On 23 January 2017 the APPG hosted a private roundtable discussion addressing the question: ‘Is global agricultural research making a difference to the rural poor in developing countries?’

The roundtable was held on the eve of the General Assembly in London of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Founded in 1971, CGIAR is a consortium of global agricultural research centres aimed at reducing poverty and achieving food security in developing countries. It is made up of 15 centres including the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Water Management Institute, World Agroforestry Centre and Bioversity International.

The work of CGIAR institutes in areas such as crop genetic improvement has been transformative over the decades, with yield growth for rice, wheat and other staples in Asia and Africa directly attributable to modern varieties born out of CGIAR research. But to what extent is agricultural research actually leading directly to a reduction in poverty?

To answer that question, the APPG was joined by:

  • Lord Cameron of Dillington (chair)
  • Lord Boateng
  • Martin Kropff, CGIAR System Organisation Interim Board Chair and Director General of CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center)
  • Jimmy Smith, Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • Matthew Morell, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • Rodney Cooke, Board of Trustee Chair, International Potato Center (CIP)
  • Andrew Westby, Director, Natural Resources Institute
  • 
Douglas Gollin, Professor of Development Economics, University of Oxford
  • 
Rachel Lambert, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser and Deputy Director, DFID
  • 
Richard Ewbank, Senior Climate Adviser, Christian Aid
  • 
Guy Poulter, adviser to the APPG and former Director of the Natural Resources Institute
  • George Rothschild, former Director General, IRRI

 

Some key points raised at the meeting:

  • Translating livestock research into outcomes for smallholders is more difficult than distributing improved seeds: it requires extension work and private enterprises (Jimmy Smith, ILRI)

  • The 2016 World Food Prize was in recognition of CGIAR research (into biofortification), and because the research was actually taken up and had an impact. (Rodney Cooke, CIP)

  • Individual CGIAR centres are no longer individual repositiories of information: there is a formal feedback loop and overarching programmes which cut across the centres (George Rothschild)

  • The UK in general and Natural Resources Institute in particular have had a good relationship with CGIAR, but not enough has gone into capacity strengthening of national partners. NRI helps national partners in developing countries and there’s more scope for CGIAR centres to do that. (Andrew Westby, NRI)

  • DFID is focusing on targeting funds to impact, and the ability to actually drop programmes is important too. CGIAR centres have an impressive record, but challenges are increasing. Innovative systems of delivery will be key. (Rachel Lambert, DFID)

  • There’s a lot of good science being done, but it’s hard to always find evidence of take-up at scale – and not necessarily because it isn’t happening, but working out the CGIAR contribution can be challenging. Building a rigorous evidence base remains difficult. What can we do now so that in 20 years people know what’s been done, and the impact it has had? (Doug Gollin, University of Oxford