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Report Calls for Radical Changes on Eve of Global Agriculture Conference

On Sunday (March 28th), the first Global Conference on Agriculture Research for Development opens in Montpellier, France. The meeting aims to address the challenges to food security, including high prices, poverty and climate change. On the eve of the conference, a new report’s been released on how to help meet those challenges.

The report is funded by many international organizations and development agencies. The lead author of the report, Uma Lele, is a former World Bank senior adviser. She calls the meeting a great opportunity for change and says not since the early 1970s has the need for agricultural reforms been so great.

Report Calls for Radical Changes on Eve of Global Agriculture Conference
Report Calls for Radical Changes on Eve of Global Agriculture Conference

“Until 2007, there were declining real commodity prices, production was increasing and there was generally a sense that we were accomplishing something. I think the food price increases of 2007 and the financial crisis of 2008 really jogged people into action…that there had been a great sense of complacency about investment in agricultural research and development,” she says.

An opportunity for chang

The report, Transforming Agricultural Research for Development, outlines the problems facing the expected 1,000 participants at the Montpellier meeting.

Former World Bank Senior Adviser Uma Lele
Former World Bank Senior Adviser Uma Lele

“Lots of poor people. Nearly a billion people are food insecure today. The Millennium Development Goals are not likely to be reached by 2015. So I think the world communities and those who are concerned about poverty are saying that this is a wonderful time again to try and do some which is similar to what happened when the CGIAR was formed,” she says.

Forty years ago, widespread fears of famine and hunger in poor countries led to the creation of CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. It’s an international partnership whose mission is to “achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries through scientific research in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, policy, and environment.”

CGIAR recently implemented some reforms it says will revitalize it to meet new challenges.

Nevertheless, Lele says new thinking and “radical changes” are needed in 2010.

“I think there is a general consensus in the scientific community that they have done good research, but they really have not had poverty reduction directly on their minds,” she says.

She says new technologies “need to be mobilized to benefit the poor.”

Also, G8 countries are no longer the only major players. Emerging economies, such as India and China, now have greater roles in development, contributing to scientific and technological advances. And with more players, there’s more competition for resources, land and bio-fuels.

Lele says, “So the idea is to bring them all together to see whether collectively they can address these problems better than just working in a very fragmented environment.”

Talk is cheap

Lele estimates it will cost about $80 billion dollars a year to implement all the reforms needed to ensure food security for a rapidly growing world population. That’s double what’s been spent before. But the former World Bank senior adviser warns it’s not enough to make funding pledges.

“G8 countries have pledged $20 billion over the next three years, for instance. You know, in the past, these pledges haven’t materialized. So I think one of the first things that should happen is the pledges should materialize. That’s the least that can happen,” she says.

And she says national governments must not only do a better job of investing in domestic agriculture, they must also increase those investments.

“Climate change and commodity prices and all these things now require that we spend a lot more resources to address problems, which are going to be much more complicated in the future than they have been in the past,” she says.

The new report says global population will reach nine billion by 2050, up from the current six billion. Most of the increase is expected in developing countries.

The first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development runs from March 28th through the 31st.