GFAR represents stakeholders from outside the international research system as an Active Observer to the work of the CGIAR System Council, the body that manages the direction and central funding of the CGIAR research centers. During the System Council meeting in Berlin in May, a number of themes were explored that have relevance beyond the CGIAR itself and also into many GFAR partner institutions and collective actions:

Pressures on the agriculture sector in recent years, such as declining public investment, the global transition in the food system and more frequent and more powerful natural disasters, pose a real threat to global food security in the near future. Though agriculture is seen by technology industries as a largely inefficient sector, it is being increasingly recognized that there is much room for young entrepreneurs to find opportunity through providing ‘disruptive’ solutions to global challenges. Over 1,000 start-up companies are already disrupting the food system, in areas such as cellphones and alternative protein sources. International agricultural research will also be disrupted and a new business model is required to address issues such as investment in fruits, nuts and vegetables, urban agriculture and meeting global challenges such as anti-microbial resistance (AMR). The need for greater emphasis on nutrition, and not just food production, was emphasized in discussions, and the diversity of foods being addressed by the CGIAR was highlighted in a reception hosted by GiZ in Berlin, which featured among others, edible insects as a protein source of relatively untapped potential.

Funders and Centers recognized that the CGIAR System, as is the case for national systems also, must take bold action to rethink itself and be able to seize future opportunities. International research must equip itself, strategically and through rethinking its governance structures, to best adapt to, and add value to, disruptive innovations. Throughout this shift, the CGIAR System will need to keep to its common purpose, and work together efficiently as a system of funders and agricultural research centers.

Key to success, as discussed in the meeting, will be:

  • Focusing work in research areas that align with current and emerging demands. Technological advances such as gene editing, drones etc. are changing the game and can provide employment opportunities which are vitally needed in the sector to bring young people back into agriculture and food systems. CGIAR’s key roles were identified as being in areas such as breeding, interpretation of the world and integrating knowledge, and bringing information and data into individual countries to support their development. CGIAR recognizes that open data for farmers is more important than ever before.

    Several CGIAR Centers are partners in the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) Initiative, which is co-facilitated by GFAR and GFAR is developing a new partnership with Future Food Institute to inform partners around the world of new developments in food-based technologies.

  • Greater capacity is needed in foresight and horizon scanning of future trends and issues ahead, and their implications, leading into the business planning cycle for international agricultural research for development. Countries are committing to SDG targets and are looking for help in foresight & research. CGIAR is keen to integrate the foresight approach into its Programmes and Centers, and looking to engage more directly with national development agendas.

    GFAR has initiated the African Foresight Academy in direct partnership with FARA, to build a critical mass of foresight practitioners in sub-Saharan Africa, who will help shape the futures of agricultural research and innovation for development in Africa. The trainee practitioners who make up the Academy will be working to embed futures thinking and foresight processes into their own organizations and actions, supported by expertise from GFAR and FARA Secretariats. This will provide a valuable basis for communities to become more empowered and responsible in determining their own food futures, and in determining what innovations will be required get to their desired future scenarios. This work links directly into the collective Foresight4Food Initiative (read more here), which is hosted by University of Oxford and co-supported by GFAR, ACIAR and CIRAD. F4F brings together and engages many partners, already including a number of the CGIAR Centers.

  • A panel from across the Council, including GFAR Chair Bongiwe Njobe, emphasized the importance of gender as a central consideration across all of the CGIAR’s work. There were very clear expectations raised on the need to strengthen gender dimensions of the CGIAR’s work, which was considered still too patchy and fragmented, and to include local gender expertise wherever possible, with monitoring and accountability also reporting on gender dimensions. The current level of funding and commitment to gender in the system was considered to be too low and the panel highlighted the need to scale up the significance of gender and women’s empowerment in the CGIAR system and strengthen the role of the CGIAR gender platform. The CGIAR will be developing a clear plan and strategy on gender in the workplace and in the research programmes, which will be included in the proposed business plan for discussion in the November System Council.

    GFAR has long pushed for greater inclusion of gender dimensions and women’s economic empowerment in the work of the CGIAR. The Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP) was initiated at the request of gender specialists in the CGIAR and UN agencies, who sought a mechanism to network their actions and share knowledge beyond their own institutions. GAP Partners will now be mobilized to help strengthen the CGIAR’s gender focus. The GAP community and GAP LinkedIn group now involve over 1,000 individuals from all sectors, including many researchers from the CGIAR, mobilizing actions in their own institutions, actively posting and sharing information and opportunities and building collective actions that promote gender equality in agriculture and food systems and rural women’s economic empowerment. All are welcome to join the GAP movement via the GAP website or LinkedIN group.

  • The Global Crop Diversity Trust reported on the status and projections for the Crop Diversity Endowment Fund as well as progress made through CGIAR Genebank Platform activities.

    Forgotten Foods is one of the Collective Actions being catalyzed through GFAR and involves a range of key organizations promoting the value of diet diversity and of much greater attention being paid to the value of under-utilized crops in nutrition, income and system sustainability. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, Bioversity International, The African Orphan Crops Consortium, Crops For the Future & AIRCA, BLE, the Lexicon of Sustainability, FAO, WRF and others are already engaging together through GFAR, in building the frame for collective action and this theme will be a key area of collective action for GFAR over the years ahead. Other interested organizations from all sectors are invited to join this exciting initia

Read the CGIAR System Council Chair’s report here.