Interview with Graham Thiele RTB-CRP leader

January 1, 2012 marked the official launch of the newest CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers, and Bananas (RTB).
Interview with Graham Thiele RTB-CRP leaderGraham Thiele

Led by the International Potato Center (CIP) – in collaboration with Bioversity International, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – this CRP is targeting the 200 million people in low-income and marginalized areas, who depend on these crops for their food security, nutrition, and income. Its goal is to more fully tap into the potentials of roots, tubers, and bananas for creating more diverse and robust food systems to reduce food shortages and improve lives. The program is prioritizing stakeholder consultation to make sure research is relevant to the end-users.

In the following interview, Graham Thiele, the new Director for the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Banana, gave an update about where the program is going and the importance of two-way communication:

Q: What is your first priority for the CRP RTB program?

Graham: The program design for this CRP involved a very extensive consultation process.  We had a bit of a lull due the final approval period but now we are trying to recapture the momentum and goodwill that was generated.

Q: Is communication an important factor to this process?

Graham: Two-way communication is fundamental – it is absolutely an essential feature of the Root, Tuber and Bananas CRP.  There is always a risk that researchers aren’t aware of the real opportunities and needs of the end-users.  The end result is detached research.  Therefore good communication means that you have a single system that is interlinked and making sure that research is tracking in the right direction.

Q: Is this process of stakeholder communication new to the CGIAR?

Graham: While stakeholder consultation is not new, this CRP builds upon the process in a bigger way, as it cuts not only across crops but also Centers and a broader community of stakeholders.  So this is a great opportunity to enhance communications across topics of common interest among Centers.

Q: Any challenges you’d like to mention?

Graham: One of the problems with Roots, Tubers and Bananas is that their importance tends to be underestimated by Ministers of Agriculture and planners.  So we want to get more evidence onto the table highlighting the importance of these crops.  A lot of emphasis will be placed on gathering evidence and targeting consultation with end-users about their needs to inform our priority setting – “placing our bets.”

Q: How’s that going?

Graham: First we need to understand what’s happening on the ground where these crops are grown.  As well, we need to know what’s happening among the four Centers and our partners – what are the new technologies being developed?  Which of these make the most sense?  There’s a really big range to choose among – from high-tech biotechnologies to low-tech farmer practices on the fields.  We’d like to know which is the best set of technologies to take forward and under which conditions – that’s the priority setting.

More questions we’re asking are: What do the users want and need?  What are the opportunities to match what we have on the research side that meet the demands of the end-users? We also want to understand local diversity and how gender comes into selection of technology. Once we answer these questions, then we can know how to move forward.

Q: Any stars among the Roots, Tubers, and Bananas that we should know about that are popping up as you do your priority setting?

Graham: The star among the Roots Tubers and Bananas is diversity and how this contributes to improved food security and incomes.  This is our take home message.