Gates entry into CGIAR: Will research technologies or innovation systems rule the day?


In SciDev.Net this week, Yojana Sharma describes what people see as benefits and concerns about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joining the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which supports the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and 14 other centres around the world.

Prabhu Pingali, head of agriculture policy at the Foundation, acknowledges: ‘The big player in this game is obviously CGIAR. . . . The CGIAR has a much broader agenda than we do . . . .' This, says Sharma, 'is a reference to the group’s growing engagement with all aspects of improving agricultural productivity in the developing world.

Andy Hall, a researcher into rural innovation for the United Nations University in Maastricht, in the Netherlands, worries that: ‘The underlying thinking at Gates is that science can solve the problems . . . .  This was the way CGIAR was in the past, and the danger is that Gates is reinventing that approach.’

Sharma concludes that: ‘The critics say that the tensions between those who favour a science- and technology-driven approach to increasing agricultural productivity, and others (such as Hall) who prefer to think in terms of promoting broader agricultural innovation systems, are at their acutest when it comes to genetically modified food.’

Which begs the question as to why so many think that a focus on agricultural technology is incompatible with a focus on agricultural innovation systems. Surely both approaches — interacting in synergy since the dawn of agriculture — are still needed.

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