“We can’t transform food systems without the private sector”

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The global public research organization CGIAR is completely reforming the way in which it works. ‘One CGIAR’ is intended to bring many advantages. But what does this all mean in practice – for employees, beneficiaries, and partners? We asked Kundhavi Kadiresan, CGIAR’s Managing Director of Global Engagement and Innovation. 

Kundhavi kindly gave us such a long interview that we divided it into two. Today we bring you the second section; you’ll find the first one here 

Syngenta Foundation: In the first part of our interview, you said ‘One CGIAR’ is a “dynamic reformulation” that will enable you to “maximize impact and offer even greater returns on investment”. That sounds impressive. But focusing on ‘our’ farmers at the Syngenta Foundation: How will smallholders benefit? 
Kundhavi Kadiresan: Smallholders have always been the focus of CGIAR’s work. Our local presence and worldwide partner network accelerate impact for millions of small-scale producers and consumers. That is particularly important because they are at the sharp edge of food systems. Our new strategy aims, for example, to increase smallholders’ access to good seeds, through the development of national and regional supply systems. We are also dedicated to increasing the climate resilience of 500 million small-scale producers. CGIAR innovations will help them to cope with more extreme conditions. The sum of our science, innovation, and partnerships will ultimately double smallholders’ productivity and incomes. This will provide them with more sustainable livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and opportunities to thrive.

To take one of your many partners: How can the Syngenta Foundation (SFSA) best contribute to CGIAR’s mission? 
Developing new and innovative partnerships will be critical to the delivery of our Strategy. As just noted, success will rely on a wide range of partners. CGIAR has a rich and fruitful history of partnering with your Foundation. We’ve done great work together, but we need to increase our efforts. To address global challenges, we hope that partners like SFSA will fully embrace a partnership-led approach to agricultural science and innovation at the country level. We invite partners to ‘lean in’ with fresh ideas, inspiration, and new ways of working together. That will take us all beyond business-as-usual and accelerate impact.

That's good to hear. But where can our two organizations best extend their tradition of collaboration? 
The key to nourishing the world with increasingly scarce resources will be innovations that allow producers to achieve more despite the challenges of climate change. To do this, farmers need not only climate-resilient varieties of crops but also support structures for functioning and profitable markets. This requires a systems-level approach, and such an approach calls for strong partnerships. CGIAR’s new Strategy identifies six priority regions* of the Global South where this approach can be applied to maximize impact.  Transforming food systems has never been more urgent, and CGIAR looks forward to strengthening its collaboration with SFSA in these thematic and geographic areas. We want to end hunger and malnutrition, advance gender equality, job creation, prosperous livelihoods, and opportunities for youth. We’ll do so through new bold ideas building on our comparative advantages.

Looking more broadly again: How will you preserve and drive the current global breeding efforts in staple crops?
CGIAR is the world’s largest steward of plant genetic resources. About 90 percent of all germplasm transfers reported under the International Treaty
 of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture come from CGIAR genebanks and breeders. A focus on genetic innovation is one of our three Action areas and will bring benefits across all five areas of impact. For example, biofortification can deliver a higher nutritional return for low-income families from staple crops. Improved varieties of crops, livestock, and fish can improve incomes and prospects for smallholder households worldwide. ‘One CGIAR’ will also prioritize the development of better-functioning and more robust seed systems. Better distribution, registration, import/export, and release will help ensure that farmers get the best appropriate seeds for their needs. 

How will ‘One CGIAR’ direct the breeding efforts through national ag research systems into the local private sector in a way that ensures the breeding is demand-led?  
To prioritize breeding investments, CGIAR will develop product profiles that address all five Impact Areas. These profiles showcase each seed product’s realistic potential to alleviate poverty, raise incomes, improve the nutritional status of vulnerable populations, meet the specific needs of women and youth, increase resilience to climate change, and reduce farming’s environmental footprint. CGIAR will also play a convening role. Public-private partnerships are needed for seed delivery, smallholder adoption of greater agro-biodiversity, and impact at scale. We’ll bring together the companies, entrepreneurs, foundation seed entities, and NARS to form those partnerships. CGIAR will enable broad access to genetic resources. Our genebank scientists will consult regularly with users to improve the quality and focus of activities, including distribution, health, and policy aspects.

What will be your relationship with the private sector? Competition, collaboration, or…? 
We can’t transform food systems without the private sector, from individual farm businesses all the way to multinationals. CGIAR has always worked collaboratively with both the public and private sectors. This approach is more important now than ever before. Many global challenges are ‘pre-competitive – i.e. by working together, our impact will be far greater than the sum of our parts.

If readers remember one key point from the two parts of this interview, what would you like it to be?
Science, science, science! The pandemic has shown how critically, effectively, and quickly science can provide solutions and information to guide policy decisions. Science also provides the foundation for building a better, healthier, and more sustainable future for the planet. However, for science, evidence, and innovations to be effective, we must bring all stakeholders along with us. We must do a better job of making the climate case more compelling and communicating the urgency of investing, understanding and acting.

*The six priority regions are Central and West Asia and North Africa / West and Central Africa /  East and Southern Africa /  South Asia / South-East Asia and the Pacific / Latin America and the Caribbean.