Upcomming top level visit to Sweden from the leadership of the CGIAR

By Carl-Gustaf Thornström, Associate Professor, Dpt of Legal affairs and Dpt of Plant Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

SAREC dty desk officer to the CGIAR 1981-1986. SAREC desk officer to the CGIAR 1986-1995 and ditto in Sida/SAREC 1995-2000.  Chair ICIPE Sponsoring Group 1997-2004. Member CGIAR Genetic Resources Policy Committee 1999-2010. Member CGIAR Finance Committee 1996-2001. Member ICARDA Board of Trustees 2009-. Member  CGIAR CAS-IP Review team 2010.  Senior adviser to Sida on CGIAR and genetic resources matters 2000-2011

For a general background to the CGIAR pls visit: www.cgiar.org. From the start it must be mentioned that an organization with an annual budget of 600 MUSD is a huge operation. In order to peek behind its curtains one needs to learn several hundreds of acronyms and create dozens of informal personal networks. It is in the latter where the real work is done. This is quite different from that in multilateral organizations. It takes many years to learn and understand the workings of the so called CG-system. Many newcomers become frustrated and aggressive when the ´CG-language´ does not always follow or apply more politically correct terminologies, where everybody thinks realities are covered –when in fact they are not. One example: what comprises a seed for annual crops?

CGIAR´s historical record is indeed very impressive. During the so called Green Revolution (1960s-1980s) CGIAR was an important actor.  According to one of its leading scientists of those days, Professor Norman Borlaug, land and biodiversity spared through improved technology during 1950-2000 amounts to an amazing 1.1 billion hectares. This of course also saved impressive amounts of biodiversity through hundreds of thousands of hectares of rain forests and wet lands that were not put under the hoe or plow. A recent document from the CGIAR fund office entitled: 40 Findings on the Impacts of CGIAR Research 1971–2011 will soon be displayed at http://www.cgiarfund.org/cgiarfund/. This document highlights impressive numbers of successes covering the whole agricultural/environment/ecosystem/gender/food security –agenda. And much, much more. Now we have to do it again –with less access to water and commercial inputs and in a much more sustainable way. This is also the ongoing basic challenge to the new CGIAR Consortium.

Sweden and CGIAR
Sweden´s history with the CGIAR which starts 1971/73 is briefly presented at: http://www2.slu.se/cgiar/SwedenandCGIAR_policyimpac_CGT.pdf In September 2009 I presented a background to the then top level visit to Sweden by the so called change management team. Currently we are working here at SLU on a book covering Sweden-CGIAR relations 1971-2011. Hopefully we will be able to publish it next year.

Top level CGIAR visit next week
Now it´s time again. By the very highest level itself: the Chair of the recently established CGIAR-Consortium Mr Carlos del Castillo and the Chair of the CGIAR´s Fund Council Mrs Inger Andersen (also WB Vice President for sustainable development). The visit takes place next week in somewhat turbulent times. I refer to a recent set of articles in The Economist entitled the 9 billion-people question the editorial observes that: “As countries focus on food, they need to distinguish between three classes of problem: structural, temporary and irrelevant.” And further:  “Western countries have not learned the lesson. They have complacently cut back on the work done in universities and international institutions. It was a huge mistake. Basic farm research helps the whole world—and is a bargain. One billion dollars would provide many billions of benefits in terms of people fed and food riots forestalled. Rich countries should therefore properly finance the ´CG- system´”. Another recent and interesting contribution is the book Den stora förnekelsen (The huge denial) by Professor Johan Rockström and Anders Wijkman focusing on a critical analysis on how society handles the environment and climate crisises.  Combining the contributions by The Economist, Rockström and Wijkman really gives us a challenging agenda. The choice among structural, temporary and irrelevant problems is indeed highly political. And it is also very much about allocating (public) money.

During their visit in Sweden del Castillo and Andersen with their entourage will meet SLU,Sida and our ministries for foreign affairs/MFA,rural development and finance. Focus is Sweden-CGIAR relations –but also other links will be covered. Over the last two and a half years I and Associate Professor Philip Chiverton at SLU, on behalf of Sida, have worked closely in different CGIAR- and EU-committees during the Consortium forming process. For the future the CGIAR will not comprise of 15 institutes/centres but rather 15 Consortium Research Programmes/CRPs. This in reality means a huge reorganization of the CGIAR: delegation of powers from CG-centers to the Consortium Board and CEO´s office. Reducing the number of CG-center board members (today more than 200!). Further the funding of the Consortium will not be controlled by its board but rather by the newly established Fund Council chaired by World Bank. This creates a kind of hybrid which may fly. But the take off run will be long. And reconsiderations can be foreseen.

Sida and the CGIAR
During the last few years Sida has been reorganized two times and changed DGs with short notice. Further: Sida/SAREC was dismantled a few years ago and replaced by a research cooperation secretariat, recently reorganized into a research cooperation unit. The move from SAREC as an independent research funding government agency (1975-1995) into a government agency department (Sida/SAREC 1995-2008) into research cooperation secretariat (2008-2010) into a research cooperation unit is indeed innovative. And this may even fly.

However, quality assuring/securing will be the great challenge when annually 1,3 billion SEK(approx 206 MUSD) in research cooperation funding shall be dispersed. If applying the same public administration solution in other government agencies the Swedish Research Council Formas could well be signed as a unit among others in the Swedish Environment Protection Agency or in the National Board of Agriculture. Science quality check and internationalism rather than bilateral development bias must govern Sida´s research cooperation funding.

Given that the involvement at the internal desk officer level in Sida has been rather shaky over the last few years when Dr Chiverton and I have worked hard to maintain a high and informed profile in the CGIAR, it is important now to consider how future Swedish involvement with the CGIAR shall be organized.

Talking points
After  a quick look at the draft talking points prepared by SLU, Sida and the Ministry for foreign affairs it is very promising to find that they much coinside. Less clear is however how  the historically high profile – very well documented- over more than three decades shall be organized in the future, Here we may and should take a look at Norway, where the Norwegian University of Life Sciences/UMB  handles the daily monitoring of CGIAR-events and prepare for different CG-meeting in collaboration with Norad and the Norwegian MFA. A similar layout may be considered in Sweden, since –once again: it takes many years to learn and understand the workings in the CGIAR and to be seriously recognized. The new director of Sida´s research cooperation unit, Dr Anders Granlund, and his staff are facing a huge challenge for example when it comes to the CGIAR. They all deserve our full support in the months and years to come.

Tel Hadhia
Wheat field trials at ICARDA, Tel Hadya,  Syria

In January 2010 the Swedish government –supplementing Sida- decided to provide an additional grant through the CGIAR during 2010 and 2011 which means a close 40% increase of the Swedish contribution. This is an extremely strong political signal to Sida! Which, so far seems to have passed fairly unnoticed by the very Sida leadership? Further in September 2010 the Swedish MFA decided to allocate another 100 MSEK in support of increased food security with 60 MSEK to AGRA and to SLU in support to ongoing production oriented agricultural research (agronomy/plant breeding and animal husbandry).  These are very welcomed and positive signals, for both Sida and for SLU. In the annual instruction to Sida for 2011 the MFA has asked for a report (by April 15) on Sida´s experiences in supporting activities related to food security and agriculture. The analysis shall focus on productivity increases in agriculture and initiatives in biotechnology. If productivity increases shall be in focus we may expect a rather thin report. This fact both needs and can be changed. And it has already started. One close to brilliant example is the Sida supported Bioinnovate, which is part of Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) Hub located at the ILRI (CGIAR´s livestock center) campus outside Nairobi. This gives good hope for structural changes in Sida´s portfolio for agriculture.

BecA/Bioinnovate scientist at ILRI

Plant-, animal breeding and agronomy are at the base of civilization. Are there short cuts around them?
Since long we have an international debate highlighting prospect of ecological agriculture to “save the world, biodiversity and securing our daily bread”. Numerous examples are provided on local successes with “traditional varieties and farming methods”. Many of these examples work in local context. But for how long and what happens when real upscaling takes place? And may we skip Darwin and Mendel? Probably not! Ecological agriculture is a non scientific buzzword that brings us back to the basic question:  what comprises a seed for annual crops? And which maintenance breeding of trait expressions in the context of evolution and genetic drifts? The need to always keep those questions in mind has recently inspired SLU to launch a PhD-course. “Plant breeding and crop production – meeting the 2050 food security demands”. One aim of course is to highlight the structural in The Economist´s distinguishing between three classes of problem: structural, temporary and irrelevant.

“Wonderful days are ahead of us” is the Swedish title of a recent biography about former Prime Minister Olof Palme. We may –well done- face similar chances if we successfully can marry the views presented by The Economist and Rockström and Wijkman with the well documented legacy developed by SAREC, Sida/SAREC and SLU over close to four decades into a reorganized Swedish long term commitment to and with the CGIAR. This will have to be a step toe exercise –but well beyond politically correct buzz-words. Since it starts with a seed, and what comprises a seed? – And why?  Also why publically funded national and international agricultural research always has to be there unless we believe the Monsantos can do the job. Well they can´t, but we can collaborate in Private-Public-Partnerships (http://www.earthsummit2002.org/). As is the case in the CRP’s now being successively implemented by the CGIAR. But, as we know there are devils in the details as regards CGIAR´s  international public goods production in the context of for example the FAO-Treaty  and proprietary science .

In summary: the upcoming top level visit by the CGIAR to Sweden provides a golden opportunity to jointly follow up the outcome of the draft talking points especially as regards Sida, MFA and SLU, but also for other stakeholders in Sweden. Such an initiative may hopefully be initiated by the Swedish government office later this spring.

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