by Alexander von der Osten
A major event of International Centers Week 1996 (Oct. 28-Nov. 2) will be a gathering of stakeholders in agricultural research in a Global Forum, a two-day (Oct. 30-31) conference whose purpose it is to advance collaboration within the global agricultural research system. The Forum will be a milestone in the CGIAR's continuing pursuit of its efforts to open the System to its stakeholders and solicit their participation in the strategy and priority setting processes, thus integrating the CGIAR more fully by strengthening its linkages with its partners in the global agricultural research system.
The days when food and agriculture were domestic concerns central to the idea of national autarchy are long over; few sectors have since World War II experienced similarly rapid globalization. Grain from developed exporting countries is covering staple food deficits in the developing world; beverage crops, shellfish, fruit and vegetables from developing countries satisfy daily needs in the rich, industrial world. No country or region could feed itself on crops of domestic genetic origin; world food security is based on the principle of exchange.
Similarly, agricultural research has become a global concern. Modern food crop varieties contain germplasm from so many regions and countries that it is sometimes difficult to unravel their origins. The original green revolution drew heavily on technologies and processes originally developed for the agriculture of the industrialized temperate zone countries; the progress more recently achieved in developing country agriculture is producing novel technologies and processes that are increasingly of interest to the developed world. The exchange of knowledge and the degree of North-South and South-South collaboration are quickly intensifying.
Back in 1987, Vernon W. Ruttan wrote: "The 'global agricultural research system'...should be understood to comprise the systems organized and supported by national and provincial (or state) governments, as well as the International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs). It includes the agricultural research conducted or supported by private organizations as well as public institutions. It should include national research institutions in the developed market economies and the centrally planned economies as well as in the developing countries. Clearly, the need is growing for more effective articulation among the several institutional levels in the system and between the suppliers and users of the new knowledge and new technology."
The Forum will be held at the technical level. Its participants will not be ministers and politicians but top scientists and research managers from national agricultural research systems (NARS) in developing countries, advanced research institutions (ARIS) in developed and developing countries, the private sector, academia, civil society, international research centers in and outside the CGIAR, and from the CGIAR itself.
The Global Forum culminates a long series of study panels, preparatory meetings and regional and sub-regional fora. IFAD played a strong leadership role in organizing, as part of the CGIAR renewal process, consultations in late 1994 and early 1995 on the NARS vision of international agricultural research. The second consultation developed an action plan, later adopted by the CGIAR, that proposed holding a series of regional fora. These fora, held between late 1995 and mid-1996, decisively influenced the development of the Global Forum's agenda by discussing NARS/NGO/CGIAR relations in the reality of the regional context. Klaus Winkel (Denmark), Andrew Bennett (U.K.), Abbas Kesseba (IFAD), Cyrus Ndiritu (Kenya) and William Dar (Philippines) were among the main actors in the process that is about to culminate in the Global Forum.
In essence, the upcoming Global Forum manifests the resolve of the international community to integrate its best scientific talent in order to maximize its agricultural research capacity in the face of the daunting list of poverty, food security and natural resource problems that lie ahead. In the proposed Declaration and Action Program, a wide range of interests, ideas and trends will converge into a single expression of determination. If adopted it will be submitted to the November World Food Summit in Rome by CGIAR Chairman Ismail Serageldin.