As CGIAR-NARES networks deliver improved crops, new plans are set to accelerate progress

  • From
    Adam Hunt
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  • Funders
    Australia, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Germany, United Kingdom, United States of America

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How can CGIAR’s global crop improvement network strengthen results with national and regional partners in Africa? African leaders and CGIAR met in Morrocco to assess – and adjust – the roadmap to delivering better crop varieties to smallholders.

For Africa to develop and deliver new crop varieties, national institutions must be strong and highly engaged. This principle guided a recent high level African leadership meeting bringing together CGIAR, National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES), academic institutions and sub-regional organizations (SROs) in Morocco. The NARES-CGIAR Leadership Meeting: Genetic Innovation identified next steps to enhance breeding programs and expedite the delivery of novel crop varieties to smallholder farmers.

“We have to work through several priorities: planning, funding, execution and implementation – and time is key,” said host Faouzi Bekkaoui, Director General of Morocco’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA). “To address the challenges of climate change and population growth, the seeds and other technologies need to reach the farmers in time. So, strong partnerships, developing terms of reference for project management best practices, implementing digitalization – it’s all needed to reach our goals in time.”

Participants in the NARES-CGIAR Leadership Meeting 2023, Morocco. Photo: Adam Hunt/CGIAR

The research leaders gathered in Marakech on October 26, 2023 to set a clearer path to meeting Africa’s urgent need for more and better nutrient-rich, climate-resilient crops through strengthened partnerships with CGIAR Genetic Innovation Science Group. Senior leaders from over 20 NARES, regional organizations, universities and CGIAR agreed on and witnessed the signing of an “Aide Memoire.” The document guides actions going forward, outlining next steps for the African partnerships, including:

  • Improve high level engagement: enhancing transparency and alignment among NARES, SROs, universities, CGIAR and others, along with documenting (e.g. through MOUs) coordination. This includes improving joint resource mobilization.
  • Enhance collaboration and joint decision making: Including mainstreaming NARES decision making roles, improving communication, co-developing research projects.
  • Develop indicators: Agree on a set of objective and effective performance indicators that can be used to measure CGIAR-NARES-SRO partnership and collaboration around crop improvement and variety delivery.
  • Boost capacity development: Develop ways to meet the demand for face-to-face trainings, secondments, technology dissemination and other methods.

These updated steps were developed after an assessment of progress on the initial Aide Memoire agreement, which capped a historic first high-level meeting in 2022. Significant progress has been documented since that agreement, including:

  • Germplasm exchange: All countries report benefitting from it, and strengthening their breeding programs
  • Training: has rolled out in various areas including breeding technologies, costing, product profile development, and data analysis.
  • Institutional capacity: Crops to end Hunger (CtEH) grants delivered equipment such as seed counters, moisture meters, and tillage equipment – improving data collection efficiency, while an array of other modernization efforts continue through GIZ funded grants.
  • Sharing testing facilities: has resulted in the expansion of testing areas.

CGIAR has been in a transformative phase, aligning breeding programs and extending collaborations with national partners. On the heels of the African Plant Breeders Association (APBA) Conference outside Marakech, this leadership event allowed partners to take stock of the changes and advancements since the 2022 meeting and deliberate on the roadmap ahead to foster tangible impacts in farmers’ fields.

“The diverse array of crops is more crucial than ever for African agriculture,” commented Bish Das, CGIAR Accelerated Breeding Initiative’s NARES focal point. “From cassava to wheat to yam and more, the partnerships we are developing rely on trust, good processes, and a continual ability to refresh our thinking. I’m eager to see how the new priorities roll out.”

Presentations and discussions (PowerPoints found here) highlighted the significance of the 2022 agreement for African nations, and demonstrated that it is paving the way for developing superior crop varieties. Presenters stressed that the longstanding partnerships with CGIAR have grown even stronger, ensuring better agricultural products and technologies for farmers and food systems.

Relationships should be more inclusive than they used to be and I’m seeing signs,” commented Ousmane Ndoye of West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF).  “I think the meeting is in that direction… we are training new generations of plant breeders and they are carrying hope for food systems in our region.”

Partners returned to their countries with a clearer path forward and strengthened relationships. Through fortifying partnerships with CGIAR, Africa’s agricultural research institutions look set for a promising path toward advanced, climate-resilient, nutritional crops.


Story and photos by Adam Hunt, Head of Communication, CGIAR Genetic Innovation. We would like to thank all funders who support this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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