The world’s 500 million small farms, which already provide food for around two billion people, will have to improve their productivity radically to achieve the estimated 70 per cent increase in food production needed to feed a 2050 global population that will likely exceed 9.1 billion.
There is a growing consensus that to do so, agricultural researchers and donors must tailor their programmes to, and align their priorities with, the needs of small farmers. The question is how?
All three organisations behind GCARD — The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and Agropolis International in France — have helped pave the way for a participatory approach, including coordinating a global consultation of more than 2000 stakeholders in the run-up to GCARD.
And all three seem genuinely committed to taking agricultural research results from the lab to the field.
But, while they may to some extent be uniting under a single banner, they are all vying to strengthen their own roles within this and each has a slightly different agenda to pursue at GCARD.
GFAR has the backing of the G8 group of leading industrial nations, as articulated in the L’Aquila Joint Statement on Global Food Security issued last July. Through GCARD it is trying to position itself as the indispensible channel for dialogue between agricultural science and society.
CGIAR, in the throes of radical reform, will use GCARD to launch — and, more importantly, garner donor support for — its new strategy and results framework and its proposed eight new ‘mega-programmes’. It, too, hopes to clarify what it describes as its “most valuable niche in the Agricultural Research for Development system”.
Agropolis International will use the conference to “introduce the assets of the regional research cluster to world decision makers” and showcase its activities. It is also out to prove its worth as a global focal point for agricultural research for development. For example, it has offered to host the new CGIAR consortium office.
The size of GCARD — around 1000 delegates expected — combined with its unique mix of donors, scientists, policymakers, civil society groups, private innovators and farmers, presents an unprecedented opportunity to create an action plan for agricultural research that is built from the bottom up.
The challenge will be for the three players to come together and turn their mildly competing agendas into a real division of labour to deliver on their common purpose.
Whether that can be achieved remains to be seen over the next four days.