Message from the CGIAR System Board Chair: Travel and meeting highlights, and dialogue with the Executive Managing Director

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Greetings to the CGIAR family. I’m here to give you an update on what has been happening within the family over the months of November and December. During the second week of November, I had the opportunity to go to Berlin, where I participated in the Crop Trust Diversity Summit. I was part of a panel of donors celebrating the work we do there, but more importantly, that they are a valued partner for CGIAR.  

I also had the opportunity to meet with the German State Secretary Flasbarth, and we talked about the big event that CGIAR will be participating in where we celebrate 50 years of partnership with the German government.  

From Germany, I went on to the to the UK, where I was able to participate in a very special event, the 75th birthday for King Charles. This was not just a birthday party. It was a celebration of the monarchy in modern times and his leadership, but also the important launch of a publication where we as CGIAR are profiled under the title “Researchers Without Borders.”  

The following week in the UK, I had the opportunity to participate in the Global Food Security Summit hosted by the UK Government. What an event! It was opened by Prime Minister Sunak who was very clear that “CGIAR is the place to invest.” We had our own Minister of the UK, Minister Mitchell, moderating the event and we also had the newly appointed Foreign Secretary who pledged support for CGIAR – David Cameron. We also had Bill Gates; we also had the Minister of Climate and Environment in the UAE, all pronouncing that “CGIAR is the place to invest.” On our side, we had Director Generals, as well as our incoming Executive Managing Director, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi. She’s here today with me and I’m excited to introduce her on her 10th day on the job!  

Note: this is an edited text version of the above video interview. 

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda (LMS): Welcome to CGIAR — you’ve really hit the road running! We met in London, where you were on the panel as a warmup. Now it’s live, 10 days into the job. Why CGIAR, why did you decide to come back home? 

Ismahane Elouafi (IE): Thank you, Lindiwe. It’s good that you say “coming back home.” I always say I am a kid of the CGIAR. I did my PhD with ICARDA and CIMMYT and I have worked with so many partners across the different CGIAR Centers.  

Coming back, I’m very excited about the recognition of the need to invest in science and innovation globally. CGIAR is about 10,000 employees with offices in 80 countries; as the largest public, international agricultural research network we require support to make sure we can continue the ongoing good work with national systems.  

Investing in this international public good helps ensure that technology and innovation reach farmers in those countries that need it most.  I couldn’t dream of a better way to start as EMD, with huge visibility for CGIAR and our mission, at COP. 

LMS: Excellent! Fit for purpose, starting by hitting the road running with a big flagship at COP here in Dubai. As you know, this is not my first COP. My first COP was in 2008, in Poznan. At that stage, there was no mention of agriculture — it was taboo. Agriculture had nothing to do with the COP deliberations, nothing to do with climate change. We went on to Denmark, to COP 15. The organization I was with at the time, FANRPAN [the pan-African Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network] was the first to launch a campaign, No Agriculture, No Deal. We wanted to make it clear agriculture is labeled a problem, but it’s more important as a solution.  

Day 10: Have you been flying the agriculture flag? Have you been flying the food systems flag? What have been the highlights for you, for CGIAR, for the work we do, within this COP28? 

IE: It’s good to hear your story about COPs Lindiwe! My first one was in Paris 2015, and agri food systems were outside the blue zone, with very little attention from the negotiators. From COP 26 in Glasgow, to COP 27 In Sharma El-Sheikh, to COP 28 here in Dubai, the bar is rising, and I’m very grateful to the United Arab Emirates for putting agri food systems front and center, during the head of state day. This is very important but we’re still lacking agrifoods language in the negotiations. 

People have to recognize that agrifood systems are a solution, with tremendous capacity to sequester greenhouse gas. We need investment in research and development at the global level, in CGIAR, as well as the national level, so science is translated to knowledge which will really improve the lives and livelihoods of farmers, particularly women farmers. 

LMS: Excellent! Tell us about the campaign you led. 

IE: It’s a campaign for our research portfolio 2025 to 2027, with a stronger emphasis on science and innovation. We are fundraising for $4 billion, and we were very happy to have a roundtable with donors who pledged up to $900 million. It’s a wonderful start to our campaign! With $3.1 billion to come. In order really to address the issues at hand, our ambition is to get the next cycle to $2 billion per year. That’s what we need to find the solutions of today and continue walking the path so we find the right solutions in three years, in five years, in 10 years – with the variability of climate we’re living through.  

LMS: Colleagues in CGIAR, your new Executive Managing Director leaves Dubai tomorrow to go to the headquarters in Montpellier, where she will be coordinating across all our 13 Centers, coordinating the work we do in the System Organization in Montpellier, and making sure globally, we mobilize the resources to deliver the science and technologies that the world needs, in the face of climate change. 

We delivered on the appointment of our Executive Managing Director. We also delivered on the Unified Governance Review. The Centers are seized with endorsing the recommendations and [next year] we will implement the recommendations of the reformed governance structures that we hope all our Centers will adopt.  

That’s it from me this year! What a year! Let’s all celebrate, revive and bounce back better in 2024. Thank you. 

IE: Thank you Lindiwe!  

Both: With Science We Can!  

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