Jul 082012
 
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SDC and GCP

Today, we catch up with SDC’s Carmen Thönnissen (pictured). She walks us through the whys of Switzerland’s continued funding to GCP that has spanned nearly the Programme’s entire lifetime.

We were …drawn to GCP’s upstream–downstream connections, and its pre-conceived product delivery path. GCP produces global public goods, with a clear focus on strategic research for development, while also addressing important upstream research elements in crop science such as gene discovery and marker validation. In addition, GCP already had a Product Delivery Strategy to guarantee downstream application.

The way GCP uses and ‘bundles’ resources within and beyond CGIAR, then as now, is attractive to us as a meaningful approach, promising good value for money.”

GCP’s work is very results-oriented and pragmatic, forging partnerships followed by concrete actions to address bottlenecks in research for development in molecular crop breeding, without ruling out conventional breeding.

Carmen Thönnissen is Senior Advisor, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Corporate Domain Global Cooperation of the Global Programme for Food Security. Through the years, SDC has been a consistent GCP funder. Today, Carmen gives us some insights into this longstanding relationship.

Tell us briefly about SDC and its funding to GCP
SDC is the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, affiliated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Government.

We’ve funded GCP since 2006 with an annual contribution of 450,000 Swiss francs – a total of 1.9 million so far.

SDC provides GCP core unrestricted funds at Programme level, meaning that SDC does not tie its funding to specific GCP projects, giving GCP discretion over these funds.

Why does SDC support GCP?
We share a long history with GCP, going as far back as the Programme’s ‘pre-birth’.

Starting in 2001, CGIAR adopted a more programmatic systemwide approach and endorsed the concept of Challenge Programmes. Between 2002 and 2005, SDC actively supported this process and the emerging Challenge Programmes.

In 2005, SDC reviewed its support to CGIAR and identified SDC priority regions, research priorities, and guiding principles for its unrestricted funding to the CGIAR system.

From this review, SDC decided to invest 30 percent of its core unrestricted funds to several CGIAR Systemwide and Challenge Programmes, one being GCP.

The Challenge Programmes were perceived as results-oriented, poverty-relevant and responsive to the CGIAR reform process of that time. They were also partnership-oriented, with transparent communication strategies.

Several points convinced SDC to invest in GCP, and I’ll mention just some of these. One was GCP’s focus on crops in marginal areas and on drought tolerance in sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. These overlap with SDC’s own thematic and geographical priorities.

We were also drawn to GCP’s upstream–downstream connections, and its pre-conceived product delivery path. GCP produces global public goods, with a clear focus on strategic research for development, while also addressing important upstream research elements in crop science such as gene discovery and marker validation. In addition, GCP already had a Product Delivery Strategy to guarantee downstream application.

The way GCP uses and ‘bundles’ resources within and beyond CGIAR, then as now, is attractive to us as a meaningful approach, promising good value for money. Back then, SDC was interested in the exploration of plant diversity and the application of advanced genomics and comparative biology to advance breeding of the main staple crops grown by resource-poor farmers, which was the very objective of GCP.

Our funds were intended to be used to increase the exploratory implementation of new research tools in applied breeding programmes to produce improved drought-tolerant crop varieties.

We liked GCP’s structured approach of a Global Access Policy backed by guidelines on public–private sector partnerships and addressing intellectual property.

We also found the ‘suite approach’ proposed by GCP attractive, since at that time, very little was being done in these fields by CGIAR. We were drawn to the mix of a research component – on the impact of modern and integrated breeding approaches on productivity in developing countries, plus a service component aiming to disseminate knowledge, resources and technology, alongside lab services and capacity building.

GCP’s work is very results-oriented and pragmatic, forging partnerships followed by concrete actions to address bottlenecks in research for development in molecular crop breeding, without ruling out conventional breeding.

You mentioned common SDC–GCP thematic and geographic scope. Are there other areas where the missions of SDC and GCP overlap?
SDC has a focus on genetic resource improvement, and also supported the CGIAR Systemwide Programme on Genetic Resources, as well as the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Supporting GCP is in line with SDC’s internal guidelines on Green Biotechnology. Among other things, we avoid single-donor initiatives, instead working within larger programmes that not only have a clear focus but also aim to strengthen developing-country capacity.

GCP’s work is very results-oriented and pragmatic. GCP plays a strong facilitating role in forging partnerships, which is followed by concrete actions, services, tools, methods, and so on, to address the bottlenecks identified by the research-for-development network with the aim of supporting molecular crop breeding for various crops, regions and partners, without ruling out conventional breeding.

SDC shares the view that Green Biotechnology, including genetic modification, can never fully replace conventional breeding, but it can be an important tool in improving plant-breeding programmes.

What outcomes are you expecting from this support?
To mention just a few, improved accessibility to modern breeding tools, methods and approaches for the developing world, plus enhanced capacity for developing-world partners on using these tools, as well as them knowing their rights and obligations regarding access to, and use of, plant genetic resources and related tools.

We also hope to see improved services for breeders, including learning materials and information on new resources for crop breeding. The long-term outcome we’d like to see is improved crop varieties, more resistant to abiotic and biotic stresses.

What are some of the lessons learnt from investing in GCP?
The importance of a strong programmatic orientation and the role of an honest broker in effective partnerships: GCP plays the role of enabler and facilitator, while its research partners are the actors.

Investing in GCP enables us to project a clear flow from upstream to applied research – with capacity building included – in the critical areas of food security and climate change.

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