Mega-programme whistle-stop tour

March 30, 2010

GCARD (credit: GCARD)

The CGIAR presented a draft version of its long-awaited mega-programmes, or thematic areas of work (TAWs) as they’re now being called, to GCARD this morning.

There are 8 TAWs and 3 ‘cross-cutting platforms’ that will be integral to all programmes—but the final numbers of both these may change.

TAW1: Agricultural systems for the poor and vulnerable

This will focus on ‘poverty hotspots’, looking at sustainable agriculture and food security, among other things. TAW1 is expected to improve the lives of more than 250 million poor people, with production increases of at least 10% over 10 years.

TAW2: Enabling agricultural incomes for the poor

The policies, institutions and markets required to boost rural incomes. TAW2 is expected to reduce the cost of taking goods to market by at least 20%.

TAW3: Sustainable crop increases for global food security

This will research options for increasing productivity of the three main cereal crops including identifying genes, accelerating the development of new varieties, improving crop management and supporting pro-poor policies.  CGIAR estimates it will affect three billion people.

Gender is one of the cross-cutting platforms (credit: USAID)

TAW4: Agriculture, nutrition and health

This is expected to reduce malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and foodborne disease.

TAW5: Water, soils and ecosystems

This is expected to improve access to water for productive purposes for 200 million people within 20 years; boost ecosystem resilience and reverse trends of water degradation.

TAW6: Forests and trees

This includes objectives such as harnessing forest ecosystem services for the poor. TAW6 should help reduce deforestation by 10% by 2030; reduce carbon emissions and increase the planting of tree genetic resources on 50,000 square kilometres of agricultural and degraded lands by 2030.

TAW7: Climate change and agriculture

This  is expected to produce science-based vulnerability assessments and lead to better national and global policies for accessing and using adaptation and mitigation technologies.

TAW8: Mobilising agricultural biodiversity for food security and resilience

Research will include creating a broader range of tools in molecular characterisation and boosting the use of genetic diversity, among others. TAW8 is expected to increase agricultural productivity, broaden the coverage of gene collections and safeguard biodiversity.

CGIAR is also proposing three ‘cross-cutting platforms’ in:

1. gender in agriculture

2. capacity strengthening to promote learning and knowledge sharing; and

3. Strategic planning and intelligence

Sian Lewis
Commisioning editor, SciDev.Net

Communication counts

March 30, 2010

My editor, David Dickson, has previously highlighted the importance of effectively communicating the value of biodiversity to policymakers and the public (see Biodiversity loss matters and communication is crucial).

It seems like the world of agricultural biodiversity has cottoned on to the fact too. Delegates at the agricultural biodiversity GCARD session this morning stressed the importance of good advocacy and communication in influencing policy and convincing politicians and society that genetic resources and biodiversity are something worth saving.

delegates at agricultural biodiversity session (credit: GCARD)

Helga Rodriguez, a coffee grower in Costa Rica, said we need to increase this kind of awareness among all sectors of society.

In some instances this includes small farmers. Emile Frison, director general of Biodiversity International, said that most small farmers are well aware of the need to protect agricultural biodiversity. But, according to one delegate from Morocco, the same is not true when it comes to protecting wild species.

“At the end of the day,” said one CGIAR stakeholder, “we need a value proposition for farmers”.

But, according to Priscilla Henriquez from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation, the priority should be creating a strategy to reach the more influential policymakers.

“We need a strategy to talk to the politicians in charge of allocating money to genebanks,” she said.

“We must talk their language,” she added. Henriquez explained that this essentially means talking about genetic resources in terms of the issues that they care about—food security, nutrition, climate change and health.

I, for one, couldn’t agree more—science communication for development is, after all, what SciDev.Net is all about.

Sian Lewis
Commisioning 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

Can product-development partnerships deliver?

November 18, 2009

pillsPublic-private partnerships in drug development were intended to marry the business savvy and deep pockets of big pharma with academic rigour. But this morning representatives from the biggest partnerships – including the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Global TB Vaccine Foundation – gathered to convince us their presence hasn’t been for nought.

In 2004, PDPs were responsible for 75 per cent of R&D in neglected diseases. It’s hard to quantify, however, how much of the R&D boost over the past decade or so has been due to PDPs and how much to a rising profile of global health issues.

What struck me most was the desire of several of the PDPs to “move beyond product development”.  At the conference so far, there has been much talk of moving away from short-term goals of rolling out antiretrovirals to a more holistic long-term approach to ensuring health systems are equipped for big health programmes to parachute in.

But surely if any organisation could be forgiven for focusing solely on a product, it would be a product-development alliance? It’s commendable that, as IAVI’s Holly Wong said, some PDPs share clinical site capacities and help build capacity. But their primary goal must be to develop urgently drugs for TB and neglected diseases.

Most PDPs are relatively young . It’s still a little too early to question whether they have fulfilled their promise but in a few years they will need to be accountable. In the meantime, they must concentrate on getting products to market.

Priya Shetty,,

The last dance and parting shots

October 23, 2009

The 11th TWAS general conference came to an end today with Jacob Palis, the president of the organisation, extending a greeting from another Jacob; Zuma, the president of South Africa.

Meeting Palis and his colleagues in Cape Town yesterday, Zuma promised that if TWAS was to organise another conference in his country he would attend in person. Oh well…

It has not just been hard work. Last night, TWAS members and staff were dancing on tables in a casino where the final party of the week took place. Unfortunately, your correspondent did not attend with her camera, otherwise this post may have had more interesting images to go with it.

The conference signalled a deepening collaboration between TWAS and South Africa, which is going to set up a regional chapter of the organisation.

It may also mark the end of an era. Mohammed Hassan, TWAS executive director, is expected to retire at some point. This could be his last general conference. But then again, it might not…

Even if Hassan retires, he is unlikely to sever his ties completely with the organisation, according to sources in TWAS. Like a certain Russian president-cum-prime minister, he is likely to stay involved for some time to come. Which, in this case, isn’t a bad thing!

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net

It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with it

May 9, 2009
Next stop: Tunis in 2011

Next stop: Tunis in 2011

There’s a famous line in Moliere’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme where the lead character expresses both surprise and pleasure at his discovery that he has “been speaking prose all my life, and [I] didn’t even know it!”

At the end of three days of intensive discussions, a significant proportion of the 300 or so delegates attending this week’s meeting in Dakar, Senegal, may well be returning home with the same feeling about the concept of “knowledge management”.

Some of the presentations to the 3rd Knowledge Management Africa (KMA) meeting applied the term to the new opportunities to put science and technology to productive use that are being opened by, for example, novel communication technologies (including both the Internet and mobile telephone).

Others, however, pointed out during the meering that in areas such as health and food production, finding ways of putting medical and agricultural science to use has been a central concern of development programmes for several decade.

But despite – or perhaps because of — the continuing lack of a precise definition, the meeting ended not only with a consensus that improved knowledge management, within both the public and private sector, is vital for Africa’s future prosperity, but also agreement on steps that will hopefully help this to happen.

One of the most concrete will be setting up of a new foundation, based at least initially in South Africa, that will seek to become a hub for Africa-wide efforts to boost knowledge management, while at the same time providing support for practical activities aimed at this goal in different parts of the continent (See story here).

Importantly, the foundation will provide a mechanism through which a range of African banks will be able to explore ways in which their lending policies can be broadened to include not only conventional investments, but also those aimed at building up Africa’s scientific and technical capacities.

(To be continued)

David Dickson, SciDev.Net

A voice of experience

May 7, 2009
M'Bow: "Africa must act quickly"

M'Bow: "Africa must act quickly"

Few participants in the Dakar conference on knowledge management can have had more experience of the challenges facing science in Africa than Amadou-Makhtar M’Bow, a former education minister of Senegal, and director general of UNESCO from 1974 to 1987 — the first black African to head a major UN organisation.

M’Bow reminded his audience that, despite the economic challenges facing the African continent, little had happened over the past 20 years to meet them. “Africa’s share of world trade fell from 5.8 per cent in the early 1960s to 2.8 per cent in 1987,” he pointed out.

“But we are still at roughly the same level as we were in 1987,” adding that a series of brain-storming meetings held under UNESCO’s auspices 20 years ago “had the same concerns as today”.

Although now well into his 80s, M’Bow maintains much of the fiery commitment that led him on a collision course as head of UNESCO with both the United States and the United Kingdom in his promotion of a new world information order.

He acknowledged that progress in promoting science and technology on the continent has been slow. “If the capacity for scientific creativity and technology development is measured by the number of engineers, technicians and researchers, Africa remains far from a minimum threshold,” M’Bow said.

“Too often, African countries maintained a technological dependence on other countries, but also suffered from a lack of modernisation, for example in its agricultural system.”

“That is the situation of Africa today, despite the progress that has been achieved since independence,” M’Bow said. “The causes lie in the fact that Africa has not been able to draw on the enormous possibilities that are offered for its development by scientific and technological knowledge.”

Despite this, he remains optimistic. “Everything is possible if we have the will power, and are bold enough to pull together African intelligence and expertise to do what others can do.” 

Collaboration between African countries to promote science and technology was essential “for the destiny of the African people and the future of the continent”.

The solution, said M’Bow, also lay in changing attitudes towards education, and especially in training a new generation of managers “who are proud of being Africans”. It would then be up to these people “to build a new Africa capable of both resolving its own problems, and contributing solutions to the problems faced by the rest of the world”.

But speed is essential. “The African continent must act, and must act quickly, to change the course of history.”

David Dickson, SciDev.Net

Have we left pharma out in the cold?

November 19, 2008

The contentious topic of the role in industry in research to strengthen health systems was the hot topic at this morning’s plenary session.

Bamako 2008 was billed as an opportunity for policymakers, researchers, industry and civil society organisations to get together for discussion, but representatives of pharmaceutical companies have been in short supply, as both speakers and participants.

And Merck’s Mark Feinberg may have wished he’d stayed away. His assertion that pharmaceutical and other sectors need to find more creative ways to collaborate and partner, and a reference to the sometimes adversarial nature of the relationship between such sectors was met with questions about the trustworthiness of big pharma.

Feinberg added that pharmaceutical companies have an important role to play in the research for health dialogue and presented numerous examples of where Merck has made a big difference by providing free or cheap drugs, while maintaining that the pharma industry has a very specific role to play.

But it was Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, who was more forceful. “Blind attack [of pharmaceutical companies] has no value,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s pharmaceutical companies that make drugs, not academics.”

A representative of the Global Forum for Health Research stated that within a year it will have provided a platform on which researchers, industry and civil society can communicate.

Katherine Nightingale, SciDev.Net

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