International agricultural science is facing a new era. The research network CGIAR decided on a fundamental reform in mid-June: The 15 research centers, spread over three continents, will be consolidated. This was announced by Marco Ferroni, Chairman of the System Management Board. "The core of the reform is a systemic approach to all areas," he said at a press briefing. This will include the creation of a superordinate management structure to organize all phases of development more effectively.
Founded in 1971, CGIAR is a strategic partnership of 64 members that works with a wide range of government agencies, civil society organizations and the private sector all over the world. CGIAR's members are both 21 developing and 26 industrialized countries, four co-sponsors, as well as thirteen international organizations. Today, more than 8000 scientists and staff are active for CGIAR in over 100 countries. The founding purpose of CGIAR was "to combat food shortages in tropical and subtropical countries through research and investment in new, highly productive plant varieties and improved livestock management".
It is essential that technology is not only available to agribusinesses that can afford it, but also to small farmers.
In the birth days of CGIAR, the idea of a "Green Revolution" was the guiding principle. "A lot has been achieved here," stated Sebastian Lesch, Head of the Department for Agriculture at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). "But at the same time, we see the limitations." Today, CGIAR, as a driver of innovation, is confronted with the question of what can be achieved against the backdrop of climate change. Its 15 individual centers are to be regarded as capital of the CGIAR system, "but we need objectives that go beyond this system".
Ferroni sought a comparison with health research in the discussion. " In the health care sector, nobody questions the need for research," he noted. For CGIAR, on the other hand, the task is urgent: "At what environmental cost will sufficient food be available?"
The BMZ played a major role in initiating the CGIAR reform process in 2018. The Federal Ministry supports the network with 20 million euros annually; this budget has been increased to 35 million euros for the current year.
CGIAR's research results are public goods, no private interests are involved. Which makes them even more valuable for the world community. "We have to transfer knowledge and innovations faster to the smallholder farmers", Lesch concluded. Thus, CGIAR now becomes One-CGIAR. Ferroni added that the Corona crisis in particular had shown what system breakdowns are and what they cause. "The pandemic had its origin in the food system. Now value chains are broken." CGIAR is currently carrying out comparative analyses to identify successful responses in agriculture that could be transferred to other countries.
Green technology is a huge opportunity for food security.
But how can research findings be appropriately disseminated? Claudia Makadristo from Seedstars, an incubator cooperating with the BMZ to promote start-ups, joined the press conference. "90 percent of the market for digital services with a focus on small farmers is still untapped," the organization's Africa Regional Director explained. Seedstars brings together corporations and investors with entrepreneurial talent in emerging markets, where start-up capital is usually scarce.
Makadristo works as a scout for companies and innovators in the African technology industry. "Green technology is a huge opportunity for food security," she said. The means to achieve this: public research results are implemented by small start-ups. "Tech farming is the future." The African countries are now on the radar of many start-ups outside the continent. "When we started in 2012, very few founders were involved in the agricultural sector. Then in 2016 a boom began. Since then, the number of agricultural start-ups we have supported has risen by 111 percent to 1016". There are still many gaps, "so it is very important that we build as many bridges as possible in the start-up sector".
Ferroni supported this approach. "We will cooperate more with start-ups," he declared. It is not only necessary to improve transport structures and good governance in emerging countries. “Solution development must be built into a successful chain." When CGIAR was founded, access to smallholders was not through private markets, but via the state. This is no longer the case. "And who's going to pay for the digitalization?" he asked. It is essential that technology is not only available to agribusinesses that can afford it, but also to small farmers. "To this end, the public authorities are indispensable. Projects based on public-private partnerships can play a future role here."
In this context, Lesch from the BMZ referred to the work of the Green Innovation Centres, which the Ministry supports. "We do comparable work to Seedstars, building bridges." These centers also collected innovations and transferred them. CGIAR, in any case, will take the path of bundling. "In the past, problems such as seed improvement were tackled on a sectoral basis," said Ferroni. "Now we are responding to the new challenges and consolidating in the overall picture."
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