Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
Created in 1971, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) constitutes a network of 15 Future Harvest Centers, employing more than 8,500 scientists and scientific staff, who work on tropical agricultural development in more than 100 countries.
The network was originally built up around four international agricultural research centres, two of which had contributed notably to the Green Revolution: CIMMYT - Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo (Mexico, maize and wheat) and IRRI - International Rice Research Institute (the Philippines).
The lead in creating CGIAR was taken by the World Bank. The CGIAR's Chairman is a Vice President of the Bank.
The CGIAR is financed by members' contributions. Members of the CGIAR include industrial and developing countries, foundations, and international and regional organizations. In 2002, contributions to the CGIAR amounted to $357 million. Industrial countries account for more than two-thirds of CGIAR financing and this is reflected in its governance structure which is fundamentally controlled by four rich industrialised countries.
The CGIAR has been accused by its critics of having changed its mandate from being that of a publicly funded research body to that of a 'strategic alliance of 63 countries, international and regional organizations and private foundations supporting international agricultural research Centers that work with national agricultural research systems, the private sector and civil society'. Trade and policy analyst Devinder Sharma describes this as 'a cleverly worded explanation for the deviation from the original mandate to essentially serve as an outsourcing research base for the private companies.'
Such criticism reached a peak in 2002 when, without any prior consultation, the CGIAR's Chairman appointed the Syngenta Foundation to CGIAR's board. The Syngenta Foundation does not just bear the name of the world's largest biotechnology company. It is wholly owned by Syngenta and Syngenta directors occupy 3 of the 5 seats on its board. Heinz Imhof, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Syngenta, is the Foundation's President.
Responding to what was in effect the inclusion of of a biotechniology corporation in CGIAR's board, CGIAR's NGO Committee (NGO-C) decided to freeze its relationship with the CGIAR pending a review of the CGIAR's research agenda. The NGO-C observed, 'the CGIAR is deviating from [its] mandate and is adopting a corporate agenda for agricultural research and development. CGIAR's consideration of Syngenta Foundation's membership is a clear indication of the trend towards the corporatisation of public agricultural research.' The NGO Committee's freeze means the NGO-C will not replace vacant seats on the Committee, will not accept money from the CGIAR and will not agree to sit on the CGIAR's Executive Council or any other committees, or participate in
According to Devinder Sharma, the detachment of the NGO-C merely made apparent the underlying reality that the CGIAR's real 'strategic alliance' was exclusively with the private sector, despite its mandate to work with civil society and 'to produce public goods for the benefit of poor agricultural producers in developing countries and to safeguard the geneticresources taken from farmers' fields and held in public trust by the CGIAR gene banks.'
Another source of controversy has been the research project on genetically engineered Golden Rice at the CGIAR's International Rice Research Institute . The controversy surrounding the project only increased when the administrative control of the project was handed over to former Monsanto executive, Gerard Barry . Devinder Sharma commented, 'Strange that the CGIAR, which claims to have more than 8,500 scientists and scientific staff on roll, had to seek the help of the biotech giant, Monsanto, for managing the 'golden rice' research project!' ( CGIAR turns to outsourcing)
The CGIAR's critics see its embrace of Syngenta and Golden Rice as symptomatic of a historical trend within the organisation to favour industrial agriculture and a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to agricultural research - an approach that ignores the knowledge and experience of farmers, farming communities, and indigenous people. The agriculture promoted by the CGIAR, such critics argue, has promoted dependence on costly intensive agriculture inputs such as pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals.
This has been a great boon for the agrochemical industry and unsurprisingly they have been generous in their support of CGIAR centers. For instance, the annual reports of the IRRI - International Rice Research Institute from 1963-1982 show grants from a whole array of US and European chemical corporations including Monsanto, Shell Chemical, Union Carbide Asia, Bayer Philippines, Eli Lily, OccidentalChemical, Ciba Geigy (later part of Novartis Seeds which is now part of Syngenta), Chevron Chemical, Upjohn, Hoechst, and Cyanamid Far East. (Laying the Molecular Foundations of GM Rice Across Asia )
But while the dependency on expensive intensive inputs may have proved lucrative for the agrochemical industry, it has meant increasing numbers of small farmers going into debt and leaving the land. Unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition can be the consequence, quite apart from pesticide poisonings. There has also been a cost in terms of knowledge, culture and social systems.
From this perspective genetic engineering is seen as further intensifying the kind of problems small farmers face: 'GMOs are associated with genetic privatization through patenting and IPR [intellectual property rights]; genetic contamination; market rejection; threats to farmers' rights through increasing monopolization in agriculture; negative health effects; environmental damage, and a deepening of the structural inequalities between rich and poor'. ( Syngenta now on governing body of CGIAR )
As a result, the CGIAR's Annual General Meeting in 2002, held in The Philippines, home to the CGIAR's nearby International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) , was marked by farmers' protests and street demonstrations against CGIAR's research orientation and lack of accountability to the third world farmers they are meant to serve. The hundreds of protesting farmers were met with police barricades and water cannon. ( Farmer anger )
But the ultimate irony may be that the CGIAR has actually been driven into the arms of corporations like Syngenta by the over emphasis on hi-tech approaches like genetic engineering. CGIAR has been faced with drastic cuts in research programmes, staff lay offs, declining research output, and vanishing financial commitments, and is even contemplating a series of mergers to stay afloat. While this crisis has been exacerbated by the global economic downturn and the fashion for 'down-sizing', a key underlying factor has been the continuing excitement of researchers and industry over the commercial possibilities of genetic engineering, and the plant variety protection which goes with it. This has drawn money away from public agricultural research. An article on this problem in the science journal Nature concluded that the food supply for future generations in the developing world could hinge on whether this trend can be reversed. (Crop Improvement: A Dying Breed, Nature 421)
- CGIAR website http://www.cgiar.org