A New Mindset to Reform Agriresearch

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At the 15th CGIAR (Global Research Partnership for a Food Secure Future) System Council Meeting in Montpellier from March 8th to 9th 2022, the new One CGIAR research portfolio was finally approved. Lennart Woltering (CGIAR) makes the case for a new working culture in science for development to end hunger and poverty worldwide.

Inaugurated on March 15th 2022, the new CGIAR genebank 'Future Seeds' houses the world's largest collection of beans, cassava and forrages. © CIAT/Juan Pablo Marin 2022

Lennart Woltering

As a scaling catalyst at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Lennart Woltering helps scientists and development practitioners scale the impact of their work beyond the project boundaries. He advocates for a shift in mindset around scaling from “reaching many” to include sustainability, responsibility and systems change. Passionate about translating academic research findings into practical application, he developed the Scaling Scan tool that helps users quickly identify bottlenecks and opportunities for scaling. Beyond CIMMYT and the CGIAR, Lennart advises a range of development organizations, alliances and donors on scaling strategies.

CGIAR

International agricultural research ‘must become more innovative and practice-oriented, as well as even more efficient and impactful on a large scale’, emphasized the German Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Svenja Schulze, at a networking event in Montpellier. The event took place between the European Development Minister’s meeting and the 15th CGIAR System Council Meeting in the French coastal city. Only then, Schulze stressed, can international agricultural research counter current global challenges such as the growing world population, disappearing biodiversity, the consequences of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

For this reason, the One CGIAR reform process was launched in 2019. Schulze emphasized that Germany was not only supporting the process in terms of content, but also financially. At the 15th System Council Meeting, the new One CGIAR research portfolio was finally approved with a total of 31 initiatives. These new initiatives aim to ensure that international agricultural research contributes even more effectively to terminate hunger and poverty in the global South.  

 

But is One CGIAR actually better positioned to contribute to better nutrition and global poverty reduction? Lennart Woltering from CGIAR shares his take on the reform’s potential, and possible stumbling blocks:

 

‘I think coming together as One CGIAR was a matter of time, it has always been difficult to explain to partners on the ground that the CGIAR is constituted of 15 different autonomous entities which sometimes work together and sometimes compete. There are lots of economies of scale, just look at GIZ with 25,000 staff and 3 board members while the 15 individual CGIAR centers had, taken together, 8,000 staff and more than 100 board members last year.

 

With huge funding gaps to reach the SDGs, it is important that we put our resources together as One CGIAR to be a strong advocate and implementer of science for development.

 

Covid-19 and climate change have shown society the power of science and I believe that a strong One CGIAR can mobilize a lot of funding beyond the traditional donors, witnessed by last week’s pledge of 17 Million US dollar by the Bezos Earth Fund for a new CGIAR gene bank.

 

Die befragten Menschen möchten sich aktiver an Food-Governance-Prozessen beteiligen. (c) SLE
The 11 CGIAR genebanks hold 10 % of global plant germplasm and 94 % of all internationally recognized genetic plant resources for food and agriculture. © CIMMYT/Xochiquetzal Fonseca 2022

Although this was long in the making and it makes a lot of sense from the outside, we do need to recognize that having a dozen research centers come together, cannot and should not happen overnight. Each center has decades of history in specific parts of the world, developed its own culture and values and has to run its affairs while this entire transition process is going on. At the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for example, we have a complete overhaul of leadership and administration, and two major CGIAR Research Programs that provided stability stopped on December 31st 2021 while at the same time hundreds of bilateral projects are going on. The pressure from donors to come to a One CGIAR quickly is understandable, but just changing the governance structure and bulking different CGIAR institutes together should not be the goal. Let us also take this as an opportunity to critically reflect on what we did well and what we can do better. Having worked on scaling and systems change within and beyond the CGIAR, I see:

 

The issue is not to develop great innovations, it is about innovating in the way we work together with others.

 

How we incentivize and enable others to use science for the positive change they want to see, beyond us, beyond our projects.

 

Large NGOs, foundations and some donors are transforming the way they work in order to contribute to a agri-food systems transformation. It is critical for the CGIAR to do the same, and hence assess its role, culture and mindsets, as well as if these are aligned with the organizational structures to make a big and lasting contribution to end world hunger and poverty. As Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”’

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