You know where you’re going, but how do you actually get there?
Millennium Development Goal #1- “Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger”: easier said than done. How do you actually achieve this? What does this mean for the 500 million smallholder farmers who produce food that feeds one third of the global population? What does it mean for almost the 1 billion people who go to bed hungry every night?
Knowing that most of the rural poor in the developing world rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, the obvious answer might be: “greater investment in agriculture”! While this might give smallholder farmers higher resilience against rising food prices and extreme weather conditions, it might not be seen a priority at national and global scales. Yet!
The first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) took place in 2010. It was a forum which brought together various members of the agricultural research for development (AR4D) community to encourage greater investment in this sector. They established the GCARD Roadmap, identifying the actions needed for agricultural research to achieve the tangible outcomes for smallholder farmers.
GCARD2 will identify ways of generating more coherent, evidence-based perspectives on our future needs from agricultural innovation and, from practice-based experience, what kinds of partnerships, capacities, actions and changes will be required: How to achieve the desired impacts, from smallholders to scientists?
National systems must be strengthened to deliver impacts on the ground
We can all talk about how we want impact on the ground, how we want to help these smallholder farmers and make a difference. Why is it that even after decades of talking about this and working in the field, too little has happened? Well, in too many cases neither governments, nor aid donors, are meeting these challenges effectively at present. There is clear need for national systems to invest and ensure associated financial aid commitments to strengthen delivery capacities at country and local levels. This must be integral to national investment plans and funding requests if the AR4D continuum is to achieve the impacts desired.
The CGIAR Research Programs are setting out new pathways to impact
GCARD2, this year’s Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development, is about looking at how large scale development efforts can be delivered in the best possible way. The CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) are a new way of doing things within CGIAR. They bring together the combined resources of various research centers and partners to reach targets that will actually bring about real change on the ground. Strategic partnerships and accountability are key but we also need investment not only in systems but also in building capacity in the individuals who are the real doers of what it hopes to achieve.
What we have here, at GCARD then is an opportunity for CGIAR to identify the gaps in research and engage partners by helping overcome the barriers that they face.
Harnessing the power of networks
Recent initiatives transforming AR4D capabilities through collective actions include the establishment of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) to strengthen advisory services and the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for the Agricultural and Life Sciences (GCHERA) for higher education reform. We have the Young Professionals in Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD) expressing the perspectives of young professionals and the Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture (AIRCA) brings together international research & development centers.
Our Regional Fora also clearly play a fundamental role here to reflect and mobilize the research community and partners for the range of actions necessary to realize for AR4D.
Centrally-funded models are not the only way of achieving impact at scale
In today’s world, global partnerships recognize that the power of collective action is necessary for the greater good. Partnerships need to be created from the bottom up, from communities to the international level. In today’s landscape we see a variety of global partnerships that have come together from gender to climate change. Collective action lays the groundwork for impact at multiple scales. GCARD provides a transparent forum for governments and research providers to refine their agendas and evaluate their commitment to achieving impact on the ground by fully utilizing the resources that they all bring to the table.
New areas of focus require new capacities
Old habits die hard. We need new skills in both the areas of natural and social science in order to change current systems. New ideas and skills also help develop ways of sharing information. Take the spread of mobile technology for instance. Farmers across South Asia and Africa may not have access to clean drinking water or enough water to irrigate their crops but most of them do have access to a mobile phone. What lies behind the success of one and the failure of another?
This transformation process also needs to recognize gender. Women are at the heart of agriculture in most developing countries. More than 60% of the labour force engaged in agriculture are women but they are often excluded from all parts of the decision making process. To improve the lives of the rural poor and truly invest in agricultural reform; governments, the private sector and research organizations need to recognize the role of women with regards to household food and nutrition, and ensure that any type of innovation needs to provide both men and women with the same level of access to resources, value chains and markets.
Working together for impact
Agricultural research for development involves cycles of:
1) Initiation and planning of research/innovation against development demands
2) Delivery of research and sharing of the knowledge and technologies produced
3) Scaling up/out of knowledge and innovation outputs and their transformation into development outcomes.
So, what’s different this time around? GCARD2 addresses how different stakeholders can implement their set of objectives at the national, regional and global levels. The conference aims to develop an action plan that will help stay on the path to progress so that real change can be measured by the next conference.
What do you think needs to be done differently?
It seems that the international community talks about the need for change but ends up ultimately being caught in the same trap of doing the same things in the same ways. We need to focus on harnessing existing potential rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. The MDG deadline of 2015 is not too far away.
This blogpost was written by Martina Mascarenhas, one of the GCARD Social Reporters.