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Achieving greater impact together

Dr. Mark Holderness’ term as Executive Secretary ended on December 31st, in line with the GFAR Charter. As GFAR Secretariat seeks to fill this role, we reflect on the contributions of Dr. Holderness to GFAR during his eleven years of service, in expanding and transforming our collective movement, shaping a new future for agriculture and food.

“It has been great working with you at GFAR. It is the challenge of translating research results to improving livelihoods in rural communities across the World. Thanks for showing some initiatives and shedding some light that it can be done if we truly work TOGETHER.”

Dr. Mark Holderness’ term as Executive Secretary ended on December 31st, in line with the GFAR Charter. As GFAR Secretariat seeks to fill this role, we reflect on the contributions of Dr. Holderness to GFAR during his eleven years of service, in expanding and transforming our collective movement, shaping a new future for agriculture and food.

“It has been great working with you at GFAR. It is the challenge of translating research results to improving livelihoods in rural communities across the World. Thanks for showing some initiatives and shedding some light that it can be done if we truly work TOGETHER.”

Sergie Bang, Regional Representative, Asia-Pacific, GFAR Steering Committee

Taking a new road requires a new road map

Taking up office in January 2008, Dr. Holderness hit the ground running, overseeing the launch of a groundbreaking process in rethinking, strengthening and transforming agricultural research for development (AR4D) systems around the world – the Global Conferences on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARDs). Dr. Holderness championed truly multi-stakeholder engagement of AR4D leaders at national, regional and global level, in this new dialogue on effective AR4D partnership. With a conviction that agricultural development must go beyond conventional, linear processes of research delivery and that international agricultural research should be more effectively integrated with national systems, Dr. Holderness strove to make the GCARDs the much needed mechanism to capture development needs through an inclusive, bottom-up approach. Three GCARD Processes, in total involving over 4,000 people, culminated in three major Global Conferences held in 2010, 2012 and 2016.

The GCARDs anticipated and helped drive a shift in the AR4D paradigm: in order to truly make agriculture and food innovation systems effective, they had to become more responsive and equitable by putting the needs and aims of resource-poor farmers at the center. Fueled and guided by a new and forward-looking plan for AR4D—the GCARD Roadmap, developed out of the first GCARD process—the multi-stakeholder GCARDs were much more inclusive than previous international AR4D processes. They had at their core the basic principles that our systems of agricultural research require transforming and strengthening to better meet the needs of sustainable development and that the systemic changes required must involve all sectors, including smallholder farmers and rural communities themselves.

“Mark made a huge effort to visualize and give space to farmers in the agricultural innovation and research system. This is an important change of paradigm towards a more inclusive, participatory and fair system.”

Juanita Chaves Posada, Senior Adviser on Genetic Resources, GFAR Secretariat

Indeed, under Dr. Holderness’ leadership, GFAR Secretariat worked to integrate the learnings from the GCARDs into the fabric of a renewed Global Forum that today boasts a network of partners 600+ strong, around half of which comprise Farmers’ Organizations, NGOS, CSOs and other local and grassroots organizations.

Concrete ways to act on complex issues

“Let us on behalf of CACAARI thank you and your GFAR Secretariat colleagues for your great work and support to us during your leadership time…It’s been a wonderful time…growing up from a small initiative group to the big multistakeholder Steering Committee in this short time of 11 years with you.”

Alisher Tashmatov, Regional representative – CAC, GFAR Steering Committee

The now renamed Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation continues the legacy of non-linear thinking which actively involves all agri-food sectors. The development of the concept of Collective Action is arguably Dr. Holderness’ most significant accomplishment, an acknowledgement of the complex web of actors interacting at all levels of innovation and the critical need to work together to achieve real development impact. Conveying this need, as well as the mission and nature of GFAR to be the open space for collaboration—not as an external body, but as the sum of all the parts and people in the system—was a daunting task. But it is a mission and role that Mark has successfully articulated, mobilizing and building consensus among thirteen constituencies operating at very different levels and scopes.

“Mark led and contributed immensely to democratizing voices that contribute to shaping the global agricultural research and innovation system and food security agenda, including improving the inclusiveness of the new voices by actively seeking them out from otherwise underrepresented constituencies – such as farmers groups, women, youth, and sub-constituencies from the global South.”

Bunmi Ajilore, Foresight Advisor, GFAR Secretariat

A GFAR Collective Action is expressly “a multi-stakeholder programme of work at local, national, regional or international level, initiated by three or more partners and prioritized by GFAR Partners, always including producers and with a particular focus on women and youth.” This modus operandi is distinctive to GFAR, and the linchpin to any governance reform in agri-food research and innovation systems that Partners in GFAR have undertaken. Importantly, it is the focus on producers in the whole value chain, including women and youth, which not only guides prioritization of GFAR actions, but also determines the structure of the GFAR governing body itself – its Steering Committee.

A Global Forum for all

In 2015, under the leadership of Dr. Holderness, GFAR began a process of major reform and renewal of its governance to respond to the challenge of being truly accountable to the needs of resource-poor consumers and farmers whose voices are less often heard. Obstacles remained to designing actions that were grounded in actual development realities. As Mark put it: “We have lost track of the link between agricultural science and its clients, the farmers”. But how to put all stakeholders on an equal footing and have an equal voice—from small farmer to agribusiness, researcher to politician, youth to seasoned expert?

“The fact that the representatives of the sectors in GFAR have been elected by their sectors themselves into the Steering Committee of GFAR was a breakthrough in forming Steering Committees. This was the first of its kind in comparable agricultural research and innovation fora. This model is now being followed by other fora, through sponsorship and technical advice of GFAR.”

Iman El-Kaffass, Senior Capacity Development Adviser, GFAR Secretariat

GFAR Secretariat set out to strengthen and enrich GFAR’s partnership base and operations to create a forum that is truly owned by all and able to foster change across all sectors. This reform led to the establishment, in 2016, of a new GFAR Steering Committee, elected by the Partners in GFAR through an open and inclusive process. Nine new local representative seats were each voted on and determined by their own constituencies, to represent the interests and local perspectives of the communities they serve.

“We’re here to work for the farmers and how they will benefit,” Mark reminded the members of the new Steering Committee at the opening of its strategic workshop held in June 2017. The Steering Committee had not been elected “just to represent themselves”; they had committed to advocate for the concerns of their constituencies and actively engage with and mobilize them to take forward Collective Actions with Partners in other sectors.

The first to put youth first

“I would like to take the opportunity to thank [Mark] for the valuable guidance and support we have literally enjoyed and cherished all these years—investing in youth is the agenda that GFAR supported from the start and much before any other agency or leadership took note of it—thank you for walking the talk with us and the big GFAR family and networks…”

Nidhi Nagabhatla Ph.d, Global Youth Representative, GFAR Steering Committee

In 2006, Young Professionals for Agricultural Development – YPARD – was launched to give a voice to youth in agriculture and help attract and keep them in the sector. With 500 registered members, it was the first organization of its kind, bringing youth-specific issues to the table in global AR4D discussions. In 2011, Dr. Holderness, seeing YPARD’s value and understanding the growing importance of young farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs, agreed to a supportive hosting arrangement for YPARD’s Global Coordination Unit, at FAO Headquarters. Through the commitment of the young people involved and with GFAR Secretariat’s  support , the YPARD network has since grown substantially, now with more than 25,000 members and 72 national chapters. Examples of YPARD’s successes include the adoption by the Regional Fora APAARIFARA and AARINENA of youth agendas; contributions to the youth strategy for the CGIAR’s Research Program (CRP) on Dryland Systems’ the first youth strategy among the CRPs; and various youth mentoring programs.

“Under Mark’s supervision, GFAR was one of the organizations that actively pushed and supported the youth-related agenda in their program of work. He understood the linkages between youth engagement and discussions or activities related to agricultural development. On behalf of YPARD, I’d like to thank Mark for the support he garnered for YPARD’s mission and work.” 

Yemi Adeyeye, YPARD Director

In 2016, GFAR Secretariat set out to address the lack of opportunities and access for youth in the agri-food sector through piloting the Youth Agripreneurs Project (YAP) in partnership with YPARD. The YAP Project aimed to stimulate smallholder youth entrepreneurship by providing seed funding for the projects of six finalists; mentorship to provide them with technical and motivational support over 12 months; leadership training; coaching and business development guidance; training, team building and networking opportunities at the GCARD3 Global Event; and social media training and access to the GFAR blog to share their journey. This innovative process attracted much enthusiasm and over 60,000 comments were posted in an open voting process for the best of these business cases.  A particularly striking success is the story of a young Ethiopian man who used the YAP seed money to set up an apiculture enterprise, generating secure new income for up to 50, previously unemployed, youth in rural Ethiopia.

Click here for other key GFAR achievements in “GFAR Impacts 2008-2018: A brief review highlighting 10 years of impacts in Transforming AR4D systems, Opening out agricultural data and Advocating for Farmers’ Rights to genetic resources”.

A movement for change

“The APAARI gained strength under your leadership from a tiny organisation to a 79-member strong body. We will continue to strive for strengthening the partnership as per SDG 17. With best wishes for your new endeavors.”

Yusuf Zafar, Chairman, Asia-Pacific Association for Agricultural Research Institutions – APAARI ( 2016-2018)

Mark Holderness always recognized that GFAR was a movement for change, not a stand-alone organization. As such, he always encouraged the partner organizations in the Forum to adopt the principle of networked collective action into their own work. These principles, helped to catalyse much development, change and strengthening of thematic networks in different sectors, led by the organizations concerned, in areas such as: education (GCHERA and RUFORUM); advisory services (GFRAS); research, through self-governed Fora in each region of the world and the establishment of AIRCA among international research and development organizations; and working to better meet the needs of women through the Global Conference on Women in Agriculture and the resultant knowledge-sharing platform, the Gender in Agriculture Partnership, now involving over 1,100 people.

GFAR was externally reviewed by independent specialists in 2018. The review found that through the reforms and growth over the last decade, the Global Forum has become a truly unique mechanism, valued across all sectors and with a common recognition across the Partners of its importance for reshaping agricultural research and innovation for development impact. GFAR’s emphasis on support to specific multi-stakeholder Collective Actions was also analyzed and found to be a particularly significant move that has demonstrated real impacts on behaviors and ways of working among its partners, with 20% of such actions impacting all the way through to fundamental change in institutions.

Part of Mark’s role has been to generate the financial resources for GFAR’s activities and the valuable commitment of FAO, the EU, IFAD, the CGIAR and many others has enabled not only the Secretariat’s work and the GCARD processes, but also enabled considerable catalytic funding to be provided to partner organizations to enable them to achieve change themselves, towards the shared mission of GFAR.

“Mr. Holderness,

It was a thrilling learning experience for me in meeting you and participating in the various fora for the GFAR. Your rich experience and knowledge were of the rare quality and definitely inspired and enriched us all. I am hoping that this will not be the end of this rewarding exposure and that we will find a way to tap into forest of knowledge to assist the national agri-businesses find avenues to grow and contribute to the global food chains adopting some of the innovative collective actions in research.

I was privileged.

Thank you and blessings.”

Nana Osei-Bonsu, Private Sector representative, GFAR Steering Committee

Going forward, and to ensure still greater impact, GFAR has been consolidating its work around key focus areas. These themes are:

Putting farmers at the centre of innovation;

Turning knowledge and innovation into enterprise;

Transforming the institutional architecture and strengthening capacities among GFAR partners; and

Strengthening knowledge management, policy advocacy, communication and impact demonstration through Collective Actions.

Within each of these themes, particular issues have been identified by the GFAR Steering Committee as their top priorities and these are now being addressed through Collective Actions of stakeholders of all kinds, who all share a passion and commitment to the theme concerned. These GFAR Collective Actions are led by the partners themselves, championing both their own actions towards the theme concerned and their working together with others for greater and faster impacts.

“It was a great pleasure working with you in the Steering Committee. Thanks so much for your great commitment to agriculture issues in developing countries. I believe and hope that our paths shall cross sooner and not later as we continue to focus on agri food systems for the growing populations.”

Agnes Mwang’ombe, Higher Education representative, GFAR Steering Committee

“Congratulations for all you have achieved in your role as Executive Secretary to make GFAR a truly representative and global forum.”

Trevor Nicholls, Representative of International Public Sector Agricultural Research, GFAR Steering Committee

As a networked organization, working through Collective Action, GFAR continues to provide an invaluable catalyst for change of benefit to all sectors, bringing real changes in our systems of agricultural research and innovation that will bring benefits to poor farmers and consumers around the world. The need for such a platform for participatory dialogue and development of new partnerships and business models was re-emphasized in the recent FAO Innovation Symposium. The Symposium clearly recognized the need to empower smallholder farmers and family farmers through innovation, facilitating its adoption and coordinating broader collective actions – GFAR has indeed now come into its own.

At the end of 2018, Mark Holderness’ work was recognized by the Tropical Agriculture Association, who recognized his outstanding contribution to agricultural development by awarding him as their Development Agriculturist of the Year, at a ceremony in London. Specifically, this award recognized Mark’s work in championing the views of farmers and their organizations, placing them at the centre of the international agricultural research agenda.

“Your contributions of the past several years stand as indisputable legacy which should guide the determination of the path into the future. We cannot thank you enough for them nor can we even start to sing nunc dimittis.”

Wale Adekunle, Senior Advisor – Knowledge, Innovation and Enterprise, GFAR Secretariat

Originally posted at GFAR's website.