The ‘f’ in GCARD

March 30, 2010

GCARD, the acronym, may not have the letter ‘f’ in it but GCARD the conference is certainly meant to—f for farmer.

The meeting has, without doubt, heard a plethora of high-level speakers emphasise the need for agricultural research for development to embrace a participatory approach where farmers — among other non-research stakeholders — articulate their needs and help set research agendas.

To do so, they must be given a platform to speak. GCARD was meant to be that platform but by the end of day two, delegates were unconvinced that it is fit for purpose.

On Sunday, we sat through a day of well-meaning rhetoric marked by an absence of farmers’ voices.

It wasn’t until lunchtime yesterday that the meeting was opened up to questions from the floor and by then tensions were running high.

(credit: GCARD)

One delegate from Peru said “you must listen to farmers”—a sentiment echoed by almost all of the comments.

Others were concerned with the number of farmers at the conference. A female farmer from India said “equal partnership is dependent on equal representation”.

Outside the conference rooms themselves, delegates were also expressing their frustration. The GCARD blog quotes two participants involved in the GCARD regional consultations saying “We would have preferred … a longer discussion with the audience. “

To be fair, Sunday was always billed as a high-level summit meeting and it is today, through parallel break-out sessions, where farmers and other stakeholders’ contributions are meant to come to the fore.

Let’s hope they manage to do just that.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

Why isn’t agriculture a public good?

March 29, 2010

Policymakers must ensure people are fed now to avoid health problems later

Surely it is, I hear you cry. No it isn’t, according to AGRA president Namanga Ngongi.

“Policymakers will tell you agriculture is a private sector affair and should not be supported by the government. But we don’t say that about other areas like health and education, ” he told a media briefing.

“Everybody needs to eat,” Ngongi said, looking as shocked as the rest of us that such common sense has seemingly eluded policymakers.

“To meet MDG1 [Millennium Development Goal 1], policies must change,” he warned. “In my view there is no reason why food and nutrition security shouldn’t be considered a public good. Everyone needs to be in good nutritional shape – just like everyone needs an education and needs to be healthy.”

Ngongi is rightly bemused that health is considered a public good when nutrition – critical to good health – isn’t. Hartmann, director of the IITA, appeared equally puzzled by the flawed logic.

“How could we not know agriculture is a frontline of health? If we start early on by ensuring good nutrition, we’ll do a lot for health in general. We have spent so much money fixing things at the end whereas with the same money we could have invested in nutrition and solved a lot of problems.”

Ngongi said: “If the international community prioritises agriculture in the same way it prioritises education and health, then policies will start to change.” Currently, most developing countries are not held to an international standard for food and nutritional security.

He highlighted countries such as Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania, where the situation started to change when leaders declared food security as a priority.

It’s time for the rest of the continent to follow suit.

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net

Seeds for change

March 29, 2010
bags of seeds

(credit: GRAIN)

In a media briefing at GCARD this afternoon, three agricultural development experts identified seed production as a vital step in achieving Africa’s Green Revolution.

“The thirst for seed [in Africa] is increasing,” said Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Africa needs 500,000 tonnes of seeds, among other things, before it can achieve a Green Revolution—it’s approaching 100 tonnes, added World Food Prize winner Monty Jones.

How to fill the gap? Ngongi suggested the key lies in supporting small seed companies within national systems.

In response to a question from the floor, Ngongi admitted that large agrobusinesses such as Monsanto certainly have a role to play. But, he said, such companies are mostly involved in producing hybrid seeds for a limited range of crops. In Africa, this predominantly translates into seeds for maize, supplied out of South Africa.

“The problem,” explained Ngongi, “is that these seeds are not really adapted to local agro-ecologies in most countries”. So, despite large scales of production, big businesses don’t really have an advantage, particularly when it comes to smallholder agriculture, he added.

He suggested that AGRA’s approach—to support seed produced by national systems, tailored to particular contexts, and distributed by small seed companies, community organisations and farmers—was a more effective way of shoring up seed stocks.

This is particularly true for self-pollinating crops such as cassava that hold no interest to big seed companies because they have little to no prospect of profit after the first year, said Ngongi.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

Seeing is believing

March 29, 2010

(credit: Flickr/World Bank/Curt Carnemark)

There’s a mantra among fundraisers that ‘seeing is believing’—show people how their money will make a difference and they’ll be more likely to part with it.

Certainly many donors supporting science for development are increasingly asking the recipients of their grants for case studies to demonstrate their impact.

The world of agricultural research is no exception, as we heard at GCARD yesterday, when several donors called on CGIAR to ‘fast-track’ some of their proposed mega-programmes, partly to build case studies that illustrate their worth.

Today, Kathy Sierra, chair of the CGIAR fund council, told SciDev.Net “it will build confidence if we have a few programmes ready to go and approved to demonstrate to world that this is what change looks like”.

At a press briefing this morning, the head of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Hartmann, illustrated just how powerful a success story can be.

His organisation has been working with Nigerian leaders to improve agriculture. “Within four years, we had boosted the country’s staple crop by 10 million tonnes—with no price drops and the added environmental benefit of taking 800,000 hectares out of production”, said Hartmann.

The project reached 80 million people, he added.

After that success, policies within Nigeria changed. “People who had never before thought about investing in agriculture starting coming to us and saying ‘what can we do?’ ” ‘You can invest in agribusiness,’ was Hartmann’s reply. And they have.

“In just four years mindsets were changed,” says Hartmann. There’s a lesson in here—not only for the CGIAR as they thrash out the details of their mega-programmes, but for all of us concerned with bringing more funding to bear on science for development.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

GCARD soundbites: day 2

March 29, 2010

We’re more than halfway through the conference already. Will a concrete roadmap be decided on? Will farmers get a fair deal? Will speakers ever stop saying “We can’t do business as usual”? In the meantime, here are some soundbites from the various sessions during day 2:

Heard at the regional presentations:

“What about roots and tubers, what about plantains? CGIAR priorities must line up with [Africa’s].” Uzo Mokwunye, FARA

“[AR4D] can liberate India from hunger and bridge the widening income divide between farmers and non-farmers.” Raj Paroda, APAARI

Heard at a media briefing for Africa’s green revolution:

“If you look at the successes we lazily call Asia, they’re really focused on specific countries … it was country leadership that made the difference” Hartmann, director of IITA

“Let’s … get the fertilisers down to the farm gate.” Monty Jones, incoming GFAR chair

“In my view there is no reason why [agriculture] must not be considered a public good. Everyone needs to eat, everyone needs to be in nutritional good shape.” Namanga Ngongi, president of AGRA

“How can we not know that agriculture is a frontline of health?” Hartmann

“Africa needs more investment but not the kind that puts people out of work and farmers out of their lands.” Ngongi

And elsewhere …

“We have no recipe, no cookbooks, no spices – the roadmap is meant to be a menu of options.” Uma Lele, GCARD global author

“Money is used in the name of farmers so they should be the ones to say whether the research is good or not.” Raul Montemayor, Federation of Free Farmers, Phillipines

“There’s not a lot that’s new here in concept but what may be new is that we do it this time.” Kevin Cleaver, International Fund for Agricultural Development

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net 

What it’s all about

March 29, 2010

Jones urged participants to invest in the future of agricultural research Credit: GCARD

Monty Jones, incoming chair of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, kicked off day two of GCARD by reminding us why we’re here.

“This [conference] is a major milestone in the evolution of agricultural research for development … We should contribute to shaping the future of ARD in a significant way.”

Jones said that he had seen the “usual networking and agenda setting” taking place and urged us to make sure that it doesn’t stop in Montpellier but, rather, marks the beginning of a long process.

Research remains a key tool for increasing agricultural productivity, he said, but its impact has not been adequate. He highlighted some of the reasons for this: underinvestment in research and capacity development, for which declarations remain unfulfilled; inadequate integration; failing to place agricultural research within the wider context of rural development;  and underexploited opportunities for North-South and South-South collaboration.

“GCARD must map out solutions and actions to these – addressing constraints and exploiting opportunities.”

Jones outlined four ways forward for GCARD:

1) Establish research – and GCARD – as an inclusive process

2) Validate the CGIAR mega-programmes by national and regional stakeholders, and an understanding of how partners will work together

3)  Make use of networking and learning opportunities

4) The development of a roadmap to reform and reorient agricultural research for development for meeting the needs of the poor

It’s tempting to view all of the above in a “heard it all before” manner – surely we know that research needs to be harnessed so that it actually benefits the ones we’re doing the research for?

But if it was that simple, we wouldn’t be here.

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net 

Dissent in the ranks

March 29, 2010

Day 2 at GCARD and the CGIAR reform is still hot on everyone’s lips. A small blue pamphlet laid out in the press room today may look boring, but its content is far from it.

It contains the results of an informal survey of 13 large funders and more than 16 CGIAR centre chairs, director generals and deputy director generals, and suggests that these key stakeholders perceive the CGIAR to be failing in every one of its six ‘reform guiding goals’.

The survey was conducted informally by Hartmann, head of the International Insitute for Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria and vocal critic of the CGIAR reform (see CGIAR reforms make research decision-making distant).

It asked ‘funders’ and ‘doers’ to rank, from 1 to 5, how well the CGIAR reforms have achieved goals such as increased outcome and impact, simplicity, clarity, decentralised decision-making and subsidiarity.

The CGIAR failed to score above the ‘pass’ mark of 2.5 in any goal, although several respondents felt it was too early to assess some goals—most notably, those associated with impact, effectiveness and subsidiarity.

Hartmann includes some lively comments from respondents:

“The goals are too blah and self delusory—they do not allow choices to be made. We need clear principles and measurable criteria to differentiate options and quantify/qualify progress”, T. Simons.

He also includes some personal recommendations for the reform process, such as considering mega-programmes based on commodities or regions (rather than global) and streamlining administration requirements.

Hartmann said he is disseminating his pamphlet to GCARD delegates and using it to show that not all members of the CGIAR are happy.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

Number crunch

March 29, 2010

Today, the GCARD Global Author Team, led by Uma Lele, will present their flagship report Transforming agricultural research for development. They were charged with creating a report that “sets out the partnerships, mechanisms, innovative pathways and investments needed to translate the products of agricultural research into larger and quicker development impacts”.

What did they find? Here are some of the key numbers highlighted in the report.

1 billion people worldwide still lack basic food security.

95-97% of the food insecure and poor live in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

150 million hectares worldwide could potentially be brought into agriculture.

7-20 years is how long it takes for agricultural research to impact in the field.

90% of agricultural research for development in the developing world is funded through public money.

US$16.4 billion funding for public agricultural research and development for developing countries is needed by 2025, according to the CGIAR strategic results framework (up from current US$5.1 billion)

US$20 billion was pledged by G8 for agriculture (including agricultural research) from 2009-2011

53% of developing countries’ public agricultural research and development undertaken in just five nations (China, India, Brazil, Thailand and South Africa).

US$1 billion was put into the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) 2009 budget—nearly twice all that year’s funding for the CGIAR.

1.5% is the recommended proportion of agricultural GDP that developing countries must commit to R&D.

4-5% of total public expenditure on agricultural research worldwide is represented by the CGIAR.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

CGIAR reforms take centre stage

March 28, 2010

The radical reforms of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) — which include a new strategy and results framework, and a new set of eight mega-programmes— are already taking centre stage at the conference.

Development expert Gordon Conway quizzed the chair of the new CGIAR consortium, Carlos Perez del Castillo,  alluding to dissent among the CGIAR centres.

Conway quizzes del Castillo (credit: GCARD)

“I know through the grapevine that not all the centres are 100% happy [with the reforms],” he said. Indeed, the head of CGIAR-sponsored International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Hartmann, has already published his concerns (see CGIAR reforms make research decision-making distant).

“Of course, reform is not an easy task,” replied Castillo.

But there is some good news, he said. There is a consensus that international agricultural research needs reform; that  this research must be results-oriented and that “partnerships are essential”.

And five of the 15 CGIAR centres have already signed up to the consortium.

But there will obviously be difficulties, said del Castillo.

As far as the CGIAR centres go, some see the reforms as a departure from how they currently (successfully) operate. “We need to build trust and confidence that they will … be better off.”

Regarding donors, while they talk about harmonisation, many still want to support ‘pet projects’.

“I hope that we will be able to get the donors on board, speaking with one voice, and with less restrictive funds than we have at the moment.”

And as for CGIAR partners: “We must recognise that national institutions can do some things much better than us”. But partners must also recognise that, as part of the mega-programmes, they will have access to more funding, he added.

He said what CGIAR has brought to GCARD is very much a ‘work in progress’ and he appealed to all participants to make their views and concerns heard.

If the informal talk among delegates is anything to go by, he’s unlikely to have any shortage of comment.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

Doing it for themselves

March 28, 2010

Stop focusing on what the international community is doing and start building capacity.

That was one of the messages to the developing world during the first day of GCARD, one I found particularly interesting given that the finger is more often pointed at the rich for failing to keep promises and not doing enough.

While acknowledging that donors’ funding commitments have certainly been questionable, participants said that this was no excuse to sit back. They called for developing countries to assume responsibility for their own agricultural development.

Uma Lele and Eduardo Trigo, who co-authored the GCARD report ‘Transforming agricultural research for development’ (see Global summit seeks to transform agricultural research), said developing country policymakers must pursue long-term investment  in capacity building to avoid “messy” scenarios in the future.

And Kanayo Nwanze, director-general of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, admonished the developing world for being too focused on what the international community is doing to help them. He cited a lack of political will as one of the key reasons investment in agricultural research is lagging, and called for developing countries to lead the process of change.

“Change cannot come from outside – it is an intrinsic process that comes from inside.”

World Food Prize winner Gebisa Ejeta agreed. Speaking for Africa, he said: “We have made agricultural research an activity of outsiders. We need to try and make it a country-led initiative”.

Key to this, said Nwanze, is promoting South-South collaboration and getting the BIC [Brazil, India, China] countries involved in the process.

Naomi Antony
Assistant news editor, SciDev.Net 

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