CGIAR: Evaluation and new directions
Gigi Manicad and Volker Lehmann
Keywords:  Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR); Relation public-private sector; Intellectual property rights; Sustainable agriculture; Small-scale farming; Genetic engineering. 
Correct citation: Manicad, G. and Lehmann, V. (1997), "CGIAR: Evaluation and new directions." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 33, p. 12­17. 

Due to internal and external pressures, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is trying to renew itself by combining modern science with sustainability goals. At the same time, it faces rapid developments in biotechnology and in intellectual property rights (IPR) related issues. To retain its position in international agricultural research, it has to respond effectively to these changes. Therefore, the CGIAR commissioned an external review. During the CGIAR's 1997 International Centre's Week (ICW) in Washington, the External System Review Panel and its tasks were presented.

The CGIAR is a small but influential player in agriculture research. Its annual budget is about US$ 345 million only, which is an estimated 0.5 to 4 per cent of the total global expenditure on agricultural research. However, the CGIAR is still one of the world's most influential agriculture research network. It is a major contributor to agricultural research for both developing and industrialized countries. The Green Revolution, initiated by the CGIAR, led to significant increases in food production. However, critics accuse the CGIAR and its Green Revolution of causing environmental degradation, genetic erosion, displacement of small farmers and lack of accountability in its research agenda and management. CGIAR faces declining research budgets and increasing donor pressures for tangible research results that are cost­effective, relevant to small­scale farmers, and environmentally sustainable. In the 1990s, the CGIAR aims to respond to these challenges. Aside from its traditional partners, the national agriculture research systems (NARS), the CGIAR also hopes to include private industries and non­governmental organizations (NGOs) in its network. However, many NGOs argue that there could not be a serious partnership without a credible evaluation of the CGIAR.

Internal soul searching
According to CGIAR's chairman, Ismail Serageldin, the CGIAR faces two major shifts in research paradigm. First, the CGIAR has to shift from its original crop specific research towards the integration of crop research with the concepts of sustainability and eco­regionality. This means that natural resource management, forestry, agro­forestry and fisheries should respond to the complex farming systems of smallholders. However, according to Serageldin, such integration has not yet been achieved.
Second, Serageldin states that there is a change in the scientific paradigm wherein the CGIAR should shift from conventional plant breeding towards biotechnology. He suggests that the CGIAR shifts from selecting parent plants on the basis of phenotype towards the direct evaluation of useful genes. Consequently, the CGIAR argues that it has to expand its efforts in genetic rather than phenotypical screening and characterization of germplasm for particular agronomic traits.
These changing paradigms force the CGIAR to address fundamental questions, such as: What are the perils and the potential of biotechnology? Does the CGIAR have the expertise and resources to go into biotechnology research? What are the implications of IPRs for germplasm exchange, technology generation and farmers' rights? What forms of institutional relations are required with NARS, advanced research organizations (AROs) which are specialized research institutes mostly found in industrialized countries; NGOs; farmers; and the private sectors in order to contribute towards the achievement of sustainability, food security and scientific excellence?
To address these questions, and to fulfil the request of NGOs, the CGIAR established an External System Review Panel in April 1997 (see box). Since CGIAR's foundation, the current external system review is the third of its kind with a striking 17 year gap since CGIAR's last review. Despite strong pressures from donor and critics, the CGIAR resisted an external review in 1993. At that time, the organizational and financial crisis of the CGIAR was at its height. Organizationally, there were deep uncertainties about the relevance of its research programmes, structures and governance. Moreover, the NARS, for which the CGIAR used to play 'spokesperson', were increasingly stronger, assertive and able to raise their own research funds.
The crisis was mainly manifested in financial terms, especially with funding distribution to its centres. However, analyzing nominal funding data is difficult. According to Manuel Lantin, acting executive secretary of the CGIAR, the research funds have increased, but so have the number of centres and their expenses. According to a CGIAR document, the 1996 budget was identical to the 1984 budget (in 1990 US$ value), but the 1996 budget included additional components that were previously funded from other sources. Therefore, the real value of the CGIAR expenditures on research has decreased. Amongst the hardest hit was one of the CGIAR's largest centre, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which was forced to cut its staff by 40 per cent in 1996. Overall, the CGIAR had to drop 110, or about 10 per cent, of its international senior scientists and about 2000 locally recruited staff. Existing programmes were curtailed while new programmes were postponed. The World Bank had to stabilized the CGIAR's core funding. According to Teresa Fogelberg, of the Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the crisis also puts forward a challenge: If the CGIAR reduces its research programme and instead pursues more its consultative role with other research organizations, then the CGIAR would require less research staff.

CGIAR's research budget
US$ million (1990-1997)
 235 million
232 million
247 million
  235 million
 268 million
 270 million
304 million
 345 million
Main contributors (1996) 
World Bank
14.8 %
11.8 %
10.2 %
6.6 %
6.3 %
5.9 %
5.6 %
the Netherlands
5.3 %
4.6 %
United Kingdom
3.6 %
25.3 %
 Source: CGIAR (1997), 1996 Financial Report. Washington: CGIAR.

The role of biotechnology
The development of modern biotechnology poses new implications for the work of the CGIAR. To develop a strategy and a policy framework, two specialist panels were established in 1997. One panel tackles general issues in biotechnology and the second covers aspects of proprietary science and technology. Both panels are under the auspices of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), which advises the CGIAR on strategic issues and on the quality of its scientific programme. Critics point out that the composition of the panels is problematic since both are dominated by representatives from industrialized countries and from large private companies. It is feared, that the needs of smaller countries in the South and the end­users of CGIAR technology, such as NARS and farmers, will not sufficiently be taken into account.
At present, the CGIAR's biotechnology budget is small compared to the expenditures of AROs, both private and public. It is nevertheless half of the total global public investment in agricultural biotechnology geared toward addressing the needs in developing countries. In 1997, the CGIAR allocated about US$ 24.2 million to biotechnology research, with considerable differences between the respective research centres. The largest single amount, US$ 6.7 or about 27 per cent went to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Most of ILRI's expenditure is related to animal health and animal vaccines. Roughly 15 per cent of the CGIAR biotechnology budget went to genetic transformations, conducted by nine centres, while 85 per cent went to small scale biotechnology, where gene mapping is the largest single activity.
The future of biotechnology for the CGIAR will depend strongly on its competitive position in comparison to other actors. The CGIAR considers as its key strength the centres' network of research collaborators, including NARS, around the world. This provides an almost unique ability to study and utilize the germplasm stored under the CGIAR's custody. This asset is of considerable interest to the private sector. Furthermore, the CGIAR has an image of general good­will and credibility amongst the public sector. However, limitations of expertise and financial resources are seriously impinging on the international agricultural research centres' competitiveness in biotechnology.
Faced with its own limitations in biotechnology, the CGIAR is considering new forms of partnership with the private sector. This may require the CGIAR be made more attractive to the private sector. The Private Sector Committee (PSC) of the CGIAR therefore suggested the establishment of a CGIAR international field­testing network. Such a network for the field­testing of transgenic crops under tropical conditions could attract collaboration with private companies. However, this proposal will only be feasible if the authorities in the countries concerned give their clearance.
The PSC further suggests that the CGIAR should fill in the gaps left by private industry. A key issue for the CGIAR is how to expand the application of biotechnology in research on orphan commodities. These crops, such as yam or cassava, are of little or no commercial interest for private companies but are important to most of the people in the South. For the main commodities such as maize or soya bean, the CGIAR would have to compete with private sector companies which have much more expertise in, and proprietary control over plant biotechnology.
The External System Review Panel

The External System Review Panel's starting basis is the CGIAR's evolving mission which is "to contribute, through its research, to promoting sustainable agriculture for food security in developing countries". The Review Panel's major tasks are to examine (1) the CGIAR's future role in fulfilling its aim; (2) the role, strategic advantage and the position of the CGIAR within a rapidly changing global scientific, communicational and institutional settings and arrangements; and (3) and CGIAR's strengths and past achievements in terms of science, strategy, finance and governance structure. 

The most relevant issues the Review Panel will address are:

  • To date grassroots participation in CGIAR research and technology transfer has been absent. What kind of representation in decision making and decentralization of research is required to include grassroots participation?
  • In priority setting, with regards to the balance between marginal and favoured environment, and between major and minor crops, can and should the CGIAR focus on agricultural systems in marginal areas and add minor crops to its research agenda? 
  • In response to NGO criticisms, how can CGIAR demonstrate that science is a crucial ingredient for sustainable agriculture, food security and development options for the future?
  • Will the CGIAR remain a research organization, or will it become more involved in rural development processes? What kind of partnership should it seek with other institutions? What kind of power position should the CGIAR retain and what power position should it give up?
  • What is the best way to respond to trends in privatization of research and its association with IPRs? What are the costs and benefits of involvement with the private sector? How could the CGIAR bring forward the research agenda of poor farmers to private research institutes? 
  • Organizationally, how can the CGIAR be more cost­effective?
  • How can the CGIAR expand its advocacy work which will not only be targeted to donors but more importantly, towards the public at large? How can the CGIAR respond to both truthful and baseless criticisms?
In April 1997, the Review Panel started with 9 member. It is supported by three specialist panels on science; strategies and structure; and governance and finance. The Review Panel is headed by the Canadian Maurice Strong, who is Secretary General to the Stockholm Conference and the Earth Summit, was founding Director General of United Nations Environmental Programme, and founding President of the Canadian International Development Agency. He was also one of the founding fathers of the CGIAR. In addition, the Review Panel is composed of four people from the North and four people from the South. Two of the Review Panel members are from major agro­industries, Cargill (USA) and Novartis (Switzerland).
Despite the Review Panel's good representation of environmentalists, its composition has been criticised for having only one person that specializes in NARS, one NGO representative and no bona fide critic of the Green Revolution. An striking absent is a representative from the small private seed industry. Furthermore, the Review Panel has a very strong representation of CGIAR 'insiders'. As a result of strong pressures particularly from the NGO Committee of the CGIAR and some donors, Pat Mooney of the Rural Advancement Foundation International and Antonio Quizon of the Asian NGO network ANGOC, were added to the Review Panel during the 1997 ICW meeting.
The Review Panel's time is tight, and it will present its final report at the next ICW meeting in October 1998. It has a total budget of US$ 1.5 million. Critics fear that the Panel will rely heavily on information provided by the CGIAR. 

Transgenic crops for the poorest?
Although the issue of biotechnology was first raised in 1985, the rapid scientific developments have only recently placed it as the highest priority on the CGIAR agenda. However, during the Review Panel's presentation at the 1997 ICW meeting, many participants, especially donors, pointed out that the emphasis must at least be balanced with a demand­driven agenda. According to Teresa Fogelberg, biotechnology should only be used as a tool to specifically look into technological gaps by which farmers' needs could be addressed.
According to Bioengineering of Crops, a 1997 publication by the World Bank and the CGIAR, transgenic crops could improve food yields by up to 25 per cent in the developing countries and could help to feed an estimated additional three billion people over the next 30 years. This focus on genetically modified plants is however still not a univocal standpoint within the CGIAR. The phenotypic approach to plant breeding, in which the CGIAR has proven its expertise, will probably still claim most of its research activities. Furthermore, the CGIAR has to first deal with problems arising from the use of transgenic crops, e.g. ecological consequences and public acceptance. The CGIAR also has to prove that these modern biotechnologies will not exacerbate marginalization of resource­poor farmers.
During the 1997 ICW meeting, the NGO committee demanded a moratorium on the release of transgenic crops from the CGIAR. However, this measure was rejected by representatives of the CGIAR centres' and of NARS who were in favour of a case­by­case approach. They are concerned about falling behind in biotechnology research developments. The NARS' representatives also argued that the CGIAR could not impose policies on them. A moratorium would further have consequences for joint projects on genetic engineering that otherwise only had to fulfil national biosafety regulations.
These considerations underpin the strategic role of biotechnology in the research planning for many NARS. For them it is important to develop not only research capacity, but research assets that would strengthen their position in collaborating and bargaining with a range of research partners in both the public and the private sectors. Therefore, collaboration in biotechnology research with the CGIAR is viewed as an important means to strengthen NARS ability to engage more effectively with many partners beyond the CGIAR.

Challenges on IPR policy
So far, the CGIAR's stated mission is "to provide free access to germplasm and to produce enhanced quality germplasm as common property". In an environment that is increasingly characterized by proprietary technology, and regulated access to information and a shrinking public domain, the CGIAR's position is being challenged. Furthermore, to attract private sector cooperation especially in the field of biotechnology, research partners are striving for intellectual property protection of the research output.
The 1996 interim "Guiding Principles for the Centers on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources" confirm the trusteeship status of the twelve CGIAR genebanks as enshrined in the 1994 agreement signed with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the FAO/CGIAR agreement the centres pledged not to claim ownership of the germplasm that are under their auspices and ensure that any recipient of these germplasm is bound by the same provision (see also Monitor No. 22). However, this commitment is only valid for genetic material that has been acquired before the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) was implemented. Therefore, the CGIAR's interim Guiding Principles emphasize its recognition of the sovereign rights of states over their genetic resources as outlined in the CBD.
According to Geoffrey Hawtin, head of the Centre Directors Committee, free access to all genetic materials stored under the trusteeship of the CGIAR, is an indispensable part of the system's ability to achieve its mission. Therefore, this is unlikely to change unless there are overriding reasons. This would for instance be the case if a protocol to the CBD were to be agreed recognizing the sovereignty of countries of origin over samples in international collections assembled prior to the coming into force of the Convention. On the other hand, in the future there might be a stronger need to gain proprietary protection on the product of the centres' research. To keep an invention in the public sector domain, the centres might be urged to follow a defensive patenting strategy. For instance, the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo (CIMMYT), together with the French governmental development agency ORSTOM, developed a technology for the transfer of apomixis into maize. Apomixis is a type of asexual reproduction of seeds, in which descendant lines are genetically identical to the parent line. This would eliminate the need for farmers to purchase new hybrid seeds yearly (see also Monitor No. 19). A patent for this technology was filed based on the fear that it would otherwise be commercialized by a private enterprise and thereby the access of farmers in the South would be restricted. It was also recommended that the CGIAR assembles portfolios of intellectual property across the system as a basis for enhancing the CGIAR's position against the private sector and AROs in negotiating access to enabling technologies, many of which are held by them.
At present, a systematic approach towards IPRs within the CGIAR is still missing and many decisions are made on an ad hoc basis. The fact that the specialist panel on IPR issues has to first gain an overview of the CGIAR's patent portfolio implies that the CGIAR still has to catch up with recent developments. The CGIAR has to make sure that centres can learn from each others experiences and therefore has to build up expertise to operate at the systems level or for an IPR audit. Likewise, the CGIAR expertise on IPR issues has to be further elaborated if it wants to advise the NARS on this topic.
CGIAR's expenditures on biotechnology (1997 estimates)
Total US$ 24.2 million
Tissue culture 
11 %
Embryo rescue
6 %
Enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA)
7 %
Marker-assisted selection
7 %
Gene mapping
18 %
Gene sequencing
6 %
Genetic transformation
15 %
3 %
*27 %
* Including US$ 4.3 million of ILRI's research on livestock vaccines
Source: CGIAR TAC (1997), Added Information 
on Expenditures in Biotechnology in 1997.
Unpublished paper prepared by TAC Chairman for ICW, 28 October, 1997.

Can the CGIAR reconstruct itself?
According to Review Panel member M.S. Swaminathan, who has been involved with the CGIAR for the last 30 years in various capacities including as former Director General of the IRRI, the CGIAR should be more humble in terms of what science can do to alleviate poverty. He said that one of the biggest lessons from the Green Revolution is that new agricultural technologies should be intertwined with measures and policies to reach the marginalized farmers. In his view, the CGIAR cannot work top­down since the 'trickle­down­effect' does not work in economics, ecology, extension, and especially not in science. Instead, the CGIAR should seriously look into partnership with institutions who are more capable at working bottom­up. However, this could involve radical changes for the CGIAR. For instance, according to Miguel Altieri, chair of the CGIAR's NGO committee, the NGOs should not just act as extension bodies to technologies developed by the CGIAR. Instead, as equal partners, NGOs and farmers should have strong input in the research agenda and development of the CGIAR. Over a number of years, a few centres of the CGIAR have independently implemented various kinds of participatory research. Currently, a Systems Wide Programme on Gender and Participatory Research has been set up within the CGIAR, part of its initiatives focus on participatory plant breeding. However, it remains unclear if this will set a serious trend within the CGIAR. At the moment it is a marginalized activity with a budget of about US$ 1 million.
Some of its donors feel that the CGIAR is an old fashioned body which is petrified of new challenges. According to Review Panel member Bongiwe Njobe­Mbuli, Director General of South Africa's National Department of Agriculture, CGIAR itself presents an institutional limitation whereby its current structure and history can in themselves hamper a critical review. She said that for the evaluation to be truly relevant towards the transformation of the CGIAR, the Review Panel has to conduct a radical review. Yet, if the Review Panel comes up with a radical analysis and recommendations, the CGIAR might not be able to accept or deal with it. Therefore, it remains unclear how and to what degree the CGIAR can take the review seriously.
As the CGIAR starts to work with biotechnology, it should continuously assess biotechnology's comparative advantage over conventional agricultural technology, both in response to goals in production increases and in responding to marginalized farming systems. Biotechnology is too important to remain solely within the dictates of market forces and objectives of private companies. The questions raised are: could the CGIAR play a catalytic role? Can it effectively shift in combining biotechnology within the context of sustainable development and respond to small­scale farmers needs?
Gigi Manicad/ Volker Lehmann

Editors, Biotechnology and Development Monitor

CGIAR (1997), 1996 Financial Report. Washington: CGIAR.

CGIAR (1997), CGIAR News. Vol.4, September 1997. Washington: CGIAR.

CGIAR (1995), Renewal of the CGIAR: The final milestone. ICW Summary of proceedings and decisions. Washington: CGIAR.

CGIAR System Review Secretariat (1997), Issue Paper for the First Panel Meeting of the CGIAR System Review. Unpublished document.

CGIAR (1997), CGIAR System Review Panel General Terms of Reference. Unpublished document.

RAFI Communique, July­August 1997. http://cgiar.rafi.org

I. Serageldin (1997), Meeting the Challenges of the Changing World. International Centres Week opening statement. Draft report.

Personal communications with: Miguel Altieri (CGIAR NGO committee), Geoffrey Hawtin (IPGRI), Teresa Fogelberg (Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Manuel Lantin (CGIAR), Pat Mooney (RAFI), Bongiwe Njobe­Mbuli, Tim Roberts (TAC's IPR panel) and M.S. Swaminathan (CGIAR's External System Review Panel).

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