Latin America leads global agricultural innovation at CGIAR’s Americas-based centers

Christel Deskins

Nearly 50 years ago, Norman Borlaug, the Rockefeller Foundation and a group of scientists staked out a vision to help the world’s poor farmers and developing countries by improving agriculture through science. They began their journey in Latin America, improving varieties of maize and wheat to grow in harsh conditions. […]

Nearly 50 years ago, Norman Borlaug, the Rockefeller Foundation and a group of scientists staked out a vision to help the world’s poor farmers and developing countries by improving agriculture through science. They began their journey in Latin America, improving varieties of maize and wheat to grow in harsh conditions.

Today, that is the vision of the CGIAR, a 15-center consortium of research-for-development organizations pursuing a mission to reduce poverty and improve food and nutrition security for hundreds of millions of families around the world.

At this year’s 2020 World Food Prize event, which opens Oct. 12, four CGIAR centers are hosting an important conversation on their work in Latin America, highlighting innovations that will have implications for agriculture and agro-biodiversity everywhere.

The CGIAR Latin America centers roundtable will be held on Oct. 14 and feature the following speakers:

  • Ruben G. Echeverría, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • Bram Govaerts, Interim Deputy Director General, Director of Integrated Development, Representative for the Americas, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
  • Jesus Quintana, Managing Director for the Americas, the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
  • Ginya Truitt Nakata, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, International Potato Center (CIP)

Natasha Santos, the Vice President of Global Stakeholders Strategy and Affairs for Bayer Crop Sciences, will moderate the event, and Marco Ferroni, the Chair of the CGIAR System Management Board, will provide closing remarks.

The value of Latin America

Today, global agriculture is in stasis and under threat from climate change, and the role of Latin America to address this is crucial. As a biodiversity hotspot and home to more than a quarter of the world’s medium-to-high potential farmland, Latin America will bear a heavy responsibility to feed humanity while preserving the planet.

Approximately 23% of the world food exports come from the region and its agrobiodiversity is unparalleled. However, the 2020 Living Planet Report recently published by the World Wildlife Fund found that Latin America has seen more plant and animal species decline over the past 50 years than any other region of the world due to the conversion of natural ecosystems for food production.

According to Truitt-Nakata, the great variation of landscapes and climatic zones make Latin America the right place to study climate change impacts on farmers and food systems: “With 87 of the world’s 110 life zones, the Andes are a living laboratory for studying future agricultural challenges.”

For example, Truitt-Nakata and her colleagues in the Andean Initiative have a 10-year strategy to link with local partners to use the Andes as a climate laboratory to investigate climate change impacts over a range of conditions and to generate site-specific adaptation measures to build resilience practices into food systems.

At the roundtable, Truitt-Nakata and her CGIAR colleagues will discuss a range of innovations – like the Andean Initiative – developed to foster creative partnerships while harnessing the advances made in information technology and finance to unleash greater agricultural productivity, renovate food systems, and minimize the impact on the environment.

The potential of private-public partnerships

An expected theme of the conversation will be the potential of private and public sector partnerships (PPPs) to combine their strengths for addressing agricultural challenges and climate change impacts.

In Brazil, the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT is working with sustainable finance groups to support food security and sustainability initiatives in the Amazon. The Alliance collaborates with impact investors to drive a more climate-smart food system. The Alliance’s Quintana says the cooperation makes sense: “Food security, sustainable finance and science-based evidence are complementary.”

Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based IFPRI is creating an incubation facility to help develop a pipeline of investable opportunities to mobilize public and private sector funds to achieve food system transformation goals.

Says senior fellow Echeverría, “To scale up investments for a sustainable and significant transformation of food systems, we need to estimate the costs of achieving such transformation and consider the trade-offs between sustainable agriculture intensification, food security and nutrition, and prosperity and inclusion.”

Santos of Bayer Crop Science will moderate the discussion and provide insights on the private sector’s view PPP formation.

And the power of One CGIAR

The presentation will foreshadow the expected strengths and synergies to be produced with the shift to the CGIAR’s new arrangement, One CGIAR, expected to be launched in 2021. The One CGIAR will be a reconfigured version of its 15 centers today, having made assessments to create efficiencies in operations while renovating and adapting its strategic goals and programs to meet demands of the future.

While the name will have changed, the CGIAR will continue to focus on innovation, such as CIMMYT’s work with the AgroTutor application in Mexico. Developed in partnership with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, AgroTutor delivers information tailored to the needs of unique farmers or users, such as historic yield potential, local productivity benchmarks, recommended agricultural practices, and commodity price forecasting. As a result, farmers can make more informed decisions about market opportunities and how they spend their money on operations.

According to CIMMYT’s Govaerts, integrated systems that produce sound descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analytics to support better-informed decisions at the plot level are seldom accessible to smallholder farmers in Latin America and most parts of the developing world. AgroTutor is, therefore, a prime example of the CGIAR’s ability to listen to farmers’ needs, collaborate with partners and merge traditional knowledge with new technologies to achieve a sustainable transformation in agriculture. “We must listen to the current crisis to develop a matching transformative answer and overcome today’s challenges and shortcomings.”

Ferroni, from the CGIAR System Management Board, will provide closing remarks to the roundtable, drawing from his current experience as Chair, and from what he learned during his ten years as head of the Syngenta Foundation.


The roundtable will be hosted via Zoom

Link to event:

Event details: Wednesday, October 14, 2020; 7:45a-8:45a (CST)

For more information and media contacts:

Bioversity/CIAT: Adriana Varón: [email protected]

CIMMYT: Ricardo Curiel: [email protected]

CIP: Christopher Butler: [email protected]

IFPRI: Katarlah Taylor: [email protected]

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