Strategy 2014-20

We have moved! The bigger, better, brand new CIAT blog is here (link). Please note this blog is not updated anymore

Strategy 2014-20 / / “The new CIAT Strategy 2014-2020 is well structured and targeted”

“The new CIAT Strategy 2014-2020 is well structured and targeted”

That is how Wanda Collins, Chair of CIAT’s Board of Trustees, referred to the new strategy last Thursday during a gathering with staff following the Board’s 68th meeting, held from 18-21 November at CIAT headquarters in Palmira, Colombia.

Two new Board members were present at the meeting: Charles Rice, a professor at Kansas State University with extensive experience in soil and climate change research, and Juan Camilo Restrepo, ex-Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Colombia, who previously served as an ex-officio member of CIAT’s Board during his term as Minister.

The Board Chair also took the opportunity to announce that Geoffrey Hawtin, Graham Joscelyne, and she herself will continue as Board members through 2014 and that John Hamer will be the program focal point.

The Board meeting was also attended by several guest observers: Marion Guillou-Charpin, a member of the CGIAR Consortium Board; Luis Aníbal Solórzano, the Consortium’s Director of Staff; Nguyen Van Bo, President of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS); and Malu Muia Ndavi, Senior Program Officer in the Strategy and Knowledge Management Department of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

During the first 2 days of its meeting, the Board made major decisions, including approval of the CIAT Business Plan 2014. Collins highlighted that the CIAT Strategy 2014-2020, the result of team work ably coordinated by Guy Henry, is very well aligned with the priorities of the CGIAR Consortium. The strategic initiatives proposed in the document are expected to open up new avenues for achieving development impact and influencing the CGIAR research agenda.

The Board also approved the Center’s budget, which for 2014 increased to virtually US$100 million: “This is an indicator of the good work performed by the scientific and support staff, as well as of the donors’ willingness to interact with us,” Collins said.

In addition, the Board received positively the results of the recent external review of Corporate Services and looks forward to the implementation of recommendations. Leadership in this area was recognized as a value for CIAT to play a highly constructive role in the CGIAR Consortium.

With regard to CIAT policies, Collins stressed the importance of fostering a better understanding of these among Center staff, particularly the policies on topics such as open access to research results.
In response to the outcomes of a recent evaluation, Collins concluded the meeting by encouraging all staff to send their suggestions and proposals to the Board, concerning how it can interact more frequently and effectively with the entire CIAT community.

The next CIAT Board meeting is scheduled for 26-30 May 2014.

  • 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.