At the World Food Summit in 1996, governments made a commitment to reduce food insecurity by 2015. We are now celebrating the World Food Summit: five years later and food insecurity data show that this commitment and its subsequent implementation have never been more urgent. The trend is that funding has been shrinking in the realms of national research and international assistance. However, to meet the Summit's commitments, it is imperative that governments provide support for agricultural research at national level and that NARS develop strategic plans for partnering with other institutions both regionally and across sectors. These collaborative efforts may draw on different capacities and compound efforts and investments to address issues of common relevance.
The viability and success of such collaborative endeavours depend on an agreed framework of roles and responsibilities within a systematic strategy to achieve commonly defined objectives. Such a strategy enables partners to build on areas of comparative advantage and historical expertise while benefiting from the experience and resources of other key stakeholders.
Mobilizing all relevant actors and institutions in the decision-making process, from priority setting to implementation to evaluation of results, promotes ownership and sustainability of outcomes and commitment to the ultimate goals of achieving food security by both government and civil society.
National agricultural research systems
National agricultural research institutions will continue to play a leadership role in mobilizing partnerships and coordinating activities. NARS will need to create mechanisms and foster a process for design, implementation and evaluation of collaborative research. In order for them to play this role effectively, significant shifts in their institutional orientation are required to increase flexibility, accountability and client responsiveness.
Programmatic time frames should change, moving from the perspective of a conventional project cycle of three to five years to one of sustainable strategic interventions that may require a decade or more. An integrated approach should incorporate consideration of external factors, such as changes in the terms of trade for crops on national or export markets. Coordination with and consistent engagement of policy-makers is critical in order to achieve the necessary level of commitment and investment.
There must be real institutional and professional incentives to reorient attitudes of scientists towards benefiting producers and consumers as their priority. Changes in human resource policies within the NARS must address the overemphasis on peer recognition and academic publications as keys to success and promotion. Rates of producer adoption and impacts of the new technologies should be considered as important criteria for assessing research performance.
Good communication systems constitute the basis for effective coordination of policy and research. Innovation in communication technology and information exchange and in methodologies for collective decision-making and consensus building, will enable representative participation of actors and partners in the identification of challenges, design, implementation and evaluation of research. It is essential, however, that avenues for communication and mechanisms for representation be customized in ways that do not exclude those who have less familiarity with information technology or formalized procedures.
The need for research institutions to collaborate and pool resources with government agencies is clear. For example, farm extension services offer a pre-existing network of contacts, experiences and information for testing, monitoring, adaptation and evaluation of research. Demographic and statistical services can furnish the kind of detailed, comparative data over time needed to judge household composition and revenues in relation to food availability and consumption.
All line ministries that regulate areas concerning food security, such as health, education, transport, energy, trade, finance and economic planning, should commit to the process. However, not all governmental bodies are equipped or committed to meeting food security challenges. Some will need to broaden their mandate in order to build food security issues into its agenda. Linkages will need to be developed at local, intermediate and national levels among relevant ministries, as well as between them and research institutions and agricultural extension.
In order to win the commitment of policy-makers who determine the level of resources made available to the NARS, research will have to demonstrate the actual and potential linkages between project results and the needs of food insecure populations. Convincing illustrations of the benefits of applied research or projections on the long-term impacts of basic research will be central to securing political favour and public support. Advocacy by producers' and community organizations and by local and international NGOs can also contribute to establishing a mandate for policy-makers to provide resources for food security research as part of an overall strategy to protect or bolster the economic viability of rural areas.
An interdisciplinary approach should reinforce a balance between technical and social solutions to food security. Increases in agricultural production and greater availability of relevant technology to small producers and vulnerable groups will address some challenges. However experience has demonstrated that some low-income groups in rural areas may remain vulnerable to food insecurity, even in situations of food availability. It is important, therefore, to combine technical efforts to increase production and marketing, with attention to macro-level and microlevel economic and social issues that shape differential access to resources and food. This may entail the development and implementation of policy and actions by a range of public and private institutions to promote diversification and sustainability of incomes to include all, even the most vulnerable. In particular, policy-makers need to consider:
NGOs, community-based organizations (CBOs), women's groups, consumer associations and others
Food security is already at the heart of agendas and practices of many non-governmental and community based organizations working in rural areas or among the urban poor. These organizations can play crucial roles as avenues of communicating between researchers and civil society, as clearinghouses for information exchange and as advocates for policy change. In order to be effective, efforts need to be directed to:
Developing mechanisms and methodologies to catalyse strategic partnerships of public and private sector institutions is a key component of a holistic approach to food security concerns. The growing emphasis by donors and governments on cost-effectiveness and accountability and on economic policy trends that favour the cost recovery and containment of public spending points to the need to actively engage business enterprises in the process of food security research. Private firms and commercial institutions can provide a wealth of resources, expertise and vision to bolster the NARS capacity to develop and implement a client-responsive agenda.
However, because the private sector tends to favour short-term returns and better endowed producers, an appreciation of its potential role should be balanced with a continued commitment by the NARS to find sustainable solutions to food insecurity and to serve the needs of vulnerable groups and limited resource producers. Due to their different orientations and constituencies, mechanisms and processes need to be established to facilitate discussion and negotiation between groups such as agricultural research institutions, the private sector, civil society, producer organizations and consumer groups. Discussions between these groups should address controversial issues such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), patenting, intellectual property rights and benefit-sharing agreements for cultivated and wild resources.
FAO, CGIAR, GFAR and other international institutions
FAO can assemble the leadership of NARS and other international agricultural research and development agencies, as well as decision-makers who set government objectives and priorities for food security in order to share information and resources and to reach common policy positions and plans of action. In so doing, it will foster the development of an agreed mandate and framework for national, regional and international collaboration.
CGIAR can mobilize experience and resources in the full range of agricultural production and integrated systems. The institutes specialized in policy and research systems (e.g. IFPRI and ISNAR) add dimensions important to advise on management, administration and coordination.
The GFAR Secretariat can work with the NARS regional and subregional fora and other partners in the process of "appropriation" of these ideas by NARS fora and facilitate the interaction among stakeholders, which is critical to the implementation of these recommendations. The two most important dimensions to address are those of the NARI/NGO and the public/private sectors.
As a priority, these international partners can provide: