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New CGIAR research program aimed at productivity

A new $957 million agricultural research program to be announced Thursday by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research is designed to increase productivity in developing countries, but climate change may mean eventual implications for wheat and other crops in developed countries as well.

“One of the things that really concerns us with global warming is that diseases that used to occur only in the developing countries are now moving north,” Lloyd LePage, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium of International Research Centers, said in an interview with The Hagstrom Report. The consortium will coordinate the new effort.

LePage cited the need to stop Ug99, a wheat rust found in Africa but now spreading to other countries. “What we do today in wheat research in the developing world could save or provide additional productivity back in the U.S. or Europe later on.”

CGIAR is best known for its 15 centers such as the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center in Mexico, where Norman Borlaug developed the wheat that led to the Green Revolution. The new effort will ink those centers with hundreds of national agricultural research systems, non-governmental organizations, advanced research institutes, civil society organizations, farmer organizations, and the private sector through the consortium, which CGIAR established in Montpelier, France, in 2010 to make sure that all the institutions share their research and do not compete for funds.

Governments and private donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have approved new research initiatives on wheat, meat, milk, fish, roots, tubers and bananas, as well as measures to improve nutrition and food safety and identify the policies and institutions necessary for smallholder producers in rural communities, particularly women, to access markets.

The new programs will target regions of the world where recurrent food crises — combined with the global financial meltdown, volatile energy prices, natural resource depletion, and climate change—undercut and threaten the livelihoods of millions of poor people, LePage said.

In addition to technical research on issues such as drought tolerant crops, the program will address policies that would support small producers in poor rural communities such as the movement of food products across borders, investment in research, investment in extension, commitment to agriculture.

The group will place special emphasis on women in agriculture but will leave the subject of land rights for women in Africa to national governments. The $957 million funding level is a mixture of new and existing commitments from donors, LePage said.