World Bank continues CGIAR funding only after U.S. push to maintain it
August 19, 2015
The World Bank has cut its funding for the global research institutions known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) from $50 million per year to $30 million, and agreed to that amount only after 46 U.S. agricultural groups and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., urged bank leaders to continue the funding.
Agricultural research advocates say that the World Bank's decision to cut the funding to $30 million and to promise it for only three more years has enormous implications for agricultural research, just when increases in agricultural production are needed to feed a population expected to be 9 billion to 10 billion people by 2050.
And researchers are planning to continue fighting for more money from the bank and for continued funding. The United States is a major funder of the World Bank.
The bank's decision to provide the $30 million is better than the original proposal to phase out all funding, but "I think the bank backing off at all is a mistake," said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, a former USAID administrator and president of Michigan State University, who was behind the letter campaign.
"This is a global good for which the bank's leadership is critical," added McPherson.
The research advocates said the bank's internal proposal to phase-out funding for CGIAR came as a surprise. The group was founded in 1971 by then-World Bank President Robert McNamara and Norman Borlaug, who had done his initial research on what became the Green Revolution at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, which is known by its Spanish language acronym, CIMYTT.
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Borlaug's work at CIMYTT, initially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to increase Mexico's farm productivity, led him and McNamara to conclude that agriculture was a powerful tool for combating hunger, but that more research was needed.
CGIAR has grown from four research centers to 15, with a headquarters in Montpelier, France, and also an office in Washington.
Since 2010, the CGIAR institutions work together in what is called the CGAIR Consortium with other agricultural universities and institutes. The Consortium is financed through the CGIAR Fund, which is administered by the World Bank, but to which 39 donors contribute money.
Even with CGIAR in place, low world commodity prices in the last decades of the 20th century led to less concern and funding for agricultural research. But the spike in food prices in 2008 led world leaders gathered in L'Aquila, Italy, in 2009 to commit themselves to global food security including research.
World commodity prices have since fallen, and the bank's cut in funding and lack of a long-term commitment appear to symbolize that agricultural research may once again be a lower priority.
Without putting anything on paper, bank officials began telling CGIAR leaders and agricultural research advocates early this year that the bank intended to end support for CGIAR completely over the next two years.
In February, then-U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah wrote World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, urging him to continue the funding.
"By chairing and funding of the CGIAR, [the World Bank] has helped millions of the world's most vulnerable people to break a tragic cycle of extreme poverty and disease," Shah wrote in a letter that has been quoted by advocates.
"Answering the challenge of global hunger requires a sustained effort over time — the type of support that only stable, long-term grant funding provides," he wrote.
"That is why the proposed elimination of the World Bank's direct, earmarked funding for CGIAR research is of serious concern."
Bank officials apparently remained committed to their decision, but on July 28, a coalition of 46 U.S. agricultural groups, including the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the American Farm Bureau Federation, AGree, and Oxfam wrote Kim and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urging them to continue funding for the CGIAR system.
The U.S. groups noted that after the world leaders agreed in L'Aquila "to pursue a Food Security Initiative that would prevent a reoccurrence of the crises engendered by the soaring food prices of 2007-2008 and better prepare for a food-secure future," the World Bank "took immediate and instrumental leadership in establishing the Global Food Crisis Response program."
But the U.S. leaders added that only a sustained research effort would make up for years of stagnant and declining investment in agricultural research and allow the goal of global food security to be achieved.
"The role played by CGIAR is too critical to the future of the world's food supply to ignore. These organizations want to make a particular point as to their support for research funding," the groups wrote.
At the same time, Roberts and Stabenow wrote Lew that they were "deeply concerned" by the bank's proposal to phase out the CGIAR funding and asked him to urge the bank to continue its support.
The CGIAR system, they wrote, "has pioneered solutions to some of the most significant barriers to global food security by improving crop genetics, developing innovative pest and disease control strategies and enhancing natural resource management.
"CGIAR research has generated two dollars in measurable benefit for every dollar invested while helping some of the world's most vulnerable communities break the cycle of poverty. However, we are tasked with feeding 9 billion people by 2050, and substantial challenges for global food production remain. Further innovation is needed to address pervasive hunger, mitigate the effects of extreme weather and increase productivity with limited soil and water resources."
The letters apparently worked — at least to a degree — because the organizers subsequently received an email from Juergen Voegele, the senior director of the agricultural and sustainable development practice of the bank, that $30 million had been approved for CGIAR for fiscal year 2016 and that the funding level would not fall below $30 million through 2018.
"We are pursuing various funding options, including an innovative Returnable Capital Fund (RCF) financing model, to ensure that WBG [World Bank Group} overall funding for CGIAR remains at a minimum of around $30 million," Voegele wrote.
But he added, "It is critical that the new RCF be resourced without delay to transition into a more sustainable funding model with less dependence on the World Bank budget."
A bank spokesman confirmed in an email to The Hagstrom Report both the continued funding and the bank's view that CGIAR should look for other sources of funding.
"The World Bank helped establish the CGIAR in 1972, and our commitment to it remains firm," the spokesman said.
"The recently approved World Bank budget for fiscal year 2016 includes $30 million for CGIAR. To place CGIAR governance and financing needs on a sustainable pathway, the World Bank is exploring new funding modalities so that CGIAR's proven and valuable contributions in agriculture and food security can continue unhindered."
CGIAR and its Consortium declined to comment on the situation, but U.S. advocates for CGIAR say they will continue to use their political muscle to put pressure on the bank.
McPherson said he doesn't have knowledge of the "tradeoffs within the whole bank," but that he believes the bank should find money from other accounts to get the funding level back up to $50 million.
"It's a signal to other donors," McPherson said.
The U.S. public advocacy campaign was organized at McPherson's request by Susan Schram, chair of education and advocacy for the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development.
"There are so many great reasons for the bank to be involved at a higher level," Schram said. "Many people work in agriculture and rural development in developing countries, and economic growth in this sector is key to achieving the bank's twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.
Schram is also a trustee on the board of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, a CGIAR center in Beirut
She noted that the bank had "required the CGIAR system to go through a very difficult re-organization; and there are significant win-win benefits — both for developing countries and the U.S. and other developed countries who invest in collaborative agricultural research."
Margaret Ziegler, executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative, a U.S. agribusiness effort to increase world agricultural production, praised the bank for providing the $30 million, but said bank money is needed over the long-term.
"The World Bank Group support for the CGIAR at a minimum threshold of $30 million through 2018 sends a strong signal that agricultural research and development is key to improving sustainable food and agriculture production for developing country farmers," Ziegler said in an email.
"Sustained funding for CGIAR is needed to ensure that the world's food and agriculture needs can be met, while conserving natural resources and alleviating poverty," Ziegler said.
"The World Bank is a critical cornerstone in this sustained funding model, which mobilizes additional funds from many sources and we hope that it will continue beyond 2018."
–The Hagstrom Report