Progress and challenges of CIAT’s new strategic initiatives

26 February, 2015 by (comments)

Building an eco-efficient future is the title of  CIAT’s strategy 2014-2020 and even though it was launched only last February, we made a great deal of progress by the end of 2014, which inspires us to start 2015 off with good prospects.


The progress comes directly from the concrete actions undertaken in less than a year to implement the strategic initiatives, the design of which was based on new, worldwide macro tendencies and on CIAT’s distinct and dynamic strength in research, in order to further the Center’s impact on development.

These new initiatives are aimed at promoting livestock production based on forages in order to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, develop more sustainable food systems, and improve environmental services in the agricultural landscape to improve livelihoods and well-being of the rural poor.

Below, we offer three good examples of how the implementation of these strategic initiatives is advancing and providing a new opportunity as well, to continue incorporating the talent, abilities, and skills of the scientists of CIAT’s research areas, in order to contribute to building an eco-efficient future for tropical agriculture.

Sustainable Food Systems

This strategic initiative is focused on more effective and more sustainable food chains that facilitate the reduction of food losses and environmental impacts, while improving equitable and attainable access to safe and nutritious foods, especially in urban areas.


In this sense, CIAT’s goal is to contribute to achieving sustainable and equitable food systems in an increasingly urbanized world, taking into account the dynamic role of the urban centers, their actors and resources, which foster commitment and innovation in agriculture and technology.

Further assistance on the road to meeting this goal is already supported and approved by CIAT’s Board of Trustees and counts on the constant inputs of a multidisciplinary work force that seeks to integrate the diversity of knowledge and experience of the Center’s scientific team, relying on the enthusiasm of the young researchers who are showing their interest in contributing to this strategic initiative.

Precisely because of this diversity of inputs, the innovative nature of this initiative, and the valuable recommendations obtained through a process of consultation with international experts, organized by CIAT in June 2014, two research areas have been prioritized:

  • Improving knowledge about the changing food demand and diets in order to establish priorities, implement social and technological interventions, and provide expert assistance in matters of food policy.
  • Improving knowledge in order to reduce crop losses and food waste in food systems, thus reducing economic, social, and environmental costs.

These two areas of challenging research require talent, genius, and sponsorship. It is in that way that, up to now, we have been able to count on the determined involvement of Michigan State University, with whom it is hoped to develop joint projects, given the complementarity of the research agendas. For its part, Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) is supporting, among other actions, the carrying out of doctoral theses focused on the theme of food loss throughout the food chains in the city of Cali, Colombia, and in its supply areas. The Ford Foundation was not slow in showing keen interest in co-financing projects such as the mapping of the links between urban and rural segments of the food systems in Cali, Colombia.

The perspectives for 2015 are very promising and progress is expected in the successful integration of these initiatives with the CGIAR global research programs (CRPs), especially with Agriculture for Nutrition and HealthRoots, Tubers and BananasGrain Legumes; Climate Change, Agriculture and Food SecurityLivestock and Fish; and Policies, Institutions and Markets.

Tropical forages for eco-efficient livestock production

This strategic initiative is focused on promoting livestock productivity and improving the interaction with agriculture, as a strategy for overcoming undernutrition and poverty in developing countries, while reducing soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.


Responding to this complex challenge has led to the identification of three points of entry and action as regards to research for development. They are:

  • Genetic intensification, where special attention is paid to achieving genetic gains in forage quality and improvements in productivity, by means of implementation of approaches and methodologies for the improvement of Brachiaria, with the goal of reducing the breeding cycles and speeding up to make progress in key parameters.
  • Ecological intensification, which aims at reducing yield gaps in milk and meat production, as well as contributing to restoring degraded soils to their former condition and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, among other challenges.
  • Socioeconomic intensification, where the main interest is on evaluating critical points such as the impact of forage-based production systems on the final users, in terms of productivity, food and nutritional security, and environmental benefits. Likewise, it is of special importance to evaluate the direct economic benefits that these production systems bring to the farmers.

The financial support received up to now has come mostly from the Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Economic Development (BMZ) and the CGIAR Research Program in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which constitutes a sort of cornerstone that will make it possible to carry the message and the practices of  eco-efficient livestock production to countries such as Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

For 2015 the perspectives are very positive as it is expected to achieve significant progress in the generation of high-quality data about greenhouse gas emissions in forage-based production systems, as well as the development of procedures for measuring methane gas emissions in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In fact, in the case of Colombia and Costa Rica, it is expected to provide technical assistance in the preparation of policies for the so-called Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA).

Ecosystem services for human well-being

This strategic initiative seeks to explore how the efforts to increase environmental services in agricultural countries, including food production, can improve the well-being and the adaptive capacity of rural communities. All this is oriented to finding new opportunities for the rural population in better management of environmental services.


This initiative’s team of scientists ended the year 2014 with a research agenda composed of five themes:

  • The role of the ecosystem services in strengthening the food and nutritional security of rural communities
  • Development of more effective tools and methods for quantifying and mapping ecosystem services in rural areas
  • Measurement of the socioeconomic value of ecosystem services and of the impact of agriculture on them
  • Evaluation of the benefits that result from sustainable practices to promote better investment in ecosystem services
  • Support in the development of innovative financial mechanisms for payment for ecosystem services

More details on this new research agenda

Among the main priorities of this initiative for 2015 is validating the two options of land-use in Latin America and Africa, to improve the ecosystem services of agriculture and reduce yield gaps, while identifying indicators of provision of ecosystem services in the two options mentioned above. Likewise, it will seek to advance in the methodology for quantification of ecosystem services and evaluation and analysis of compensations in Africa.

And remember, all this is just the beginning.

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