scientists who come up with innovations to relieve people from hunger.
Stephen Muchiri, East African Farmers Federation

We need to transform, not because we have failed but that now the issues are far more complex and challenging. There are a number of success stories among small farmers and larger farmers in all areas around the world and we need to look at what lessons they provide about what transformation is required.
Eduardo Trigo, co-author of Transforming Agricultural Research for Development

The researchers need to work with producers at their farms and listen to their problems with the clear notion that they are not coming to bring us a recipe, but that we will learn from them as they will learn from us.
Edison Betancourt, Uruguayan farmer

Involve farmers in setting research agendas

Should farmers be included on the boards of research organisations? (WRENmedia)
Should farmers be included on the boards of research organisations?

We need to strengthen the relationship between researchers and farmers organisations. We have made a start where we now have farmers on the boards of many research organisations but we need to go forward to develop a better structure that is more accountable to farmers and their organisations. In developed countries farmers through commodity levies are able to drive research. In developing countries, farmers need a forum to demand and articulate their research needs.
Ajay Vashee, president, International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP)

We have to review the tools of research; how to make all the tools very inclusive. The farmer has to have a say from the very beginning in the design of the research, including farmers who are marginalized, such as women - more than half the population of farmers are women.
Sharmila Karki, secretary-general, NGO Federation of Nepal

When we talk about involving farmers, too often these are advanced, educated farmers who do not represent all the billions of farmers. It takes time to work with those that are not privileged but we have to look to work with all categories of farmers, especially the poorest.
Unidentified GCARD delegate

Farmers also need to be involved at every stage of the research process, but to take part at each level, capacity needs to be built.
Stephen Muchiri

Localised research

Are the solutions currently being developed by science taking too long to reach poor farmers? (WRENmedia)
Are the solutions currently being developed by science taking too long to reach poor farmers?

What we are hearing today from the Asian groups is a need for a strong regional focus. What we are hearing from the Latin America group is again a call for a regional focus and Africa should stand up for a regional focus. We need a geographically based research system for agriculture.
Peter Hartmann, director-general, IITA

There are a lot of global issues which research will contribute to addressing. But whilst thinking globally, we have to focus locally to make sure that those research programmes and research results are of relevance to the farmers in communities in which we are working.
Namanga Ngongi

Research has to be localised, regionalised. Then I think we need to develop the means of multiplying these different experiences so that they do not lose their relevance for the location where they have been generated but they can be applied more broadly.
Sirkka Immonen, Independent Science and Partnership Council, FAO, Rome

A question of political will

Part of the lack of political will is a lack of recognition of science as part of the solution. That recognition has not been there and the infrastructure to bring about change is not there. We need sustained support to strengthen our institutions - public and private. If these are not developed and our political leaders do not have respect for education, the brain drain will continue and we will lose our capacity to develop.
Ejeta Gebisa, World Food Prize Winner 2009

We have to influence the policymakers or change will not take place in our respective countries. After all, they are the ones that have got the authority to sign everything. To be sure of the outcome of this conference we have to influence the policymakers.
Sharmila Karki

With contributions from: Busani Bufana

Date published: May 2010


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