Making Partnerships Work for Agricultural Development

by Ruben Echeverria


Ruben Echeverría is currently Director General of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, based in Cali, Colombia), one of the founding centers of the CGIAR with agricultural research for development activities in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Previously, Ruben was Executive Director of the Science Council of the CGIAR, based at FAO, Rome; and before that he worked at the Inter-American Development Bank in agriculture and rural development. Ruben holds a BSc in Agriculture from the University of Uruguay and a MSc and PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Minnesota.

I congratulate the AgroLAC 2025 initiative and would like to offer a few personal comments as a modest contribution to the ongoing dialogue focusing on key aspects for the success of AgroLAC. I enjoyed reading all comments in the blog and I particularly agree with María Beatriz Giraudo on the huge asset we have in many parts of LAC on highly competitive sustainable intensification practices.  I also agree with Pedro Suarez on now being the right time to spearhead agricultural development in the region if we get the partnerships right!

Over the past four decades, CIAT has worked on hundreds of projects involving sustainable agricultural intensification (we call it ecoefficiency) and sustainable food systems (including value chains from farmers to markets and from markets to consumers).  From these experiences, we know that these two areas are critically important pillars of agricultural development, and as such must be strengthened. But this is only the beginning of our task to make Latin America and Caribbean the world’s breadbasket and thereby a linchpin in the effort to achieve global food security.

At a recent conference on the future of the Americas organized by the Clinton Foundation in Miami, we arrived at the conclusion that it is indeed likely that the region can play that global role if investments in agricultural research and extension are complemented with an effort to implement effective agricultural public policies and to strengthen public-private partnerships.  And we know from our own experiences that there are a multitude of opportunities to scale up successful initiatives in these areas.

Imagine for a moment if we can resolve the bottlenecks we face by deploying a new generation of agricultural experts who are set to graduate in the next three to five years.  (Yes, agricultural universities are full again!)  At the same time, we need to rethink how to engage with partners in large outcome-driven programs, with an eye toward opening them up to a wider array of partners from the private and public sectors and also to a combination of many types of organizations such as producer associations, foundations, think tanks, universities, and other civil society institutions. If we can identify market led win-win propositions in such partnerships  perhaps the main challenge ahead would be to focus on the identification of  substantive programs and on the key complementary partners to implement them. Such programs could be cross cutting and include sustainable agricultural intensification, linking farmers to markets and policy and institutional aspects.

In addition, we should consider the huge heterogeneity within countries in the LAC region not as a challenge but as a plus. That is, an incentive to grow intra-regional trade and the possibility of covering a broad range of products for export outside of LAC.

I remain confident that there is relevant (practical) knowledge out there and that the timing is right to promote agricultural development throughout the region. As we do this, we should continue to invest in agricultural productivity to keep the pipeline strong, since what we are ‘harvesting’ today are the investments made in the past two or three decades.