Jul 022012
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A walk down memory lane with Masa

Photo: JIRCASWe caught up with Masaru Iwanaga (pictured right), previously Director General of CIMMYT  from 2002 to 2008, and now President of the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), based in Tsukuba, Japan. CIMMYT is GCP’s host Centre. Here’s what Masa had to say about GCP’s early years, and where the Programme is today…

What was the vision for GCP at its foundation?
Our vision for GCP was to unlock genetic diversity through the application of modern science.

In 2002, as CIMMYT’s Director General, I proposed GCP to CGIAR. I’m proud that I was successful in convincing CGIAR to add GCP to its suite of Challenge Programmes.

GCP was based on partnerships. Partnerships were key because we wanted to mobilise modern science, both inside and outside CGIAR. We wanted to utilise modern science and CGIAR genetic resources for crop improvement.

Dave Hoisington and Peter Ninnes helped me draft the concept framework for how GCP would work.

GCP’s tagline – ‘Partnerships in modern crop breeding for food security’ – what does this mean for you?
I think we wanted to take advantage of our progress, especially in genomics to utilise genetic resources for the betterment of rural livelihoods. We wanted to utilise partnerships to enhance the gains made. I was involved in the establishment of GCP, overseeing the appointments of previous and current Directors, Bob Zeigler and Jean-Marcel Ribaut. GCP has made outstanding progress since its founding.

Practically all CGIAR activities are based on partnerships. Historically, CGIAR had been viewed in some quarters as technology-supply-driven – that technology was pushed on farmers who had to adapt to new varieties and adopt the technology that accompanied it. In the early years, GCP was viewed in the same light. I wanted to correct that view. Our objective was the effective utilisation of the genetic diversity that CGIAR is conserving –utilising this diversity for crop improvement. I had to work very hard to make people see this.

From what I’ve heard and been involved in, GCP has been one of the more successful Challenge Programmes in terms of meeting expectations. My view is very positive.

I left CIMMYT four years ago, and the progress that GCP has made during this time has astounded me.

For me, my life back then seems so distant to where I am now. But, recently I visited a national programme in a developing country, and the people I met had a positive view of GCP, saying it added value to their programme.

I’m currently head of the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences [JIRCAS, Tsukuba, Japan]. We conduct technical research activities.

I have mentioned partnership several times. This is because GCP is a partnership involving many organisations for the purpose of enhancing the capacity of national programmes to utilise advanced technology for crop improvement, taking advantage of genetic diversity.

Germplasm conservation by CGIAR Centres can be centralised but crop improvement needs to be decentralised because it is, of course, influenced by the local environment. It means we need to have capable crop breeders in national programmes. However, national programmes have been weakened in many developing countries, for various reasons.

By building capacity for developing-country breeders, we can contribute to stability by offering them the necessary resources, services and tools to progress and advance their work, and make them more efficient – and therefore more effective – in doing their work.

My fondest memory of my involvement with GCP was attending technical meetings and hearing the dialogue between a biotechnologist and a germplasm curator who were discussing how they could utilise each other’s strengths to conserve germplasm and enhance crop breeding.

What role did CIMMYT play then in supporting GCP?
In my role as Director of CIMMYT, I tried hard to make sure that CIMMYT was not misinterpreted as taking over GCP. Our role was to provide a management and administrative support framework for GCP to develop in its own way.

It’s been a real pleasure revisiting this chapter of my life.

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