In search of private partners
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CTA. 2005. In search of private partners. Spore 119. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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It is a marriage dictated by necessity: Agricultural research institutes in the South are increasingly teaming up with the private sector to source funding. But these partnerships, geared towards developing profitable products, do little to address ...
It is a marriage dictated by necessity: Agricultural research institutes in the South are increasingly teaming up with the private sector to source funding. But these partnerships, geared towards developing profitable products, do little to address the needs of local farmers Agricultural research in the South has not been spared the general cutback in public research spending that has hit most countries, including those in the North. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), average spending per researcher fell by half between 1971 and 2000 in Africa s agricultural public research sector. Donor contributions have also dropped sharply. In 2000, they accounted for only 35% of budgets, compared with 50% 5 years earlier. To bolster their resources, national research centres are looking for alliances with the private sector for joint projects. That is the idea behind Public Private Partnerships (PPP) pooling the know-how of both sides, as well as sharing funding and physical research facilities (e.g. laboratories, field for trials) to achieve mutually beneficial results. One party must come from the public sector (research laboratory, university, regional or international research centre, NGO) while the other must be from the private sector (company, private research centre, producers organisation). The stakes are high for ACP countries, keen to increase their agricultural output and to improve living standards for farmers, as well as for private firms, which are primarily concerned with their profitability. The major international agro-industrial groups have been working closely with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) for some time now, but to date they have invested little in the public research institutes of the South. In 2000, they contributed a mere 2% to agricultural research budgets in Africa. Working for a common cause Even so, PPPs have mainly developed in recent years due to pressure from international companies anxious to test their seeds and genetically modified crops. Thus, in an effort to promote its transgenic cotton Bt cotton Monsanto invested heavily in agricultural research in Burkina Faso and Mali. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is, together with the Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), trying to develop a variety of genetically modified maize that is resistant to the stalk-borer. The programme is financed by the private company Syngenta, a world leader in crop protection. The desire to develop new products is another factor driving firms to invest in research in the South. In Ghana, the Novella partnership has brought together the agro-alimentary colossus Unilever, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), Switzerland s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana and several NGOs. The goal of the partnership is to set up a production chain, from cultivation to sustainable use for oil from Allanblackia, a tree which grows in the tropical forests of Central and West Africa, whose nuts produce an oil which has beneficial properties and holds considerable commercial promise. Other types of partnership are supported by foundations whose main objective is to have an impact on local development. A case in point is an African project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce bio-fortified sorghum. It aims to produce a nutritionally enhanced variety of sorghum for African countries. The consortium, made up of African research centres, universities and a private company, has already developed a prototype variety. Fair PPPs In all cases, it is important that the roles of participants who should all be involved in contributing to the planning, resources and activities needed to achieve the chosen goal be clearly defined from the outset. Generally, PPPs are covered by a contract which stipulates the object of the research, methods to be used, the duration, costs, contractors, equipment and the allocation of any financial benefits which might ensue. In the Fiji islands, one project is combining environmental conservation with drug research and economic development. Villagers immerse artificial corals into the sea. The artificial corals are quickly colonised by plants and other living organisms, and are then sold to specialist suppliers for aquariums. In this way, the villagers secure a source of revenue and are also able to conserve their natural corals and their tourism industry, while scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the USA can continue with research into new medicines that may be derived from species colonising the coral reefs. If they find any, the villagers will be entitled to a share of profits from sales. Access to genetic resources and benefit sharing (ABS) are generally regulated by international agreements such as the Bonn Guidelines. When disputes arise, it sometimes falls to the courts to resolve the matter. One judgement recognised the rights of the San community in Southern Africa to hoodia, a hunger-suppressing cactus (see Spore 99). The company which marketed the product will have to pay the San 6% of its after sale profits, which are estimated at between US$3 and 40 billion. To avoid such measures, it is advisable to draw up prior informed consent agreements, even though these may take from several months to 2 years to prepare. Guyana, Malawi, South Africa and Vanuatu are the front-runners when it comes to closely regulating ABS. Many communities rich in traditional knowledge, interested in developing PPPs to earn revenue from their natural assets, are increasingly turning to monitoring committees, which represent their interests when it comes to examining partnership proposals, and ensure they get a fair deal. Taking account of local expectations When the initiative to form a partnership comes from private firms, national agricultural institutes in the South should be careful to preserve their independence. Indeed, research and funds tend to focus on crops destined for export or on products that are most interesting to the North. Crops that are less profitable but nonetheless crucial to local populations therefore risk being sidelined. Other types of partnership involving local enterprises or producers organisations allow research to be better adapted to the needs of the country. For example, research linked to specific financially profitable sectors, generally commodity sectors (e.g. cotton and palm oil) are largely financed by the stakeholders. In Côte d Ivoire, the Inter-professional Agricultural Research and Advisory Fund (FIRCA), which acts on behalf of federations of producers, is represented on the board of the country s national research council, le Centre national de recherche agronomique (CNRA) as well as on that of the national rural development agency, l Agence nationale d appui au développement rural (ANADER). It is therefore in a position to target research activities to the specific needs of farmers and to ensure that the results are disseminated. In this case, the link between research and national agricultural production is both strong and lasting. The same is true in Madagascar, where the national agricultural research institute, Institut national de recherche agricole (FOFIFA), works with exporters of organic vanilla. In the Dominican Republic, a PPP has paired off the national agricultural research body the Instituto Dominicano de Investigaciones Agropecuarios y Forestales (IDIAF), with a farmers organisation, the Cooperativa Francisco del Rosario Sanchez (CFRS), to develop a technique for processing bananas produced by the cooperative that would enable them to earn its organic label. In cases where research in ACP countries, especially in Africa, lack resources and depend increasingly on private funding, the expectations of small-scale farmers who produce for their own consumption and for local markets, are often ignored. With this challenge in mind, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is trying to involve firms in programmes previously defined as being useful to agricultural development in the countries concerned. This forum, together with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), urges greater global harmony between research efforts in the various sectors. It also makes efforts to involve local players (such as producers, distributors, extension agents) in decisions about future research.
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