Climate action: Do we need to change how we innovate?
We're starting today, Africa Day.
Climate change poses profound challenges for farmers and our food and water systems. Equally challenging are poverty (with some 600 million persons in extreme poverty), food insecurity (with some 800 million persons suffering from undernutrition), and water insecurity (with some 780 million people without access to an improved water source). Climate change makes our efforts to deal with poverty and food and water insecurity that much more difficult. It is for small-scale farmers, fishers, and livestock keepers that these problems come together, compounding each other. Extreme weather events, changing seasons, and increasing heat make a risky existence even riskier. In many locations agricultural producers are coping by selling off their productive assets, reducing the number of meals they eat and migrating to cities where life may not be that much better.
To solve these and other agriculture-related environmental challenges, we have concluded that nothing short of a transformation of food systems is needed. This requires four "R"s: REROUTING farming and rural livelihoods to new trajectories; de-RISKING livelihoods, farms and value chains; REDUCING emissions through diets and value chains; and REALIGNING policies, finance, support to social movements, and innovation. On the 25th of June, CCAFS and many partners will release a flagship report on food systems transformation under climate change. The report outlines concrete actions that can be taken to achieve each "R."
Transforming agricultural research for development
Today we want to focus on one of the actions proposed: essentially, transforming ourselves—the agricultural research for development (AR4D) community.
AR4D systems are often fragmented, inefficient, overly supply-based, and siloed. Innovation can be hampered by a fear of failure, a short-term orientation, the existence of inappropriate or perverse incentives that may result in redundancy and duplication, and a focus on “publish or perish.” If we want research to contribute to societal outcomes, that is what we should be measured by, not our numbers of publications in prestigious journals.
One of the key premises for a new AR4D is that we need to work (at least for a good portion of AR4D) more closely with those development agencies, national governments and private sector actors who have the responsibility, power, interest and/or means to drive significant positive change—in other words, with the AR4D community as a trusted knowledge partner in a coalition of actors. For this reason, together with partners across CGIAR, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has put together the “Two Degree Initiative,” a coalition of partners with the ambition to reach significant climate change, poverty, nutrition and environmental targets. This initiative will focus on low- and middle-income countries and work on a set of global themes that align with a theory of change for transforming the food system. It will be implemented through eight or so "Challenges" in specified geographies, with the coalition working towards ambitious locally-defined targets.
The eight listening sessions in 2DI Challenge Geographies. Image: T. Ferdinand
Climate, poverty and nutrition challenges are particularly pronounced in Africa. For example, by 2030, forecasts indicate that nearly 9 in 10 of the extremely poor will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. And so on Africa Day, we initiate the first listening session—a webinar bringing stakeholders together in Southern Africa to start the process of defining a bottom-up agenda for research in a climate hotspot. This process is led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Various regional organizations and USAID are co-hosts. Steve Collins from USAID’s Resilient Waters Program noted, “I am heartened that researchers are coming to us without an agenda and asking us what they should be working on.” The initial webinar will be followed by bilateral meetings and an eventual face-to-face meeting later in the year.
Such processes are being set in motion for all eight Challenge Geographies. These “listening sessions” will be accompanied by the World Resources Institute (WRI), who will prepare a summary of inputs received for all geographies. The Sahel Challenge is also soon to start, with World Bank and CGIAR (led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)) collaborating on a series of creative virtual sessions followed by a face-to-face later in the year. In June we also expect start-up meetings in the Middle East and North Africa, and in the Asian mega-deltas.
It will only be through major partnerships that we will rise to the significant challenges. We cannot do research for development “for whom it may concern.” We need to be targeted, demand-driven, participatory and willing to provide end-to-end solutions. We also need to be scientifically credible, which does mean papers in high-end journals—but that should not be our target.
Bruce Campbell is Program Director of CCAFS. Inga Jacobs-Mata is the South Africa Country Representative at IWMI.