As part of ongoing evaluation of Science Groups (SGs) at CGIAR (TORs), in April 2024, three members of the two SG evaluation teams, namely Edwin Asare, Bettina Haussmann and Kafayat Fakoya, embarked on a field mission to Ghana, engaging in in-depth discussions with staff of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES). The objective was to gain insights about their partnering with CGIAR and explore the outcomes of their collaborative efforts. Here's a summary of the key themes discovered from this five-day engagement.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Strengthened Partnership and Capacity Sharing: CGIAR and NARES in Ghana deepened collaboration between partners towards fostered inclusive research and shared responsibility, and empowered local scientists, and improved succession planning.
  • Alignment with National Goals: CGIAR's focus aligns with Ghana's development objectives, (e.g. gender equality, youth empowerment, and strengthening partnership). However, inclusion of youth and more vulnerable groups can be improved.
  • Accelerated Breeding: CGIAR's support expedited breeding programs with off-season breeding, improved irrigation, and enhanced efficiency.
  • Diversified Food Production Systems: The introduction of aquaculture into small dams in four predominantly agrarian communities has had an effect on increasing income, improved nutrition, created jobs, and improved the multipurpose use of water infrastructure.
  • Bundled Innovations: Bundled innovations developed with private sector for smallholder farmers, in turn integrated technical interventions with institutional ones, and accommodated smallholder women with tools specifically for their needs.
  • Private Sector Engagement: While present in seed dissemination, stronger engagement with larger seed companies is vital for impactful scale-up.

 

Successes and Overarching Themes

The evaluation teams note a robust partnership between CGIAR and Ghana's NARES, Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), showing increased coordination and inclusive practices. Progress in off-season breeding, private sector engagement, capacity building, and alignment with national goals, all signal promising strides towards sustainable agriculture and food security.

A Strengthened Partnership and New Opportunities: CGIAR and NARES are committed to deepening their collaboration, as seen through the increased coordination of genetic improvement activities and the hosting of various training workshops. CGIAR's increased focus hosting opportunities has significantly benefited SARI and CSIR, enabling them to take a more active role in managing projects. This strategy not only reinforces existing partnerships, but also paves the way for innovative and sustainable practices in the future. The shift from a top-down approach to a more collaborative model has proven to be mutually advantageous, by fostering joint problem-solving and creating a sense of community among all stakeholders. 

By providing scholarships, specialized training, and opportunities for international exchanges, a more vibrant and skilled research community in Ghana was created. This led to a changed mindset, e.g., local scientists’ wish for continuous improvement of their breeding programs, which was not explicit before. NARES noted that this enhanced capacity building equips local scientists to tackle the unique challenges within the country's agricultural sector, contributing to broader food security and agricultural sustainability. 

SARI scientists showed the area to the IAES SG Evaluation team. Photo: IAES.

Off-Season Breeding Acceleration: CGIAR’s support for off-season breeding, including improving irrigation access, was noted to sped up breeding programs. This has led to quicker development of new crop varieties. Sharing provided equipment across different crop breeding programs helps with efficiency and effectiveness. 

Cooperation with the Private Sector: Cooperation with local private sector actors was observed for seed dissemination and on the local value chain site, however with variable extent of cooperation among crop breeding programs.  Private sector actors participate in market intelligence, seed production and dissemination activities. However, cooperation with larger seed companies was not very visible.

Alignment with National Development Goals (NDGs): Finally, evaluation team notes that CGIAR's goals align with Ghana's national development objectives. Their emphasis on agriculture as a driver of economic growth and employment creation resonates with the country's priorities. Additionally, the focus on gender equality and youth empowerment aligns well with Ghana's social objectives, fostering a stronger partnership.

Shared Commitment to Climate Resilience: Both SARI and CSIR acknowledge a shared commitment with CGIAR toward climate resilience. Both entities understand that developing climate-resistant crops and practices is essential for sustainable agriculture. This common vision allows for focused collaboration on addressing climate-related challenges in agriculture. 

 

Key Learnings for Consideration by CGIAR 

The following lessons from Ghana can help increase effectiveness and build stronger partnerships:

Communication: CGIAR should establish formal communication channels to ensure transparency and a more stable flow of information. This would foster clearer decision-making by involving broader leadership teams and directorates instead of dependance on personal relationships. More and better communication efforts about CGIAR are necessary to complement a strong identity of CGIAR centers. Among other reasons, a reinforcement of the CGIAR country convener position would facilitate clarity on CGIAR and its key contact persons. Continuously changing individuals represent a challenge for NARES and for the private sector. More constant staff at the CGIAR site dedicated to strengthening the national breeding programs could help to build the type of trustful relationship required to manage change and achieve relevant, efficient and effective improvements. Additional confusion was observed on which of the CGIAR centers handles sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut (CIMMYT and/or ICRISAT). Effective communication is emphasized to ensure successful collaborations and minimize misunderstandings. 

Integrated Food Systems Approach: adopting an integrated food systems-led transformation approach by CGIAR should increase coherence by exploiting potential synergies among different SGs within and outside, including agroecology, mixed livestock-crop farming, agronomy, small animal productivity, market intelligence, breeding resources, and gender.

Attention to Indigenous Crops: CGIAR should broaden its focus to encompass a wider range of crops, including those that are indigenous to the region- they play a vital role in Ghana's food security. The Genetic Innovation (GI) SG could re-orient its approach towards resilient production and nutritious food systems. For example, even modest support funds (e.g., for a diversity analysis in crops like sesame or an evaluation of fonio ecotypes or local Ghanaian Frafra potatoes), could be beneficial, especially when it comes to serving the most vulnerable and poor, and to tackling malnutrition and/or climate change adaptation.

Strengthen Public-Private Partnerships for Impacts at Scale: To strengthen integration and complementarity with larger private sector actors, especially bigger seed companies, more efforts are needed to clarify the variety licensing conditions between NARS or CGIAR and the private sector, as well as the possibility of exclusive licenses, and how this relates to CGIAR’s mandate to produce international public goods. Joint development of socially inclusive business models and defining how benefits will be shared in an equitable manner within public-private partnerships could be a good step in the right direction.

Capacity Strengthening: Although CGIAR has taken steps to involve younger talent in its programs, such as supporting PhD programs, more needs to be done to provide attractive career opportunities. This could help retain young professionals and sustain their interest in agricultural research. Including the individual strengths of various national programs in Ghana and even the West African region, as well as giving strong programs more opportunities to take over leadership roles in GI, could further strengthen local capacities.

Youth and Social Inclusion: CGIAR should develop standardized indicators for youth and social inclusion, separate from the gender indicators but aligned to impact area.

Rice Breeding site at Crop Research Institute, Kumasi. Photo: IAES. 

Infrastructure and Funding: Despite significant progress with support of the Breeding Resources Initiative, infrastructure challenges, such as unreliable mechanization for harvesting, have been affecting the efficiency of breeding programs. Several staff members mentioned that a needs-based provision of vehicles to specific breeding programs could help to render them more efficient, especially when it comes to important farm work and supporting large-scale farmer experimentation. Additionally, delays in funding from CGIAR and other partners cause setbacks in project implementation. By closely involving SARI and CSIR in project development and budgeting, CGIAR can ensure a smoother workflow and better alignment with local needs.

 

Lessons Learned: Evaluating CGIAR’s Work at Country Level

The evaluation team found value in both individual and group discussions, with the group’s discussions fostering learning, also among the group members (e.g., among different crop breeding teams at one institution). Brainstorming sessions and collecting individual ideas using post-it notes helped to include ideas of all participants and to maintain anonymity for sensitive questions. While structured meetings were important for addressing specific evaluation objectives, informal settings allowed for more relaxed conversations, leading to deeper insights and stronger connections with NARES.

The evaluation team benefited from SARI's and CSIR’s deep understanding of local contexts and their willingness to share insights. Developing a collaborative spirit with NARES enabled the evaluation team to gather more comprehensive insights and build trust. The evaluation team was very thankful for the support received.

Rice Breeding nursery at Crop Research Institute, Kumasi. Photo. IAES.

The field mission to Ghana across two evaluation teams was invaluable to shedding light on the evolving partnership between CGIAR, SARI and CSIR in the field of GI, as well as the RAFS SG. Positive outcomes such as strengthened collaboration, capacity building, and inclusive practices, indicate a promising future, enabling more effective and user-oriented variety development to become an important component of the agricultural research and development in Ghana.