International representatives from key sectors in agri-food research and innovation have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’, by committing to create more opportunities for rural women and youth, to equip tomorrow’s farmers and researchers with the skills they need, and to push for more investment so rural communities can grow and flourish.

These were just some of the commitments that came out of the Global Event of the Third Global Conference on Agricultural Development (GCARD3) that finished in Johannesburg on Friday (subs: 8.4.16). More than 500 representatives from farmers’ groups, science and research organisations, education and extension services, development agencies, civil society, and the private sector participated in event. Working to the theme, “No One Left Behind: Agri-food Innovation and Research for a Sustainable World”, participants together over three days to discuss how to turn research into impact for the benefit of farmers in developing countries, and how to strengthen national research and innovation systems to respond to issues like climate change, food security, nutrition, youth employment, gender equity and rural development.

Extensive national and regional consultation on countries’ priorities and needs over the course of 2015 and 2016 had identified five key challenges in realising the full development value from agricultural and food innovation systems. They were: to ensure better rural futures; keep science relevant and future-focussed; scale up research results for impact; showcase results and demonstrate impact; and to sustain the business of farming. To address these challenges, participants agreed to 17 actions that they would take collectively to help deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To ensure better rural futures, participants called for the establishment of foresight platforms that bring together research and innovation actors to develop a shared vision for their futures. Together they can then plan, design and implement initiatives to achieve that future vision.

To keep science relevant and future-focused, agricultural education programmes will be overhauled in 100 universities on five continents, to combine multi-disciplinary training in agriculture-related sciences with skills in leadership, entrepreneurship, interpersonal relations and team building. Continuing professional development will focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in agricultural practices, products and services.

In scaling up research to achieve more impact the GCARD3 committed to developing a ‘culture of impact’ across the agri-food research sector, to lobby for investment and capacity building, and to embed research and innovation into country’s own national agricultural systems.

To better demonstrate the impact of investment in research and innovation, stakeholders will contribute to national measures of progress toward the SDGs, and build countries’ own capacity to undertake integrated measures, as well as engaging with farmers, youth and women. Agriculture indicators will be harmonised and linked to the SDGs.

To support farming as a sustainable business, actions will include “clustering” of smallholder farmers so they can better participate in research and development and develop links to finance and markets. Evidence-based and demand-driven data will be developed to enrich policy and attract finance. At the same time, research and science will recognize the value of traditional farming methods and knowledge.

Dr Shadrack Moephuli, President and CEO of the Agricultural Research Centre, said the GCARD3 Global Event had been very successful in galvanising participants in understanding and exploring ways of implementing some of the SDGs. “Now it’s up to everyone who has a stake in agricultural research and innovation to find ways to implement these actions,” he said. “An important next step will be to take the GCARD3 Outcomes Statement to policymakers to ensure that the specific resolutions are properly resourced and implemented. We then need to follow up with monitoring and learning from the impact of implementing these decisions.”

Dr Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Co-Chair of GCARD3, said the meeting was a milestone in a continuing dialogue on how to transform agricultural research and innovation systems in developing countries around the world. “If we are to get research out of the labs and into the hands of resource-poor farmers, it’s going to require a more concerted approach across the different sectors, and more targeted investment in national agricultural systems. As a result of this week’s meeting, and the extensive national and regional consultations that have gone on in the lead-up to it, we can align our efforts and ensure we are meeting countries’ own development needs. We are ready to take action.”

Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, said agriculture is the backbone of sustainable development, but agri-food systems today are not sustainable, nor are they providing healthy food for all. ”We are also facing increasingly complex and alarming global challenges, particularly climate change. Action and forethought are required from us all – there is no longer time to wait. To ensure that CGIAR is best equipped to deliver solutions to these pressing challenges, we need ensure our current and future research agenda is, on the one hand, well aligned with the global development agenda and, on the other, with national priorities and needs. The results of the GCARD3 consultations have helped ensure the research we undertake now will be fit to solve the challenges of the future as seen by our partners on the ground – particularly farmers, both men and women.”

First published by CGIAR as Global agricultural research and innovation community pledges action for sustainable development. Photo: IISD/Kiara Worth