Harvesting a New Approach to Agri-food Research in Latin America
Taking stock of the first year of CGIAR’s LAC Regional Director Office
By Joaquín Lozano, CGIAR’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
In December 2021, I joined CGIAR as the first Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a new role established as part of the transition to One CGIAR. Both 2022 and the start of 2023 have been busy, challenging, and exciting times, especially for someone who had only partnered with, although never worked for, the organization.
My previous lives, especially my job as Regional Director for LAC at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the knowledge acquired through them put me in a good position to hit the ground running and start working without delay, while shaping this new role for myself and for the organization. One idea was clear from the beginning: all work that seeks to have an impact on society is per se a team effort.
Strengthening and building relationships
Thus, a good part of the work of the CGIAR Regional Directors is strengthening and building internal and external relationships. Internal with teams and colleagues who support you in advancing the functions of the role, and external with fellow development colleagues and organizations. That purpose takes a Regional Director across extensive territories to attend and represent CGIAR at high-level events, as well as to the field where our research is put into practice.
During these travels, I have made contacts and had conversations that have reinforced the incredible work accomplished over the last five decades by CGIAR’s Research Centers — in the case of LAC-headquartered ones, the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, and the Americas Regional Hub of the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, as well as the LAC office of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC — adding a more holistic and regional perspective to our organization’s work in the region.
Another important outcome of all this travel through LAC was the signing of a letter of intent with FAO’s LAC Regional Office to further science and innovation in agrifood systems in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Conversations are ongoing to explore possible ways to collaborate and to reach similar agreements with other regional and international organizations like the World Bank, the IDB, the Central American Economic Integration Bank (CABEI), FONTAGRO, and IICA.
Beyond those, let’s say, traditional partners or donors, we’re also building a pilot methodology to engage with non-traditional potential funders, like SMEs, as sponsors for smaller-scale projects at the country level.
Advocating for the reform of agrifood systems
All these conversations have already resulted in two concrete important events. The first, an interinstitutional seminar and discussion on the report entitled Competing in Agribusiness: Corporate Strategies and Public Policies for the Challenges of the 21st Century, was held jointly with the IDB in Mexico in February 2023.
The second one, Dialogue on Agrifood Science, Technology and Innovation Systems in Latin America and the Caribbean Facing the Challenges of 2030, jointly organized with the World Bank and IICA, is taking place at the beginning of May in Costa Rica.
These are just two examples of how we want to advocate in the region for the much-talked-about and needed agrifood systems reform. We’re trying to involve not only our usual stakeholders but also the public in this conversation, as we believe that only an aware public opinion will push governments to take the necessary measures to ensure food security for all.
Efforts in this direction have resulted in the publication — on the occasion of World Soil Day on December 5, 2022 — of an op-ed in El País, calling for measures to implement climate-smart agriculture that will be resistant to economic and social turbulences.
Of course, advocacy is not enough. CGIAR’s core mandate is on science and applied research. So, in March 2022, we launched AGRILAC Resiliente, a regional initiative that is part of the holistic initiatives the renewed CGIAR network wants to promote.
Although CGIAR’s current research portfolio contains 16 other global initiatives that will have an impact on the region, AGRILAC Resiliente is a program completely designed with a Latin American perspective that seeks to increase the resilience, sustainability, and competitiveness of the region’s agrifood systems and actors, especially rural producers, with the support of national governments, the private sector, civil society, and regional and global donors and partners.
These kinds of regional initiatives represent a brand-new way of planning and organizing CGIAR’s research and innovation work, as, through them, the immense expertise and knowledge of the whole CGIAR network (Centers and groups of scientists throughout the globe) serves the needs of a region and the countries that comprise it.
After its planning workshop in April and the finalization of its design, the initiative was launched and obtained a great response from national counterparts in workshops held in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, and Peru.
Combining regional and national perspectives
This regional perspective has to be combined with tailored solutions for the different countries that make up the region. We believe CGIAR’s expertise can make a difference in supporting and strengthening the region’s National Agricultural Research Institutions (NARIs), filling capacity gaps and helping these systems to overcome them.
To ensure a fluid dialogue between CGIAR and the region’s governments, we have a network of country convenors who act as focal points to ensure the countries’ demands reach the CGIAR network. This network is already fruitful in Central America, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.
All this energy is being deployed to ensure the renewed CGIAR helps Latin America and the Caribbean region to overcome the challenges it faces in this time of what many call the Three C’s Crisis — climate, COVID, and conflict.
These crises and long-term structural factors, including rural poverty and inequality, are putting Latin America and the Caribbean’s natural richness (the region hosts six of the world’s ten most biodiverse countries), agricultural production (it is the world’s largest net food exporting region, cultivating 14% of the world’s crops) and food security under stress.
Lately, the regional focus on food exports and processed foods is neglecting local resources and traditional food system practices more conducive to food security and environmental sustainability. In this context, pivoting the region to focus on its biodiversity could usher in many needed improvements in food security and nutrition,contributing to the restoration of food systems and promoting inclusive growth for smallholder farmers and other vulnerable groups.
Science, research and innovation play a key role in this process. My main goal as CGIAR’s Regional Director in LAC is to ensure that CGIAR’s network of resources services this crucial target.
This will be the only way to accomplish CGIAR’s mission: to deliver science and innovation that advance the transformation of food, land, and water systems in the context of the climate crisis. In other words, using science and technology to ensure food security is a right for all and not a privilege for a few.
Header photo by CGIAR.