Strategy 2014-20

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Strategy 2014-20 / / CIAT’s new strategy: Under collective construction

CIAT’s new strategy: Under collective construction

We wish to thank those of you who commented recently on the four-page document presented in our last post concerning CIAT’s strategic planning process. After examining your input and other feedback, we prepared in September a more complete draft of the strategy, which quickly went through several rounds of revision, based on internal consultations and discussions.

At the end of September, we shared the latest version of the strategy with our External Advisory Panel – the senior experts from around the world who have been advising us on the planning process since its inception. Our fifth and final consultation with this group (a virtual meeting held on 3 October) generated an exciting and productive discussion, which focused particularly on a set of proposed Strategic Initiatives.

These initiatives involve new work that the Center will undertake beyond its important contributions to the research agenda of the CGIAR Consortium. Aimed at opening new pathways to impact, the Strategic Initiatives respond in large part to an obvious question about our strategy: What does it contain that is really new?

An initial long list of topics for these future initiatives has been reduced to four:

-Tropical forages for a triple win – Livestock plus
– Getting a grip on yield gaps: A multidisciplinary challenge for agriculture
– Sustainable food systems in the emerging bioeconomy
– Realizing the human value of ecosystems services

Enthusiastic about these choices and their value-adding potential, the expert panel provided many valuable suggestions. The group also debated the issue of capacity development, asking whether CIAT intends to give higher priority to this activity and if so, how exactly it will address the issue. While not included among the new Strategic Initiatives, capacity strengthening will occupy an important place in the CIAT strategy, reflecting renewed awareness of its importance for translating research results into development impact.

The draft strategy on which the Panel commented was also shared extensively with CIAT friends, partners, and clients around the world. Their comments and suggestions are essential for enabling us to construct a shared strategy, which provides a common focal point for our collaborative work.

The Center’s strategy taskforce is currently reviewing and incorporating the many helpful comments received so far. In parallel with this process, our editorial team has begun preparing a revised draft, which we will share and discuss with CIAT’s Board of Trustees on 18 November.

We thank you again for your continued interest and collaboration!

  • James Cock

    Comments on the strategic plan.

    Text in quotation marks is quoted text from the plan.

    “To respond successfully, agriculture will have to become far more eco-efficient delivering more for people while requiring less from the land.” This statement is strange; surely the idea of eco efficiency is to obtain more from the land, but to do it efficiently and with minimal deterioration or, ifpossible, improved environmental conditions.

    In the section on Addressing Global Challenges the absence of any mention of alleviation of rural poverty, or better still of improving rural livelihoods, is striking. Is CIAT not interested in the rural

    “Reversing the degradation of natural resources through new knowledge that leads to sustainable intensification of farming.” Surely we can be more positive and say that we will develop new knowledge that will lead to intensification of farming in harmony with conservation of natural resources. The current statement makes degradation of the natural resources the key, however, I suggest that CIATs primary interest is intensification of farming in a sustainable manner.”

    “A further challenge we identified that cuts across those three is to strengthen the human resource capacity of key research partners in countries where CIAT works and in agricultural research for development generally”. This is not just a case of human resources. In the past, and I suspect in the current regional programmes, CIAT’s role is or should be much greater including advice, back up research, joint R & D programmes etc..

    “Better enable the rural and urban poor to access inexpensive, high-quality food by boosting agricultural productivity and enhancing the nutritional quality of staple crops”. This goes back to the old problem that the focus is on cheap food andhence the benefits go to consumers and not to producers. It seems we are still back in the seventies mode of To Feed this World. It is very difficult to see how one can improve productivity and provide cheap food if producers see no way they can profit from the innovations required. Can we incorporate the idea of cheap food and at the same time increased income or gain for producers? This dual objective can be achieved through (eco)efficient agriculture and improved value chains. I would suggest a statement more like the following: Simultaneously improve the livelihoods of rural producers and provide both the rural and urban poor access inexpensive, high-quality food by boosting agricultural productivity, improving value chains and enhancing the nutritional quality of staple crops. This clearly
    shows how we are to achieve the dual objective.

    Promote rural income growth by making smallholder agriculture more competitive and market oriented through improvements in agricultural value chains. First of all this is a bit of a surprise to the reader as rural income was not in the challenges. However, it should definitely be one of the strategies. Secondly if we read the current version of the strategy paper we do not see how to resolve the conflict of cheap food and competitive (competitive with what, why not just use the word profitable) agriculture. The suggestion for linking the apparently conflicting ideas is in the suggested wording in the previous point.

    “CIAT will work toward its objectives through collaborative applied research that contributes strategically to CGIAR research programs, drawing on the Center’s core competencies. CIAT has
    longstanding strengths in the genetic improvement of beans, cassava, rice, and tropical forages, relying on biotechnology tools and well-managed genetic resources. It has also built formidable capacities in research on integrated soil fertility management, soil health, and sustainable land management as well as spatial and policy analysis aimed at linking farmers to markets, enhancing
    eco-system services, and promoting climate change mitigation and adaptation.Other areas in which CIAT has important expertise include gender analysis,impact assessment, knowledge management, and capacity strengthening”. These are not necessarily CIAT’s core competences, they are those that CIAT is emphasising at present. When I see core competences in beans, cassava, rice and tropical forages apparently reduced to genetic improvement relying on biotechnology tools and well managed genetic resources I wince. At least in the past, one of CIAT´s (and I suspect the other successful CG centres) core competences and keys to success was the management of multi-disciplinary teams that could resolve problems, and more importantly,
    open up new opportunities for tropical agriculture. The current lack of multi-disciplinarity was clearly highlighted in this year´s annual review. Furthermore, in the past the social sciences were integrated into these multidisciplinary teams and helped to see that research was relevant to farmers needs. These core competences and others (for example integrated pest management) have been decimated but should surely be revived. Even taking into account the strategic initiatives, the lack of anything but the ideas of the three current CIAT divisions being a core
    competence is startling and bodes ill for the future of the centre. Tosummarize, part of the CIAT strategy should be to use multi-disciplinary teams to open up new opportunities in agriculture and that these teams may require new competences or revival of old ones.

    “Tropical forages for a triple win –LivestockPlus”. This enlightened and refreshing initiative was much better presented at the Annual Review than here.Surely setting the scene goes something
    like this: Food habits are changing with demand for more livestock products; much livestock produced extensively with little employment and low profits per unit land area; large amounts of agricultural pollution (greenhouse gases); and shortage of land for crops. We intend to make available the means to intensify forage production so as to increase incomes and improve livelihoods in rural areas and make nutritious food available; make land available for crops by
    freeing up currently extensive areas; and capture carbon and reduce of emissions . Also note that in trying to do this technical solutions will not suffice, the whole social face of livestock production, including the social status associated with livestock and being a landowner will need to be addressed.

    “Sustainable food systems for an urbanizing world”. There seems to be a missing facet to
    this. Producers need access to a whole series of inputs and services and I cannot see them here. For example they need, inter alia, fertilizers, bio control agents, information on management practices, clean seeds, access to land and machinery. Are these included in the value chains? If so we should say so, if not then they should be there.

    “Unlocking hidden genetic potential through digital information tools”. I thought that all this sort of thing was part of our core competences already. If it isn´t then what have we been spending all that money on over the past few years in maintaining and evaluating germplasm. I suggest that the use of digital information tools should be a separate initiative not just linked to genetic
    potential. See below.

    Topics for new initiatives.
    Big data. CIAT in the past was a leader in using what was big data under a different guise for establishing mega-environments (Cochrane studies, Peter Jones early work, to target technology as a precursor of Site Specific Agriculture etc), for transferring technologies (bio control of mealy
    bugs to Africa, whitefly distribution, homologue for all crops, worldclim etc.) and to guide germplasm collection (FloraMap), evaluating germplasm ( thousands of accessions of beans, cassava and forages evaluated and characterized) and economic date (the cassava demand studies fixed priorities for cassava research).
    However, nowhere in the document is it noted that we have a core competence inthis area. There is a revolution happening out there in how one collects, analyses and make available information to multiple potential users. The CG consistently ignores this revolution with an inward looking focus on information technology and knowledge management. Let’s be the leaders in the CG system of putting this revolution to work to improve livelihoods and feed the world with what it wants to be fed. In the same way that the CG centres led a production revolution based on genetic materials that responded to inputs, we can lead an information revolution that uses data from multiple sources to enable growers to produce, process and market their crops in a manner that is difficult to envisage. This won’t happen by being timid: someone needs to seize the opportunity and not lose it by simply paying lip service through the rather pedestrian unlocking
    hidden genetic potential through digital information tools.

    The rural poor. Apart from the cassava program (and maybe the new look pastures progamme particularly in Asia) CIAT has paid little attention to the rural poor, concentrating on providing more food (eg rice for the urban consumer, and beans for the small farmer) rather than income and improved livelihoods. With land scarcity being a major problem of the rural poor one of
    the few solutions for the poor small holder is high value crops. The fruit program (well it never really graduated to a programme before its ignominious and little lamented death) and the AVDRC initiative for high value crops made little progress and there is a void in CGIAR efforts to provide a decent income and livelihood for small holders through higher value per unit land
    area. Are we going to address this void?

    A final point is the internal strategies that CIAT needs (a) to maintain competences in a world of short term projects (b) to ensure that the financial tail does not wag the research dog (c) how to do the basic research that often provides the big long term pay off and (d) how to construct a portfolio of high risk high pay off ventures and possibly lower pay off but less risky programmes. On this last point of risk, in the early days of CIAT the rice programme was the low risk venture with almost sure pay off, beans and cassava were the high risk ventures. Peter Jennings once said to me that you should not fight wars you cannot win referring to cassava. I replied that there are some wars you have to fight and cassava was one of them, even if there was a risk of losing. The high risk of cassava came to a head in the early to mid eighties when the TAC (if I remember correctly its name at the time) basically wanted to kill the CIAT programme as it saw little potential impact, that is to say a high risk of failure. In todays world of impact pathways and SRPs etc. I wonder what happens to these high risk ventures. This problem needs to be addressed if we are not to become a hum drum run of the mill organization. We need to be adventurous and need strategies to allow this to happen.

  • Tass

    Well, I guess, James, you said it all. Not really anything to add anymore.

  • Eduardo

    James, the
    objectives are what you work on, and in those, the rural poor are all over the

    • James Cock

      Eduardo, that´s just the point, they are in the objectives but not in the strategies.

  • ciatnews

    Posted by Eduardo.

    Dear Colleages,
    A few comments about the four pages distributed by CIAT. I find the document put forward for the panel and wider stakeholders consultation, quite clear and realistic about what are the challenges that CIAT can address as, essentially, a research and technology organization, and the objectives they define to guide their action over the period to come. The same can be said with respect to the strategic initiatives; imaginative and innovative in linking science opportunities to the stated strategic objectives. In this context there is, however, one issue I want to raise: what about capacity development?? This is an issue that Brian, Etienne, Segenet and others have brought up during the early parts of our consultation, and which in my view, is there, but without an identity of its own, in spite that there is no doubt that it is a big issue, and possibly a stumbling block for the whole of the CGIAR? One that everybody recognizes as important but then the issue is not addressed in earnest. Although there has been impressive improvement in investments and capacities around the developing world, the fact is that is global figures are dominated by what happens in a few large countries (the BRICs and a few others), the situation today is not better than it was a couple of decades ago (certainly that is the case of the Central American countries, but is also true in large tracks of SSA and other parts of the world), and that at a time when the scientific base for agricultural technology development is changing quite rapidly. We are, in fact, looking at an emerging new divide: that between the countries that will be able to link up to what is happening and benefit from the “new biology” and its interfacing with ITCs and other engineering sciences, and those that will not. The CG is not doing much about it, should CIAT? This issue that deserves open discussion. My view – just to kick the bee (wasps?) nest, is that it should, the issue is so large in its area of mandate that it cannot ignore it. How to approach it? Probably there are several options, as a formal cross cutting facility?, a strategic initiative?. But first the decision is to make explicit and strategic.

    Looking forward to your comments and suggestions.


    • ciatnews

      Posted by Simone Staiger, CIAT

      Dear Eduardo,

      A team composed by the Consortium Office and a couple of centers and CRPs are
      currently organizing a CGIAR workshop with the aim to identify key issues and
      the process to address those in a future capacity development strategy. We hope
      to achieve what was done with Gender, which became a priority and a “must” in terms of impact pathways and accordingly formulated budgets, as well as a CG wide community of practice.

      How would you see CIAT’s role? As a thematic leader, forming partnerships in capacity development around specific topics? As a regional champion in working on institutional capacities in Latin America for example? Do you have in mind mainly training approaches? Or are we talking about something like learning alliances?

      A big issue is the large scope of possibilities. I can’t really imagine a strategic CIAT
      initiative on capacity development without a clear priority focus. I would prefer to take the strategic initiatives (Livestock Plus and so on) and impose us the exercise to well define a Capacity development strategy for each of those. What do you and others think?

    • James Cock

      I agree totally with this appraisal and strongly support the idea of open discussion on the point. In the past one of the great contributions of the CG was precisely strengthening national and other agencies, not only to link with them but also so that they, often with little support from the CG could develop their own programmes in areas not covered by the CG.

  • ciatnews

    Posted by Michele.

    I am pleased to have had the opportunity to read and comment on CIAT’s strategic planning document. I see the statement of challenges to be realistic, the set of three strategic objectives to be highly relevant, and the strategic initiatives to be a well rounded group of research initiatives that draw on CIATS strengths in addressing the strategic initiatives.

  • ciatnews

    Posted byPaul Ingenbleek

    Thank you for inviting us to reflect on CIAT’s strategic document on this blog. I like to complement
    CIAT with the concise description focusing on some of the most pressing issues in agriculture of our time. The document reflects that technology alone will not be able to effectively respond to these challenges and the document hints in that respect several times on interactions with
    marketing knowledge as a theme underlying some of the strategic initiatives. Marketing in developing and emerging countries is structurally different from the past because urbanization creates new mass markets comprising of sometimes still very different market segments, and because free market policies require the market simply to “do the job” in development issues. I like to raise a few questions on that matter.

    First, what is meant with the term “market oriented” (page 2)? I can see two potential interpretations, namely as the amount of agricultural produce that is offered to the market by producers (an interpretation more common to agricultural economists) and a responsiveness to heterogeneous preferences in the market (an interpretation more common in marketing and strategic management). While the first can be very helpful to connect producers to the market, the second helps to become or remain competitive on a market. The processes of market intelligence generation, dissemination, sense-making and responsiveness that come with the second have specific challenges in the context of the (often informal) first stages of agricultural chains, about which we still have little knowledge.

    Second, not only food production systems, but also food technology projects should be
    market-oriented in order to effectively respond to a heterogenous demand and obtain the aggregational advantages like low consumer prices.

    Markets in developing and emerging markets have long been fragmented, and often still are, leading to diverse preferences and habits. Finding a product that is acceptable to consumers in all these markets is a matter that should not be overlooked and requires precise market
    research techniques and instruments. Too often new product development projects fail because they have been driven by a technological rather than a consumer focus.

    That brings me to my third point which is that the traditional market research techniques for understanding consumer preferences have been developed in high-income market contexts. The
    context of developing and emerging countries comes with specific challenges and potential biases that we are only beginning to understand.

    None of these potential pitfalls are unique for CIAT, but perhaps it is worthwhile to ask the question whether the size and impact of the marketing challenge in agricultural development are fully comprehended.