For more than half a century, CGIAR has been instrumental in the fight against global hunger. Formed in 1971, its original focus was to reduce poverty and increase food security. The research it delivered to develop high-yielding rice and wheat varieties launched the Green Revolution, changing the way the world ate and saving more than a billion people from starvation.
Fast-forward 50 years, and the world is facing another stark challenge, this time driven by the worsening impacts of climate change, COVID-19 and supply chain disruptions from conflict. Simply put, the world needs 60% more food by 2050. How do we grow more food, with fewer inputs, while also reducing emissions?
Global food systems will need to be transformed, and so too the research and innovation systems underpinning food production, to ensure an inclusive and holistic approach.
Since 2019, CGIAR has been on a mission to restructure its network of international research centres, through the One CGIAR initiative, moving from a loose network of essentially independent centres, to a more integrated organisation under unified governance.
Australia and the move to One CGIAR
CGIAR was originally established as a partnership centred on 15 international research centres dedicated to different production systems – crops, livestock and fisheries – and the natural resources they depend on.
The Australian Government has provided funding for CGIAR since it began in 1971 and since 1982 that funding has been delivered through ACIAR. Australians have a long history of contributing to the leadership of CGIAR in a wide range of roles, including as director-generals, board directors and board chairs of many individual centres. ACIAR CEO Professor Andrew Campbell currently represents Australia on the CGIAR System Council.
ACIAR has been a strong advocate for the CGIAR reforms. Professor Campbell said the CGIAR System Council initiated the One CGIAR reforms with the goal of renewing and galvanising efforts to reduce world poverty and hunger in ways that improve ecosystem resilience and gender equity.
The aim, he said, is to better approach research in a more systems-focused way, rather than the traditional commodity-based or location-based approach. Big cross-cutting issues such as climate, nutrition, water and gender equity are fundamental challenges that he said were inefficient, duplicative and ineffective to address through commodity-based research models.
‘We wanted a more joined-up way of working,’ said Professor Campbell. ‘The focus of the reforms is to shift the way partners in the network interact and share key resources and capabilities to tackle these big cross-cutting issues more cohesively and hopefully, more effectively.’
Heading CGIAR is Dr Claudia Sadoff, the newly appointed executive managing director.
‘A holistic and inclusive approach to innovation will be a vital enabler of food systems transformation,’ said Dr Sadoff. ‘This means improving collaboration, involving vulnerable groups, creating partnerships and ecosystems, and making best use of data, as well as incorporating new and traditional knowledge and technologies.’
New research portfolio
In 2021, CGIAR released its 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy.
This has involved restructuring research activities with all of its partners into three overarching action areas: genetic innovation, systems transformation and resilient agrifood systems.
All the resulting research initiatives must also deliver benefits in five areas: climate adaptation and mitigation; environmental health and biodiversity; gender equality, youth and social inclusion; nutrition, health and food security; and poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs.
Dr Sadoff underscores the need for new ways of thinking and operating to respond effectively to the escalating food systems crisis.
‘This is the moment to accelerate food system transformation. But to do these things you do need very different partnership styles to the ones we had in the past. There is no way that we can transform food systems if we operate alone,’ said Dr Sadoff.
‘We are very grateful to steadfast partners like Australia who have been instrumental in driving a new CGIAR agenda fit to tackle today’s more complex challenges.’
With global food security deteriorating under the weight of disrupted supply chains and more expensive fuel and fertiliser, there is an urgent need to roll out these actions and it can only be done through global partnerships.
Those partnerships will be further consolidated when the CGIAR System Council next meets. For the first time, that meeting will take place in Australia, hosted by ACIAR in November 2022.
Parallel meetings of the Commission for International Agricultural Research (the Commission) and the Policy Advisory Council, which both advise Australia’s foreign minister on food security issues, will also be hosted in Brisbane.
With so many international leaders in food and agriculture research and policy in one place, against a backdrop of a worsening global food security crisis, it will be an invaluable opportunity to explore short-term, medium-term and longer-term responses to improving food security. The Commission will be hosting a parallel dialogue series on food security and food systems transformation in the Indo-Pacific region, with a focus on the role for science.
Partnerships are key to how ACIAR delivers on its commitment to international agricultural research.
Professor Andrew Campbell, ACIAR CEO, said Australia plays an important role in the global agricultural innovation system, as an advanced economy with a significant agriculture sector extending from the wet tropics to the arid zone, long experienced with high levels of climate variability.
‘CGIAR is the largest partner for ACIAR. CGIAR and ACIAR work together in many ways, including: core funding of CGIAR to ensure important CGIAR infrastructure and functions such as global gene banks are maintained; funding of the CGIAR research portfolio (designated funding) in ways that align with the Australian Official Development Assistance agenda; and project funding, where CGIAR is an implementing partner,’ said Professor Campbell.
In 2021–22, ACIAR provided A$20.4 million in core and designated funding to CGIAR to support the delivery of the new research portfolio.