Speech by IFAD President to the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development: GCARD 2010

Shaping the Future of Agriculture Together: "The case for enhanced support to ARD"

Mr Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen

First, let me thank GFAR, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, for organising this Conference. GFAR is an initiative that IFAD is proud to be associated with. We've been shoulder to shoulder with GFAR right from the beginning, having been instrumental in its establishment.

I'm also delighted to be among my former colleagues and friends from the global agricultural research community. As you know, I spent a good part of my career in agricultural research.

I worked for 30 years with the CGIAR, and for 20 of these years I was a research scientist myself.  The last 10 years found me at the Africa Rice Center trying to manage research scientists.  I am not sure I succeeded in doing that!  But it was during my tenure as Director General at AfricaRice that the development and promotion of NERICA took place.  That was easier to manage.

So therefore, I don't need convincing of the developmental benefits that agricultural research can bring. But I do recognize that there is still work to be done in making that case to others. And GCARD provides an excellent platform to do just that.

Let me say at the outset that I firmly believe that results and impact are what count. I have said it on previous occasions and I will say it again now: declarations, commitments and speeches don't feed hungry people. So I very much hope that everyone gathered here for GCARD 2010 will be able to come up with the right formula to buttress agricultural research to transform the lives of poor rural people.

The scale of the challenges before us

The scale of the challenge is significant.

There are more than 1 billion poor and hungry people in the world today. That's about one in six people of today's population, compared with a marginally better one in seven people 10 years ago.

Transforming the bleak future of these poor women and men is no mean feat. Indeed, volatile food prices, population growth, low agricultural productivity and the potentially devastating effects of climate change, make it a particularly daunting challenge.

On population growth, current forecasts estimate that there will be around 50 per cent more people in 2050, with most growth expected in developing countries. Feeding the projected 9.1 billion will require overall global food production to increase by 70 per cent. While production in developing countries will have to almost double.

And yet, over the past three decades agricultural productivity in developing countries has been stagnant or in decline. Why? Because of years of under-investment in the sector.

For example, the share of ODA allocated to agriculture dropped from 18 per cent in 1979 to 4.3 per cent in 2008. And agricultural spending to total government spending by developing countries declined by a third in Africa and by as much as two thirds in Asia and Latin America during the same period.

As for climate change, severe water shortages are predicted to affect between 75 million and 250 million people by 2020. And Africa, where approximately 95 per cent of agriculture depends on rainfall, is particularly vulnerable. 

So – as I said – the challenge of securing a more prosperous future for the world's poor and hungry is significant.

But it is not insurmountable.

The case for agriculture and rural development

Agriculture and rural development hold the key. GDP growth generated by agriculture has been shown to be at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

Agriculture – spanning crop production, fishing, livestock, forestry and pasture – has driven economic growth through the centuries, from 18th century England, to 19th century Japan, to 20th century India, to Brazil, China and Viet Nam today.

But if agriculture has an important role to play in poverty reduction, let's not forget that it also plays an important role in exacerbating – and falling prey to – climate change. Agriculture and deforestation together account for an estimated 26 to 35 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to turn this around.

We need to reverse deforestation and encourage afforestation and reforestation instead.

We need to improve land-management practices such as agro-forestry, and the rehabilitation of degraded crop and pasture land through the development and dissemination of sustainable agricultural technologies and land use systems.

We need to make farming practices climate-friendly. That way, agriculture – while being part of the problem – can also be part of the solution to climate change and food security.

So how do we boost agricultural productivity and achieve global food security while at the same time managing climate change? Part of the answer lies in partnership-based agricultural research for development.

The role of agricultural research

Agriculture research is fundamental to meeting today's challenges. Agricultural research, which so successfully drove the first Green Revolution in Asia, has been shown to deliver rates of return in excess of 40 per cent.

Agricultural research can ensure that the smallholder, the fisherman, the pastoralist, the forest dweller and the herder are provided with the means to adapt to climate change. It can ensure that poor rural people, whose lives and livelihoods depend on the earth's productive capacity, have the means to produce more and to produce it better.

So it's essential that we harness the best of pro-poor agricultural research and push back the frontiers of innovation. It's essential that we develop and diffuse innovative and climate-proof solutions, such as seeds that are more tolerant to drought or to floods, to assist resource-poor farmers. Because if we don't, agricultural productivity risks remaining abysmally low in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

NERICA rice is but one example of the fruits of agricultural research.  As I have already mentioned, NERICAs were developed through pioneering research at AfricaRice. There are now hundreds of new NERICA varieties, which combine the hardiness of local African rice species with the high productivity of Asian rice. They also mature up to 40 per cent more quickly than traditional varieties, taking only 90 to 100 days from planting to harvest.  NERICA is thus not only a product of science, it is also a technological input into the management of natural resources. 

Another pioneering research programme, which IFAD supported, was the Africa-wide Biological Control Programme.  Through IFAD-funded research into a natural predator of the cassava mealybug in South America, at least 20 million lives in the entire cassava belt of sub-Saharan Africa were saved, for a total project cost of only US$20 million. In other words, for every dollar invested a life was saved – which is a staggering achievement, I'm sure you'll agree.

The role of smallholders and agribusinesses

As these examples show, agricultural research for development can provide the means for around one third of humanity to break out of poverty and hunger. 

There are some five hundred million smallholder farms worldwide supporting around two billion people. With effective agricultural research, these people can increase their productivity and so reduce their vulnerability.  With greater and higher quality yields, they can even start producing a surplus to sell at local markets, benefiting not only others in their communities but also their financial security.

Our aim should be to transform smallholder agriculture into successful rural agribusinesses that are profitable and in which agricultural surpluses can be marketed.

Rural agribusinesses can drive economic growth; rural agribusinesses can provide a career opportunity for Africa's youth; rural agribusinesses can mean a pathway out of poverty. 

Because without business opportunities in rural areas, young people will be driven to the cities in search of work. And then who will feed the world in 2020 or in 2030?

The face of agriculture must change. Farming and agricultural land don't have to be the domain of the poor. To the contrary.  Farming in developing countries doesn't have to be by the farmer with a hoe, a baby on her back. Farming, by definition, is a business. And every successful business requires investment – sustained investment.

The need for greater investment in agricultural research to increase productivity

Currently, average global expenditure on agricultural research as a percentage of GDP is only one percent. And in most developing countries it's even lower. This is simply not good enough. Investment in agricultural research needs to increase.

Agricultural investment also needs to be planned in a way that is coherent with overall national strategies for economic development and poverty reduction. 

And 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. 

This is an approach that IFAD has adopted through the Farmers' Forum initiative. By involving all stakeholders and by promoting the involvement and empowerment of farmers and their organizations in decision-making, we are better able to capitalize on their capacity to contribute to rural development innovations.

This participatory approach recognizes that, only by sharing our knowledge and ideas among regional, national and local partners, as well as with the CGIAR and its family of regional and international centres of excellence, will we be able to improve the impact of our technological advances.

At IFAD, we firmly believe in the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships to improve the adaptability and adoptability of technologies co-generated by researchers, civil society and farmers alike. That is why we invest in participatory technology development. It is also why we are such firm supporters of the CGIAR's recent reforms, which provide for improved outreach through strengthened partnerships.


As we consider the capacity of agricultural research to support rural development, we have to use all of the available tools, technologies, and science at our disposal, including biotechnology. 

As everyone here knows, agricultural biotechnologies encompass a wide-range of tools and methodologies that can be applied to crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, as well as to agro-industries.

Agricultural biotechnologies, including MAS, MAB, tissue culture and embryo rescue techniques, etc can bring many benefits. They can boost productivity, improve the tolerance of seeds and plants to drought, temperature and pests, and make nutrient use more efficient.

Many of those benefiting from agricultural biotechnologies are resource-poor farmers in developing countries. The International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries, convened by the FAO in Mexico earlier this month, recognised the potential that biotechnology offers in particular to poor rural people in resource-challenged areas. But it also recognised that there are risks – including possible adverse nutritional effects and threats to biodiversity through the flow of genes into wild and cultivated species.

The challenge is therefore in striking the right balance.  Indeed, agricultural biotechnologies, including genetically modified crops, can provide us with more resilient, more nutritious crops.  Biotech can help in shortening our delivery and results time and in fine-tuning the products of research more efficiently in support of smallholder farming.

But they are not a silver bullet.  As responsible scientists, we must approach biotechnologies from an angle that looks at both the agricultural and eco-systems that they operate under, as well as the people, including the poor rural farmers, which they stand to benefit.

ARD and Agrobiodiversity

On the question of biodiversity, let's not forget that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. So this is a timely opportunity to remind the world how agricultural biodiversity can improve productivity and nutrition, enhance livelihoods, respond to environmental challenges and deliver food security. Indeed, biodiversity is a vital tool for rural development, climate change adaptation and poverty reduction – a point well made by my esteemed colleague, Professor Swaminathan, at last month's international conference on "Biodiversity in Relation to Food and Human Security in a Warming Planet".

Agricultural research for development can help protect and enhance biodiversity if it draws on the generations of knowledge accumulated by farming communities and indigenous peoples. Because these people are best placed to recognise their local needs and understand their local conditions.

What this underlines is the crucial role of effective partnerships in ARD innovation systems.

At IFAD, we have long recognised that poor rural people and their communities are not only dependent on agricultural biodiversity, but they are also important custodians of it.  We have consistently drawn attention to demonstrating the impact of promising research outcomes on rural poverty – not just in terms of improved productivity – but in terms of higher incomes, nutritional security and socio-economic empowerment – including that of poor rural women.

Through our focus on pro-poor innovations, IFAD supports the development and diffusion of sustainable agricultural technologies.  We clearly recognise that technological change should support the natural resource base, and not happen at the expense of it. Many of the poor rural people who participate in our projects and programmes live in remote, marginalised agro-ecosystems. Conserving the fragile agricultural biodiversity of these areas is critical to the sustainability of these people's livelihood systems. 

The case for dynamic partnerships: GCARD provides the platform

There is much we can do in partnership to promote sustainable, ecologically responsible and climate-friendly ARD.

As I have just said, at IFAD our key partners are the poor rural people themselves and their communities and organizations. But we also have a long and fruitful partnership with the CGIAR.

Over the course of three decades, we have invested over US$170 million in the CGIAR. Since 2002, we have been active in the CG Executive Council. And, through our co-leadership of the Change Steering Team and our participation in the Working Group that proposed the new funding modalities, we are strongly engaged in the CGIAR Change Programme.

The completion of this CG transformation will give the CGIAR a clear vision, a new mission and a strategic direction. The new incentives for donors to align their support against large, results-oriented programmes, will allow the CGIAR to transform into a more open system that values dynamic partnerships. This is an excellent basis on which to attract, develop and support enhanced ARD. These are worthwhile efforts, which will improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of the CGIAR.

The challenge for CGIAR is therefore to foster an exciting research environment, which promotes the best of science partnerships.  With clear and distinct roles for "doers" and "funders" there is a tremendous scope for amplified funding in an improved research environment – which is that more attractive for higher investment.

On the question of partnerships, we need increasingly also to involve the private sector. Traditionally, agricultural R&D has over-emphasized the "R" at the expense of the "D". Strategic partnerships with the private sector can redress the balance. The private sector can help drive the skills and technologies needed for post-production activities, such as processing, value-addition, storage, and marketing.  But like the rural youth, we need to provide the private sector with incentives.

An effective way of engaging the private sector in rural development is through public-private partnerships. Local and national governments can create the right policy environment to allow agribusinesses and agro-industries to develop and flourish. If the public sector provides support for rural infrastructure, for example, or for technical advisory and other extension services, this makes the sector a less risky investment choice for the private sector and therefore a much more attractive business opportunity.

IFAD's experience in the Indo-Gangetic plains of South Asia confirms this. With the involvement of CGIAR centres, the innovative public-private research partnership developed the Zero-till drill – a prototype for minimum tillage, boosting yields by up to 10 per cent and cutting costs by a similar proportion.

At IFAD, we will continue to support our partners in the adaptation of their research and development, through our US$1 billion a year programme, focussing on areas of organizational and institutional development, such as rural finance, market linkages, and pro-poor policy formulation.


So, if there is one message I want to get across today, it's that partnerships are fundamental to delivering the transformational potential of science and technology in rural development. Partnerships with the rural communities; partnerships with the scientists in other institutions; partnerships with the national governments; partnerships with the private sector. 

Working in partnership we can optimize the R&D system; we can promote scaling-up innovations; and we can deepen our learning and share our growing knowledge. 

GCARD provides a unique platform to nurture, develop and expand our partnership base even further. We must seize this opportunity.

We – and the rest of humanity – stand only to benefit.

Thank you.

28 March 2010, Montpellier, France