Dr. Howarth Bouis

HarvestPlus II

Dr. Howarth Bouis was the director of HarvestPlus until the end of 2015. He coordinated an interdisciplinary global alliance of research centers and implementing agencies to biofortify and disseminate micronutrient-rich staple foods.

Dr. Bouis received his BA in economics from Stanford University and his MA and PhD from Stanford University’s Food Research Institute (US). His past research focused on understanding how economic factors affect food demand and nutrition outcomes, particularly in Asia. Bouis holds a joint appointment at the International Food Policy Research Institute (Washington, DC) and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) (Cali, Colombia).

From your general experience of public-private partnerships (PPPs), what would you personally say are the three most important topics to consider in the planning phase?
My overall impression has been that people in companies like the idea of partnerships, and want to help. However, negotiating activities within a company can be difficult. We sometimes have a hard time getting sufficient priority. If we are persistent enough, something can happen, but since the partnership is not profit-oriented, it is usually not a high priority. So, firstly, it is best to start the planning once you’ve got the attention of an influential person within the company who can set a high priority level and handle the negotiations. Secondly, it is important to identify the comparative advantage—what can the private sector offer us in terms of skills and experience that we do not have?
How have PPPs in general changed over the years, and how do you see them developing in future?
Our experience with PPPs is limited, but we see them growing in importance as we get closer to releasing and marketing crops in our target countries.
How would you briefly explain the essence of your PPP involving the Syngenta Foundation (SFSA)?
The objective is to breed several nutrient-rich crops. For example, we are working on breeding high-yielding vitamin-A-enriched corn. To help make the breeding process more efficient, we identify genes indicating high vitamin A and use marker-assisted selection (MAS) for faster selection. Universities have identified various genes: The SFSA grant will enable some MAS work, alongside the breeding being done at CIMMYT.
What brought you into contact with the SFSA?
HarvestPlus was officially launched in 2004, and the first phase ended in 2008. For Phase II (2009-2013), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is continuing to provide major funding, but we also needed to find other sources. That led to me following up on earlier contacts with the SFSA.
Which aspect of your SFSA PPP was hardest to determine at the beginning, and how did you solve this?
There really have not been too many difficulties, though there were some delays. We put a lot of effort into wording the contract.
What advice would you give to people from your sector hoping to start a first PPP soon?
Be prepared for the fact that negotiations do not always go quickly when dealing with middle-level management in the private sector. The higher up you can go within a corporation, the faster things will happen. You also sometimes need to live with a bit of frustration – one company we approached did not reply at all for a long time, and then after an encouraging meeting, the project fell off their priority list.