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Agricultural research - the road ahead

What direction should agricultural research be taking? (© FAO/Paballo Thekiso)
What direction should agricultural research be taking?
© FAO/Paballo Thekiso

What direction should agricultural research be taking in order to best contribute to poverty and hunger reduction? And how can the impact of that research be maximised, whether through strengthening of skills, building of partnerships or prioritising investment in key areas? These were some of the issues that came under discussion at the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) held between 29th October and 1st November 2012 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. A number of delegates were also invited by New Agriculturist to take stock of progress in agricultural research and share their thoughts on some of the key conference themes.

Positive developments in research

There is a growing appreciation of the need to understand the research to development pathways, particularly ensuring that research efforts are consistent with the requirements of the stakeholders.
Peter G. McCornick, Deputy Director General, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

The principal positive change is the participative research that involves producers in the research process. It is the key to efficiently applying the results of research in the field by the producers. The producer knows firsthand the problems, both in the field and marketing the product.
Cristina Iglesias, Agricultural Engineer, Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias

Researchers appear to be working with beneficiaries in a much more sustained and integrated way (© FAO/Filipe Branquinho)
Researchers appear to be working with beneficiaries in a much more sustained and integrated way
© FAO/Filipe Branquinho

Agricultural research appears to be increasingly addressing the interaction between the several enterprises found on typical mixed farms, slowly replacing the narrow scientific disciplinary approach, which tends to address either livestock or crop or soil or another problem in isolation. Also, the success of research is judged by the socio-economic benefits accrued by the farmer from the adoption of new practices/policies etc and not solely on indices of increased production.
Wyn Richards, Principal Consultant, The Natural Resources Group, UK

We are starting to see a much stronger recognition and effort by researchers to work and think with beneficiaries and development practitioners in a much more sustained and integrated way. It is essential that this trend continues if we are to tackle the complexities and achieve the durable development outcomes we all want.
Steve Hall, Director General, WorldFish Center

Future directions for research

Agro-ecological approaches which provide multiple solutions; the sort of win-win-win in terms of profitability, sustainability and equitability - those are the areas that really deserve much more attention than they are currently getting, particularly because they are very knowledge intensive and location specific.
Julian Oram, Senior Political Advisor, Sustainable Agriculture, Greenpeace International

Smallholders are now the buzz word even in the CGIAR. We hear it in every other sentence and I can assure you that if eco-agriculture or agriculture biodiversity or low input agriculture is not taken up in research priorities, the system will lose its credibility not only amongst smallholders but with the public in general.
Gine Zwart, Senior Policy Advisor, Oxfam Novib

Engaging youth ensures that research is effective (© FAO/Rodger Bosch)
Engaging youth ensures that research is effective
© FAO/Rodger Bosch

Engaging youth in the research process, supported by the experience of researchers ensures that research is effective. Proper use of natural resources, restoration and maintenance of watersheds and respect for nature, are factors that must be taken into account by any research process. Also, respecting the worldview of agriculture producers; ancient wisdom combined with innovation can give great results.
Cristina Iglesias, Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias

Before looking for complex answers to increase productivity, like GMOs, if we want serious research we should see if farmers have the basic means to produce: capital, land and labour force. Research should look to these grassroot problems before engaging farmers towards being dependent on private sector seed supply.
Myriam Perez Diaz, GCARD2 Social Reporter

[In Japan] two major parties are proposing different directions. More aggregation of small farms to make bigger ones so that we can be more competitive in the global market, versus providing more support to smallscale farmers for ecosystem management and so on. So I think we are struggling for a global direction and that is the difficulty of linking global foresight to our national research strategy.
Keijiro Otsuka, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Japan

What is the value of partnerships?

Each part of the agri industry flows into the other, from primary production to processing, to marketing, to the final consumer and all other parts in between. Research can be conducted within each segment. However due to their inter-related nature, one impacts upon the other. In this regard, research in partnership to strengthen the segments as a whole is key. It is through support and collaboration that the entire industry succeeds.
Keron Bascombe, MSc Agribusiness and Marketing Student, University of the West Indies

Effective implementation of innovations require a demand driven approach to research and engagement with local partners (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
Effective implementation of innovations require a demand driven approach to research and engagement with local partners
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

Partnering with regional and national research organizations has become essential to ensure that the research is relevant to the context intended, and generates the knowledge where it is likely to be of value. Key partnerships to develop in the earliest stages in research programs include implementing organizations and decisions makers, especially the relevant Ministries, farmer groups, NGOs and investors.
Peter G. McCornick, IWMI

Research should look at the entire value chain from production to consumption if it is to contribute to increasing not only food security but income growth and sustainability for smallholder farmers. Such a value chain approach will require building strong partnerships with farmers groups, extension workers, agribusiness, input providers, credit services and national policy makers. By addressing bottlenecks in the whole value chain and working in partnership with various groups, research can achieve greater success than by dealing with just one aspect of the value chain.
Michael Hailu, Director, Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

No one organisation has all of the skills and expertise necessary to solve the multitude of complex and diverse problems encountered in developing country agriculture. In particular, we need to look at partnerships that will help put research into use and implement new technologies at the farm level. Organisations that carry out initial research do not always have the reach or competencies to achieve this at scale.
Dr Trevor Nicholls, CEO, CAB International

National systems of research need to be supported and strengthened (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
National systems of research need to be supported and strengthened
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

On one level, partnerships are fundamental to actually doing our research, and on another, our research relies on partnerships to have an effect. We rely on partnerships in varying forms for our audiences to hear and understand the results of our research and to help change people's lives for the better.
Peter Kanowski, Deputy Director General, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

We need to deepen our focus and prioritization of partnerships from a regional point of view in order to achieve the best possible allocation of funds and greatest impact. The main difficulty that international research in agriculture currently faces is achieving the highest impact on the ground. This can be achieved by, among others, a demand driven approach to research and engagement with local partners for effective implementation of innovations.
Carlos Perez del Castillo, CGIAR Consortium

Partnership pitfalls

Successful research partnerships don't generally come for free. They require an adequate and equitable investment of human and financial capital, either by the contributing partners or external sponsors, to support the inevitable transaction costs. Without adequate investment, most partnerships struggle to survive beyond the initial period of enthusiasm associated with their launch while inequitable investment can result in a loss of trust between the partners. Large-scale research programmes need to have a certain proportion of their total funding allocated to the support of partnerships.
Dr Trevor Nicholls, CAB International

Partners may have high expectations from the project in terms of funds/finances as they play their role. Once such expectations are not met, partners may withdraw or be uncommitted to the joint development initiative. Partnerships also need clear definitions or roles and responsibilities before rolling out a joint project. It is difficult to work with partners if they don't know or understand their roles.
Msekiwa Matsimbe, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) Fellow

Capacity building priorities

Since the 1990s, the research community has relied on biotechnology disciplines to solve much of the biotic and abiotic stress problems experienced by the farm sector. Though these disciplines have brought a measure of success, overconcentration in this area has also led to a major undermining in the scientific capacity of traditional disciplines such as plant breeding, agronomy, pathology, entomology, virology and related disciplines. We need a new generation of agriculturalists of all types, not just of a few types, if we are to adequately address the agricultural dimensions of MDG1 over the next 25 years.
Dyno Keatinge, AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center

ARD will be more effective when youth and women are well-represented and well equipped (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
ARD will be more effective when youth and women are well-represented and well equipped
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Capacity building is directed largely to improve the capacity of researchers, decision makers and extension workers; these tend to be start-stop affairs and address specific topics rather than dealing with integrated management issues faced by small mixed farmers. It ignores the multitude of budding young farmers who are thirsty to learn better husbandry/management practices. There is thus a need to think more out of the box and promote self-help type capacity building. For instance, the Farmers Unions in developing countries, and perhaps the donor community, should provide greater support for the Young Farmers Club movement.
Wyn Richards, The Natural Resources Group

Cultivating a new generation of agricultural entrepreneurs, technicians, researchers, educators and leaders is strategically important. ARD will be all the more effective when youth and women are well-represented and well equipped for the challenge. Dedicated resources from the leadership of international, regional and national bodies of agricultural education and R&D, are needed to multiply the availability of high-quality opportunities for practical experience and career development of women and youth, such as internships, mentoring, professional secondments and associations.
Vicki Wilde, Director, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)

Date published: January 2013


Have your say

Excellent article. Agriculture is the backbone of many devel... (posted by: Dr.A.Jagadeesh)

Indigenous knowledge is vital for the success of agricultura... (posted by: Shadrack Inoti)


Agricultural Research should not only be demand driven but s... (posted by: John Daddy Jeff Momoh)


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