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Nienke M. Beintema and Ruben G. Echeverría




International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

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The global health crisis due to Covid-19—with its poverty and food security implications, combined with ongoing food system, climate change, and ecosystem sustainability challenges—only reinforces the need for a robust international public research system focusing on applied agricultural research. Given its half century of historically recorded achievements through a broad network of global partnerships, the CGIAR will be well positioned to address these challenges, assuming it receives the necessary levels of funding to do so. This note is intended to contribute to reflections on the CGIAR’s first 50 years, which it will celebrate in 2021, while also providing a useful reference for the current “One CGIAR” governance and management transformation. The brief analysis presented herein confirms the following four CGIAR funding trends over time:

  • Despite its significant record of global research achievements and the growing need to address massive future research for development challenges, the CGIAR represents a very small—less than 2 percent—share of total global agricultural research.
  • The CGIAR’s major funders have not changed substantially over time, indicating a positive and much-needed trend of donor allegiance in addressing strategic medium- to long-term research needs. Nevertheless, and with the exception of the very positive entrance of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a major donor, the CGIAR has not attracted other significant funders, whether as philanthropic partners or as national government partners from the global South.
  • Rather than supporting longer-term institutional research programs, the trend of funding relatively short-term projects (of less than three years) has become prevalent. This is worrying given the nature of the long-term international research outcomes and impacts the CGIAR aims, and is asked, to achieve (complemented by shorter term national research funded by developing countries).
  • A clear trend of increased funding for research focusing on Africa south of the Sahara at the expense of other regions of the global South, provides short-term benefits for the priority region but reduces the total global impacts and long-term research spillovers across the developing world.

Important strategic challenges have been created through the combined impacts of the CGIAR (a) remaining a small, but highly relevant global agricultural research system; (b) maintaining a set of key funders over time with a decentralized funding arrangement; (c) focusing on short-term projects and with a strong focus on Africa; and (d) incorporating substantial expansion of its thematic research portfolio over time. Hopefully, these challenges will be properly managed in the transition to the forthcoming, more corporate, phase of the One CGIAR.