|Mobilizing science for global food security. Third External Review of IFPRI (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research ) (1998)|
TAC is grateful to the Chair, Dr. Samuel Paul, and Members of the Panel that conducted the third EPMR of IFPRI, for an excellent report which contains a powerful analysis of IFPRIs programmes and management. The Committee is pleased about the very positive findings of the Review Panel and that the overall quality, outputs and performance of IFPRI during the period under review have been found to be impressive. Leadership of the Institute has done an outstanding job of restoring organizational cohesion, morale and stability after a period of internal turmoil and uncertainty at the time of the last EPMR.
The Committee notes that not all of the important considerations made in the analysis are fully reflected in the conclusions of the Panel and therefore encourages readers and IFPRI to consider the report in its entirety. TAC is pleased that the Panel conducted its Review against a background of the 1996 Strategic Study on Policy and Management Research in the CGIAR. TAC endorses the recommendations made by the External Review Panel and notes that the Institute also is in full agreement with all of them.
The Committee offers the following commentary, prepared with inputs from the CGIAR Secretariat, to supplement the Panels report.
Strategy and Priorities
TAC is pleased with the Panels findings that IFPRIs current mission and priorities are on the whole consistent with CGIAR goals and priorities, and that the research issues on its agenda and its major research outputs are pertinent to poverty alleviation, food security and environmental sustainability in the developing countries. The Committee agrees with the Panel that the priority-setting process used for the 1998-2000 MTP is appropriate and pragmatic but that IFPRI should more fully exploit the means available to gain greater input in its priorities setting from developing country policymakers. TAC notes that IFPRI intends to interact during 1998 with stakeholders to identify major emerging policy issues as an input for a new round of priority-setting. The results of this exercise will be reflected in IFPRIs subsequent medium-term plan. TAC expects IFPRI to give careful consideration both to the findings of the Panel and the Committees commentary.
TAC is pleased about the Panels findings of the high quality and relevance of IFPRIs research programmes and the solid reputation IFPRI holds among its peers and collaborators.
In response to reading the Panels report, TAC raises the following two general issues:
1. IFPRI bases much of its current work on multicountry analysis. Following this approach is clearly one of IFPRIs comparative advantages and it has proven highly beneficial. However, TAC wonders whether this approach needs to be so systematically pursued as it can lead to the over-dimensioning of projects and over-burdening of the scientists involved for sometimes only marginal additional information provided by increasing the number of countries and delays in completing the research. For each particular project, IFPRI may want to carefully consider whether reducing the number of countries, eventually down to one, would allow making projects leaner and quicker, without necessarily compromising the international public goods character of the results obtained. It may also enhance the relevance of results for the particular country chosen and their use in policymaking.
2. IFPRI should consider mechanisms to enable it to become more actively involved in emerging policy debates given the long lag that currently exists between initiation of research and availability of results in its traditional research activities. On the basis of its research experience, the Institute should explore mechanisms to make its expertise available to illuminate options in major debates on important current policy issues, perhaps by organizing special task forces as one element of its Outreach Programme.
As it engages in a new round of priority-setting, IFPRI may want to carefully consider the following suggestions for research. TAC does recognize that IFPRI already has more than a full agenda and that its staff justifiably claim to suffer from over-commitment and time famine. Any addition to its research programme may, therefore, have to be accompanied by a corresponding reduction elsewhere.
1. Research on agrarian institutions for the rural poor. The trend in reducing the role of the state, following structural adjustment and redefinition of the role of the public sector in transition economies, has left large institutional gaps in important areas such as credit, insurance, marketing, technical assistance, and contracts with agro-industries that seriously constrain the competitiveness of many smallholders. Research should be directed at identifying best institutional responses for specific settings to fill these gaps. For this purpose, the Institute may benefit from a greater emphasis on applications of the New Institutional Economics as was already recommended by the Stripe Review Panel.
2. Research on new approaches to rural development. While IFPRI gives substantial emphasis to food nutrition and consumption issues at the household level, perhaps insufficient attention has been given to the implications of alternative income generation activities for poverty alleviation strategies. In particular, a major effort is required to systematically investigate the link between sources of growth and poverty reduction and their implications for the design of effective approaches to rural development consistent with the emerging roles of the globalized market, new forms of governance, organizations in civil society, and institutional circumstances.
3. Research on intellectual property rights (IPR). Given recent major changes on the privatization of research results in biology, IFPRI could play a more important role in research on IPR so as to enable the international agricultural research community to develop more informed options for policymaking on this subject.
4. Research on low-income transitional economies. The transformation from socialist to market economies has led to considerable problems associated with food security in transition countries. IFPRI should consider a more in-depth involvement with policy research and advice on low-income transitional economies about how to institute a functioning market economy which allows for improvements in the welfare of the poor.
TAC agrees with the Panel that IFPRI needs to develop a better strategy for its Outreach Programme. It recalls that similar observations were made in the 1990 Review and in the 1992 Mid-Term Review. TAC considers that the IFPRI Outreach Programme still lacks an integrating philosophy and concurs with the Panel that the outreach function has to be well integrated with research with mutual reinforcements. Outreach should be the partial responsibility of every scientist, with senior scientists assuming a relatively larger role. The Committee also wonders about the extent to which outreach could perhaps be better facilitated if research were more country rather than only multicountry focused.
Quality of Science
TAC is impressed with the high quality of science at IFPRI and the high regard peers generally have for the Institutes work. The Committee is also very pleased that the Panel benefited from an Internally Commissioned External Review (ICER) of IFPRIs research methodology. TAC notes, however, that the Panel identified some degree of variation in the performance of IFPRIs different divisions. This is no doubt inevitable, but IFPRI should make an attempt to learn positive lessons through systematic analysis of why some divisions are more successful than others.
The Committee endorses the Panels recommendation that there is a need for IFPRI to amplify its skill mix by recruitment of persons with both research and policy experience. TAC is also concerned about the large predominance of economists among the Institutes staff. The Committee appreciates IFPRIs efforts to make up for this imbalance in skill mix through partnerships but encourages IFPRI to improve its internal skill mix, while maximizing complementarities and overlaps between disciplines.
Governance and Management
TAC endorses the Panels view about the strong leadership of IFPRI and acknowledges the Director Generals contributions to reshaping the Institute. The Committee is also pleased that governance in IFPRI is efficient and that the Board has responded positively to the Panels recommendations and suggestions. TAC notes the Panels suggestion that the Board increase the number of its meetings but suggests that the Institute carefully weigh the benefits and costs of following this suggestion.