We all know that humanity faces huge challenges in achieving sustainable development and that we must act now. Our agri-food systems, and our very societies, are threatened by unsustainable consumption habits and production practices, by our failure to provide a viable and sustainable living for young people in rural communities and by the looming spectre of climate change and its impacts on entire ecosystems. We will not overcome these challenges unless we break down the institutionalized barriers and systemic challenges that are stopping agri-food research and innovation from contributing to our sustainable development.
The GCARD3 process links agricultural science and society, with an agenda that tackles these major systemic challenges head-on. How can rural communities shape their own futures? How can we make sure our future research and innovation puts resource-poor farmers and rural communities – the majority of the world’s poor – at the centre and with the capacities required to meet their needs? What is stopping potentially valuable innovations from being taken up by farmers? Why are we still seeing agricultural productivity as the sole measure of success, when sustainable development encompasses many other dimensions? And how can we convert agri-food research and innovation into enterprise and opportunity for rural youth, in a world facing huge social pressures through the collapse and exodus from rural communities?
None of these may seem typical topics for a conference on agri-food research and innovation, but the GCARD (the Global Conference on Agricultural Research and Development) is no ordinary conference. We came together in Johannesburg, April 5-8, generously hosted by the South African Agricultural Research Council, who also showed us great examples of the benefits of agricultural research and innovation. Building from previous dialogues and agreements in GCARDs 1 and 2, informed by 20 national consultations and four regional processes, GCARD3 was a truly global gathering, with over 500 participants from 83 countries and across 15 different recognized sectors, with many more joining us via social media. GCARD3 was a long way from earlier international agricultural research conferences. With a strong emphasis on the involvement of youth, women, farmers and grassroots actors from around the world, this was a truly international, diverse and highly energized and interactive event.
The emphasis of the GCARD3 Global Conference was very much on active participation, building on the personal commitment of all involved to work together to bring change. Collective action is vital; no single organization has the capacity to meet all needs in the complex webs of agri-food innovation around the world and we are all inter-dependent. Each of us holds a small part of the picture required, but without the other pieces we are incomplete.
Through GCARD3, we have together set a clear path forward, defined by our own commitments, our ambitions, and our hopes for the future. We have a new shared vision, one in which the future of agriculture and the role of agricultural innovation is driven by rural communities themselves, and led by national actions and commitments, with actions and knowledge shared regionally, and processes supported internationally by the work of the CGIAR and other international actors. We have agreed a range of Collective Actions that many will embrace, whether present in Johannesburg or not, and can deliver on before we come together in three years’ time for GCARD4. These actions will resonate around the world, because they were formulated through the collective voices of farmers and producers, youth, women’s groups, consumers, advisers, researchers, civil society, the private sector, universities, policy makers and development partners; all caring about the role of agri-food research and innovation in ensuring sustainable development for humanity.
Together, we agreed to collective actions across five themes:
Ensuring better rural futures: Establish foresight platforms that bring together farmers (via farmer organizations in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Central Asia/Caucasus, Latin America, Europe, the Mediterranean basin and the NENA regions) with research and innovation actors from around the world to develop and select preferred future scenarios – and through these, collectively plan, design and implement initiatives to change the present to shape and achieve the desired futures.
Keeping science relevant and future-focused: Produce 1,000 additional PhDs a year in future-relevant agricultural research, with reform across 100 universities in five continents to ensure multidisciplinary training meets both technical needs and the wider skills needed in development. Continue professional development in agriculture for innovation and entrepreneurship in agricultural practices, products and services.
Scaling up: from research to impact: Develop a culture of alignment between different actions towards impact. Lobby for investment and capacity building, in particular for youth, foster the policies required and to embed research into innovation systems through effective brokerage. This will require greater, smarter and more integrated investment and capacity development, involving the public, private and civil sectors
Showcasing results and demonstrating impact: Build on the lessons learned from past experiences and frameworks, to contribute to national measurements of progress towards the SDGs, and build national capacities for integrated measurements that are fully engaged with stakeholders. Create a platform to harmonize agriculture- related indicators linked to the SDGs, in order to improve collective action for impact.
Sustaining the business of farming: Cluster small farmers for greater participation in R&D, and for stronger links to finance and markets. Build value chain partnerships for success that recognize traditional farming methods and practices, and address public health and nutrition concerns. Develop demand-driven evidence to enrich policy and attract finance. Protect small farmers’ access to resources and build their business skills, opening innovation platforms for farmers to provide access to new technologies and make farming a business.
These collective actions will be set out in more detail in the annexes to the GCARD3 Outcome Statement.
Partners in the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) are committed to helping ensure that these processes succeed. GFAR is an open and inclusive forum, driven by the commitments of partners from all sectors to transform our agri-food systems and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. The GFAR Partners’ Assembly, held just before the GCARD3 event, agreed a new Charter and governance that recognises all Partners in the Forum as equals and as innovators, empowered to play their roles, and working together to shape future agriculture and food systems. The agenda set out in GCARD3 will shape GFAR’s next Medium Term Plan. We welcome all like-minded partners into these efforts. If you would like to become a recognized GFAR Partner in any of the above collective actions, based on your own interests, simply express your interest by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The GCARD3 dialogues do not stop with Johannesburg. Over the coming months, we will continue to further develop these Collective Actions together. The GCARD3 dialogues will also continue to help shape the new research programmes of the CGIAR, discussed through the GCARD3 national consultations and Conference and now available in full for public feedback. These outcomes will also be taken forward to inform the agriculture-related UN Sustainable Development Goals and into policy processes such as those of the G20.
What GCARD3 has done, perhaps for the first time ever, is to truly link agricultural science and society. GCARD3 succeeded through the energy and commitment of all those who took part, a wonderful effort by all involved. Through this active participation, we have all been able to help bring down the walls between institutions, between sectors, between communities and between nations, with youth shaping a new future, for which we are all responsible and must each play our part.
The processes of change have begun and they will succeed because they are based in reality and on common-sense. We know it will be challenging for all of us to maintain the momentum from the amazing energy we achieved together in Johannesburg, but we have to drive forwards. It is essential that agri-food research and innovation now deliver their full contribution to the sustainable development needs of humanity.
If not us, then who; if not now, then when?
Blog post Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary, GFAR.
Photo credits: IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth