Foresight: the buzzword at GCARD2

Daniela Hirschfeld
Latin America regional consultant, SciDev.Net

Three concepts have been the focus of the Second Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2): partnership, capacity-building and foresight – and the last one also seems to be the current buzzword.

Foresight studies aim to help identify research priorities, formulating broad national or local strategies and allowing NGOs and other groups to intervene in the policy debate.

The concept has arisen in many sessions during the conference and it was the centre of the Tuesday meeting ‘Foresight guiding research and innovation at a national and regional level’, in which representatives of institutions from five regions of the world shared their foresight experiences.

Central Asia and the Caucasus, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Near East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa all had their turn. “We just saw the world in this session,” said Ruben Echeverría, director-general of International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Also, delegates heard about how foresight studies are still new to some regions, such as in the Caucasus, where only few studies have been done, according to Oleg Shatberashvili, director of the Georgian Federation of Information and Documentation (CACAARI), while Christian Hoste, from the European Forum of Agriculture Research for Develpment (EFARD), detailed a long list of foresight studies and said that his region invests 3.3 billion euros on agriculture research each year.

“Foresight is not a luxury but maybe it is not for every region,” said Lance O’Brien, based at the head office of the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority, at the session.

“In Latin America, these types of studies are still new because agriculture research has focused more on technical development,” Emilio Ruz, executive secretary of the Cooperative Program for Agri-food and Agroindustrial Technological Development of the Southern Cone (Procisur), and also a panelist, told SciDev.Net.

He said that Europe’s experience could help other regions to save time and effort, and that Latin America is working with Europe on a project to train people in both doing these types of studies and using them. “The latter is even more important,” Ruz emphasised.

“For those who didn’t invest in agriculture research it would be premature to invest in foresight studies,” Echeverría said, adding that countries or institutions must first invest in research.

He explained that “after centuries of development, Europe can spend millions of euros in foresight”, but for poor countries maybe it is better to receive international collaboration under the form of foresight studies.

So is foresight is the current buzzword?

“Yes, we all talk about it because the speed of changes took us by surprise. Not seeing where things were going maybe made us waste money,” Echeverría said.

“A challenge for future foresight studies is to put focus on the conducting forces that are moving the world: food, water, energy and land. Agriculture interacts with them and the future must be analized within such framework,” said Ruz.

This blog post is part of our coverage of GCARD 2012, which takes place on 29 October–1 November 2012 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. To read news and analysis on agricultural research please visit our website.

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