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Ag Research System Nets $1 Billion

17 December 2013 6:30 pm
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Greenbacks for green thumbs. Guillermo Sotelo of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture works in a greenhouse at the institution's headquarters in Colombia. The center is part of research network that has $1 billion for agricultural science.

Neil Palmer/CIAT

Greenbacks for green thumbs. Guillermo Sotelo of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture works in a greenhouse at the institution's headquarters in Colombia. The center is part of research network that has $1 billion for agricultural science.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) announced today that it has reached the billion-dollar mark. The global network of research centers, which many have long seen as underfunded, has now doubled its budget in 5 years. “It's great news,” says economist Prabhu Pingali of Cornell University. Despite the greater resources, however, observers say CGIAR still faces fiscal hurdles. 

The CGIAR system consists of 15 centers, plus an array of gene banks. One of their main goals is to provide small-holder farmers with improved crop varieties and other ways to improve their yields. A reorganization in 2010 aimed to increase the system's efficiency and make it more appealing to donors. As part of that effort, a new CGIAR fund was created to disperse funds.

“That resonated with donors,” says Jonathan Wadsworth, executive secretary of the CGIAR Fund. Wadsworth came to CGIAR in 2011 from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. “I always found it fairly difficult to explain to my bosses how the different parts of the CG system added up to a coherent whole,” he says. “It’s much easier now to fund this organization.”

That’s good news to CGIAR veterans. “The billion dollar budget for the CGIAR should have been reached many years ago,” says Sara Boettiger of the University of California, Berkeley, who this past April retired as chair of CGIAR’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico. “It is long overdue.”

The beefier budget, however, has not solved a long-standing challenge faced by CG centers: Donors earmark money for specific projects, so the centers’ hands are tied to some extent when it comes to investing in other priorities. And that won’t change much with the new funding. About $350 million of the overall budget is unrestricted but must be spent within existing research programs, Wadsworth says, so very little money will be available for new infrastructure or initiatives. In addition, the overhead rate that CGIAR centers pay to cover administrative costs—which amounts to 15% to 20%—has hindered the ability to invest in new bricks and mortar, adds Emmy Simmons, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant in agricultural development.

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