News Outlets Report On Developments From Agricultural Research Conference

Nature News examines potential funding reforms for the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), which are under discussion at a the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) in Montpellier, France. The CGIAR “supports thousands of scientists working on agriculture and food security in developing countries,” according to Nature News.

The group’s budget is expected to increase from its current $500 million to $1 billion in five to 10 years. “The lion’s share of that funding comes from financial donors that include government agencies in the United States and United Kingdom, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But donors have yet to make firm commitments to the budget increase – which hinges on wide-reaching organizational changes voted for in December 2009, and on a new research strategy currently up for discussion. The Montpellier conference marks their first chance to influence the CGIAR’s research plan, a key draft of which was released on 20 March,” the news service writes.

“Under the proposed reforms, donor contributions would go into a common pot, which would then be distributed among eight broad research areas … These include ‘climate change and agriculture’ and ‘mobilizing agricultural biodiversity for food security and resilience.’ (By contrast, donors currently fund individual centres directly, either through specific projects or as a lump sum.) The idea is to cut out research overlap between centres, create a clear mission and refocus research on the questions and problems donors want tackled,” according to Nature News. The article includes perspectives from CGIAR donors and a funding recipient (Gilbert, 3/31).

Inter Press Service reports on discussions about addressing the needs of the world’s 1.2 billion hungry people at GCARD. According to IPS, “there is growing consensus, even among organisations such as the G8 and the World Bank, that it is necessary to help the developing world’s smallholder farmers [rather than large-scale farms] become more productive so they can grow themselves out of poverty, feed their families and contribute to meeting soaring food demand at the same time.”

U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze said, “Agricultural research plans need to allow for a genuine two-way flow of knowledge and information, between the scientists and the rural communities, including indigenous peoples, to ensure that our response to the needs and conditions in rural areas is truly comprehensive.”

Mark Holderness of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation said, “There’s no silver bullet here.” Holderness, who is also executive secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, said, “We are looking for a much greater integration of disciplines, much greater collective action that does not just deal with the (agricultural) input, but also deals with all the pieces needed to get that knowledge to farmers, to get farmers’ produce through to market, to create a more viable livelihood for farmers” (Virgo, 3/31). 

In related news, Reuters AlertNet examines the work of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “Established 50 years ago by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, IRRI kick-started the Green Revolution which boosted harvests in [Asia], curbing hunger and dependence on food aid. Now, due to a shortage of resources and the combined pressures of population growth, urbanisation and climate change, rice production is going through another revolution. According to IRRI, each hectare of land used to grow rice currently provides food for 27 people, but by 2050 the same land area will have to support at least 43 people,” the news service writes.

The article also describes the C4 rice project, which was created to have a more efficient photosynthesis process (Win, 3/31).

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