How International Research Is Coping With the Current Crisis

Perspectives from the annual meeting of CIM experts based at Agricultural Research for Development Centers

Visual:© Steffen Entenmann

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a major transformation of agriculture and agricultural research.

How will it affect rural landscapes and food systems? Which strategies can the Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) community adopt to efficiently respond to future challenges?

These were the main topics of the annual Meeting of CIM-Integrated Experts and Returning Experts in AR4D Centers (CIM-BEAF Meeting).

Entry points to cope with the pandemic — No one size fits all response

The meeting found the entry points to cope with COVID-19 in agriculture and rural development include specific technical or agronomic solutions as well as more systemic approaches aimed at whole food systems (see visual above).

The international AR4D Centers are traditionally strong in genetic improvement of crops such as increasing their climate change adaptability or pest resistance and providing technical innovations like those related to sustainable mechanization. However, the Centers increasingly broaden their research focus in order to provide also systemic solutions related to climate change resilient food systems, natural resource management, holistic landscape approaches for land use planning, and sustainable finance to stimulate rural economies and development.

Not surprisingly, also digital tools, including information and communication technology, were considered to play a potentially important role in COVID-19 response strategies. For example, many experts managed to maintain their workflows even during the curfews by using digital tools for team meetings, extension services and even data collection. However, the experts also saw limits to the potential of digital solutions.

Significant challenges include limited connectivity, restricted access to electricity and devices, as well as lack of digital literacy of many rural actors. Especially experts located in African countries therefore emphasized the importance of complementing the use of digital tools by target group-specific non-digital approaches such as radio messages.

Independent of any specific type of intervention, a sound understanding of the role of age groups and gender has been considered critical for all response strategies. Especially women and youth must be key target groups.

About the Integrated Experts and Returning Experts

About 35 experts are placed by BMZ/GIZ at international AR4D Centers, which include the Centers of the CGIAR, the World Vegetable Center and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). The experts work in about 20 different partner countries on a broad range of topics, including plant physiology, land use, gender, digitalization, communication, value chains, and scaling of agricultural innovations.

The CIM-BEAF meeting is the main exchange platform for the experts. The latest exchange on 7/8 September was the first that took place in an entirely online format.

How was the CIM-BEAF meeting prepped?

The experts were asked to take a survey to

  • Share personal and professional experiences they made during the crisis
  • Suggest COVID-19 coping strategies
  • Evaluate the perceived role of international AR4D Centers in these strategies

During the meeting, the results of the survey were discussed in regional workgroups — Latin Amerika, Africa, and Asia. The main findings of the meeting were presented at the BMZ session at the “Tropentag Conference” on 10 September.