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Research management: A key ingredient

An FAO paper reviewing FAO's experience in strengthening NARS notes that FAO's first attempt to come to grips with research organization, planning and management issues at the national level was at an FAO European meeting held in London in October 1951. At the meeting, a survey of approaches to administration and financing of agricultural research by European countries was examined. It was also in 1951 that FAO appointed a part-time officer to deal with agricultural research. In 1962, the position was made full-time. A number of national projects with research organization and administration components were conducted. A research centre was established in FAO in 1972, which, in addition to national research support, also provided the Secretariat of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). These two functions were separated in 1976, and the Research Development Centre (RDC) became the focal point for research support activities in FAO, including sole responsibility for research organization and management aspects of FAO's assistance. In FAO's The State of Food and Agriculture 1972, it was noted that "... guidance in programming, administration, the establishment of appropriate institutions as models for new programmes, training in research techniques, and training of research directors, managers and administrators..." were areas that deserved support.

From FAO review and planning missions and recommendations arising from expert consultations and seminars, increasingly the message was that poor management of existing human, financial and physical resources was the greatest bottleneck to agricultural research in developing economies. In late 1983, FAO convened an expert consultation on strategies for research management training in Africa, where one of the delegates, Dr Amir Muhammed, echoed the prevailing opinion: "Experience has shown that management capability becomes a limiting factor in getting the full benefits from an agricultural research system..." Based on the recommendations of that consultation, FAO initiated preparation of agricultural research management manuals, and began a programme of regional and national management seminars and workshops. While concern was growing within FAO about management capabilities in NARS, this concern was reflected elsewhere.

It had become such an issue during the 1970s that the Rockefeller Foundation and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany convened a meeting in Munich in April 1977 to discuss the possibility of creating and supporting a service to assist the development of NARS in developing economies. This meeting led to the establishment of a task force "to consider the need for an international service to strengthen national institutions and programmes for agricultural research." The task force concluded that "existing agencies... cannot meet the pervasive needs of NARS in full." It was proposed that a new organization be established as a part of the CGIAR system to "concentrate largely on planning, organizational, and management issues." On 1 October 1980, the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) was established. Its ultimate goal was "to enable developing countries to plan, organize, manage and execute research more effectively from their own human, natural and financial resources." Recognizing that this goal was more than any one organization could manage, ISNAR was instructed to "work in close cooperation with all international organizations, in particular FAO." ISNAR's constitution provided for a trial period of six years to test the need for the service. On the recommendations of an external review team, the ISNAR Board and TAC, ISNAR was subsequently made a permanent international institute in the CGIAR system.

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