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close this bookQuiet Revolutionaries - A Look at the Campaign by Agricultural Scientists to Fight Hunger (World Bank)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe people behind this essay
View the documentForeword
View the documentA costly mistake
View the documentA tiny but effective wasp
View the documentMoving to Benin
View the documentMite against Mite
View the documentGood works and deals
View the documentOrganizing the CGIAR
View the documentThe second-generation centers
View the documentThe question of quarantine
View the documentManaging a gene bank
View the documentRights to intellectual property
View the documentA new kind of bread
View the documentA taste of honey
View the documentStarch and alcohol

Organizing the CGIAR

To continue the fight against hunger, the scientists had to get more organized on a worldwide level. And this was how the Consultative Group on

International Agricultural Research—known as the CGlAR or the CG system got started in 1971. The World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) got together as co-sponsors, and created this umbrella group with private foundations such as Ford and Rockefeller, regional organizations, and several governments. It has become a model—something the organizers of other international efforts copy and measure themselves against when they first get started. It works because it has a light touch—it's flexible, informal, and unbureaucratic.

The CGIAR has few rules, relies on consensus, and lets the 1,700 senior scientists of 60 different nationalities at 18 international research centers (the newest recruit is the Center for International Forestry Research to be set up in Indonesia) get on with the discoveries in their laboratories, screen-houses, and open fields. It has no direct authority over these centers, which are autonomous legal entities, but it obviously has a lot of influence. One way of flexing its muscles, for example, would be for an individual donor to threaten to adjust its funding downward if a decision were ignored. And it puts each of the centers through a tough review every five years.

As of 1993, its annual core funding is between $254 million and $264 million (which is, it must be noted, only a small part of the money spent worldwide on agricultural research, as of early 1993 at about $10 billions, with another $50 million coming from special project funding The countries giving the most are the United States, Japan, and Canada, while the institutional donors giving the most are the World Bank, the European Community, and the UNDP.

Many donors are wary of increasing their ding because of currency exchange rate fluctuations, competing demands from the former US.S.R. and Eastern Europe, and general donor fatigue. But in 1992 the World Bank—which as the donor of last resort has given the system stability agreed to raise its contribution to 15 percent of total pledges by other donors, to a ceiling of $40 million. Wilfried Thalwitz, a former CGlAR chairman, said that the World Bank has no reason to regret what was a tremendous innovation when) in the early 1970s, it deeded to do what it had never done before support agricultural research, and support it on a global scare."

A Technical Advisory Committee, whose secretariat sits m the FAO Offices in Rome, pronounces on the value or lack of value of the scientists' work. The whole system has as its center a secretariat in the World Bank's Washington headquarters, headed by the World Bank's Visvanathan Rajagopalan, an Indian as chairman, and Alexander von der Osten, a German, as executive secretary. This secretariat coordinates the fund raising, administers, and keeps everyone informed and, it hopes, content.

Its aims are to conserve germplasm, to train new generations of scientists, to build strong national agricultural institutions, to put together a global database so everyone shares in the knowledge, and to help governments make wiser decisions. But at the top of its list is simply to help scientists keep some kind of a permanent green revolution going—to stop the poor from going to sleep hungry.

But it must do this and this is the new emphasis-without degrading the environment or the natural resource base on which agriculture depends. This "slog to sustainability," as it's sometimes called, means, for example, finding alternatives to harmful pesticides as those scientists did when they fought the mealybug, the hornworm, and the green mite. Agrochemicals are costly and can cause environmental damage; if used excessively, pests may become resistant. The The "slog" also means trying to stop the soil from becoming degraded -losing its nutrients, suffering a buildup of salts, or becoming water logge.

When the CGIAR was FIRST put together, it was to be a "short-term, highly informal device" which eventually would be dissolved, according to Alexander von der Osten. He added that this "has been abandoned in favor of a permanent centerpiece and engine of the global agricultural research system." There was just too much work to do; it was just too a crucial.