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close this bookMobilizing science for global food security. Third External Review of IFPRI (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research ) (1998)
close this folderChapter 5 - Conclusions and Emerging Challenges
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View the document5.1 Conclusions
View the document5.2 IFPRI in the 21st Century: Emerging Challenges

5.2 IFPRI in the 21st Century: Emerging Challenges

The original rationale for establishing IFPRI as a centre for policy research was that it complements the work of other CG Centres and contributes to the creation of supportive policy environments in countries for the effective utilization of their research results. In the Panel’s view, this rationale will continue to be valid in the 21st century. Policy distortions at the macro and sectoral levels, dysfunctional incentive structures and inefficient allocation of scarce resources are bound to recur or persist in many countries in the years to come. These tend to act as barriers to the diffusion and adoption of new technologies. IFPRI’s research and outreach could be expected to influence the policy debate on these and related issues and assist in creating and strengthening the capacity of developing countries to resolve them more effectively over time.

IFPRI has positioned itself well to deal with major policy issues currently confronting the world in the areas of agriculture, food security, and environmental sustainability. Through its 2020 Vision activity, it also has identified a number of issues that are likely to emerge in the future. IFPRI plans to continue the global activity, filling in gaps related to a number of issues identified in the first round of papers. The Panel endorses this activity as well as IFPRI’s attempt to secure funds for problem analysis work on policy issues that currently do not attract funding, but which IFPRI and many of its partners in the CGIAR believe will emerge as major issues in the 21st Century.

Developing countries are likely to face much greater uncertainties in their international environments as a result of new phenomena such as globalization, information explosion and financial integration. The interactions between these forces will accelerate the response time for decisions and actions that will be required of developing country governments and their policy makers. The East Asian economic crisis is the latest illustration of the implications of these developments. The volume and direction of trade and capital flows, patterns of financial sector regulations, etc., could shift in unexpected ways as a result of such crises. These are, of course, macro economic and political issues and IFPRI may not claim expertise in these areas. But their implications for vulnerable populations are enormous. Among those who can be hurt most in the process are the poor. Developing countries will gain most from the insights and policy advice they can get to grapple with these problems. Simultaneously, capacity building in policy research that occurs in these countries, partly as a result of IFPRI’s own work, will make it less necessary for them to depend on outside help to answer many of the standard and predictable policy issues. The gap that will remain is the inability of countries to effectively deal with a set of issues that are global or regional and that can appear with little warning. Clearly these developments will take some time to make their impact felt. As these trends emerge more clearly, it may be necessary for IFPRI to reposition its research to be of more effective assistance to developing countries on the more global issues that the former are unable to cope with on their own;

IFPRI already is dealing with many of the emerging and mounting issues, such as water as the key scarce resource in the 21st century, and property rights issues, especially intellectual property rights, but also land and resource use rights. IFPRI is pursuing to some extent issues related to globalization policies, as well as the implications of privatization for agricultural development in developing countries (e.g., the implications from the fact that most progress in biotechnology is contained in proprietary outlets). In addition, the Stripe Study on Policy Research indicated several broad areas that it saw emerging related to

(i) the “expansion of the CGIAR and its goals... and the needs for more comprehensive social science analyses than the types of analyses typically promoted by centres in support of technology design” and other functions of the centres; and

(ii) “descaling of the role of the state implies emergence of a set of new actors and institutions in research and development....” The Panel agrees with the importance of all of the areas mentioned.

In addition to the topics mentioned above, the EPMR Panel considers that the following research and management themes also merit consideration by IFPRI in its forward looking assessment of future policy research and outreach needs:

1. Inter-Sectoral Opportunities and Needs

As rural populations in most parts of the developing world expand, particularly in rainfed agricultural areas, solutions other than agricultural ones will have to be found to deal with the poverty alleviation, food security and environmental sustainability objectives. These solutions may include out-migration, creation of alternative sources of off-farm employment, new technologies for post-harvest activity, and development of alternative land uses. In all cases, the alternative solutions will have to be blended and integrated with basic agricultural improvements - productivity enhancing and resource conserving technologies - to ensure complementarity of activities and a unified approach to poverty alleviation, food security, and environmental sustainability. Thus, IFPRI will have a central role and it may find that it needs to position itself better to deal with the integration of agriculture and natural resources with the research needed to find non-complementary agricultural solutions. In sum, the Panel sees a greater need for IFPRI to become involved in inter-sectoral issues as it enters into the 21st Century.

2. Networks of Learning

As recognized by IFPRI (including from evidence already gathered in its reader survey) it must position itself on the forefront of food policy research more effectively to (i) transfer information and knowledge, (ii) interact with clients and potential clients; (iii) augment capacity of developing country policy researchers and analysts to address critical local issues; and (iv) strengthen interactions among policy researchers, and among policy researchers and others in the CGIAR System. In fact, IFPRI has begun using the worldwide web in many of these areas. Given the steady expansion of access to the internet in developing countries, the Panel strongly supports IFPRI’s intentions to move more aggressively into this area. In this regard, IFPRI should set up a more formal mechanism to interact with experts in this area who already have developed the systems to take advantage of the power of the web. This should be an area where funds would be readily available, perhaps through unconventional sources, for IFPRI.

Work in all of these areas also will require foresight on the part of the donors. Funding will need to be forthcoming to permit IFPRI to address any of the above themes and to position itself better in terms of being able to address in a timely fashion the emerging issues as they take on priority in a developing country context.

3. Balancing Scientific Rigour and Impact

Over the years, IFPRI has achieved a well deserved reputation for its scientific rigour in the area of policy research. Unlike other scientific and crop oriented CG Centres, it is not easy for IFPRI to establish measurable links between research inputs and their impacts. The tension between the push for scientific rigour and the need to make an impact can easily tilt in favour of the former in the absence of such measures. Its research divisions are now based largely on sub-disciplinary roots. There are even dominant tools associated with different divisions. Thus FCND is largely a survey using group. EPTD has its roots in production economics. MSSD is biased towards partial equilibrium models. TMD is known for its general equilibrium models. The problem is rendered even more difficult because of the relative newness of its information and outreach efforts. It is imperative, therefore, that IFPRI focus ever more sharply on the task of increasing the impact and relevance of its research to developing country policy makers through more effective research-outreach integration. No impact can be made without the target audiences being aware of the research results or being able to understand or adapt them to their contexts. Clearly, the starting point has to be the clarification of the concept and scope of outreach more fully by highlighting the proposed tasks on both demand and supply sides. The Panel has made a number of suggestions in this regard.

IFPRI can nudge its research staff in several other ways to work towards a better balance between rigour and relevance in order to maximize its overall impact. It could encourage researchers to publish more often in developing country journals and other media, with local co-authors wherever possible. It could design schemes to assist doctoral students working in developing country universities to do research at IFPRI under proper supervision for short periods. IFPRI could also motivate researchers to pay greater attention to impact by recognizing outstanding outreach work.

4. The Board’s Role in Ensuring Relevance and Impact

In the course of this report, the Panel has proposed a number of suggestions for the Board to consider. IFPRI’s Board consists of several eminent persons with considerable policy experience and vast knowledge of different regions and countries. The staff, on the other hand, is limited in terms of such knowledge and first hand experience in countries. The Board’s active role in both raising issues of relevance and impact in the context of the research agenda and monitoring the progress on these fronts will be of great value in improving IFPRI’s effectiveness and a learning experience for the staff. In contrast, the processes available for ensuring research quality and rigour are easier to define and manage.

In view of the directional changes implied in the Panel’s proposals on the scope and integration of IFPRI’s research and outreach activities, the Panel suggests that IFPRI Board and Management review its current strategy and revise or adapt it to suitably reflect the proposed changes.

The Panel recommends that IFPRI, in order to enhance the relevance of its activities, should:

a) further strengthen its mechanisms for priority setting by seeking new ways to identify and take account of developing country policy concerns;

b) diversify its skill mix by recruiting persons with both research and policy experience, with greater flexibility in appointments, if necessary.

The Panel further recommends that:

the IFPRI Board should play a more active role in ensuring and monitoring the relevance and impact of the Institute’s work.