Dr. Braun was previously Director of CIMMYT’s Rainfed Wheat Systems Program and also led the Turkey/CIMMYT/ICARDA International Winter Wheat Improvement Program. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 articles and book chapters.
How would you briefly explain your public-private partnership (PPP) with the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA)?
It is a two-year partnership between Syngenta, CIMMYT, and SFSA. Our aim is to identify and map genetic markers for breeding wheat resistant to Ug99 stem rust. The results will contribute directly to the global efforts to combat this devastating disease, which are coordinated by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative. The PPP is highly complementary, with CIMMYT bringing germplasm and international testing sites and Syngenta supplying technology.
The overall cooperation is defined by a steering committee. Researchers from both parties meet, identify the big challenges, examine where we can cooperate, and then work out the details. This is a standard CIMMYT process with every organization interested in partnering with us, private or public.
What brought you all into contact?
It started with a personal contact. I met a Syngenta wheat breeder in the US, and we got talking about the need for wheat research PPPs. Global investment in wheat improvement has been declining over the last two decades. The overall sums spent are relatively small compared to other crops, even though wheat is one of the world’s most important sources of calories and protein. Syngenta and CIMMYT have a lot of common interests in wheat improvement, and we started to develop an agreement. However CIMMYT only enters into research partnerships where there is ultimately a benefit to poor farmers. SFSA has expertise in that area, and is ideally placed to be a partnership broker as well as contribute to priority-setting.
Why does a PPP work best to accomplish the project goals?
Global funding for wheat research is very different from corn. Like soybeans and cotton, corn is a very big crop for private companies in industrialized countries - although investment in corn research in developing countries also needs to increase. Wheat research is very expensive and there are lots of small players. If the public and private sectors form alliances, we can combine our strengths. The public sector is strong on breeding, testing, and certain basic long-term research; the private sector scores high on new technology development and application, marketing and distribution. CIMMYT has a global network of testing locations and cooperates with virtually every wheat-producing country. Syngenta is active across a wide range of inputs from seed to crop protection products. Bringing those strengths together is a win-win.
From your general experience of PPPs, what would you personally say are the most important topics to consider in the planning phase?
It has to be made clear who brings what to the partnership, and who will make the jointly developed products available where. The private sector generally wants to protect its ability to sell products and earn revenue. CIMMYT has to make sure the products are freely available to target countries and clients.
What advice would you give to people from your sector hoping to start a first PPP soon?
First, be clear what you want to get out of the PPP: Vague “co-operations” run into problems! Openly address the issue of intelectual property (IP). With CIMMYT, deciding where products are marketed is critical; if there is an overlap then the more countries served by the private sector, the better. If the private sector becomes strong in a country and serves farmers well, this is great: Institutions like CIMMYT can then focus on other areas.
What do you see as the future of PPP?
I believe that the public and private sectors will work together more. There is a perception that “the public sector gives everything away and the private sector only wants to make profits”. In fact, however, both sides are very interested in making technologies available for developing countries. There is great potential for cooperation between institutions like CIMMYT and the private sector. Both parties learn how to deal with each other. If PPPs are well defined, everybody benefits.