A review of Phase 2 (2017–2019) of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has concluded that RTB is an effective program delivering high-quality science, with an important part to play in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals over the next 10 years. The review highly commends RTB for reversing the trend of CGIAR centers working on individual crops in silos and points out that “the existence of RTB helps to promote clonally propagated crops as a group to an international audience as important food crops.”

The review, commissioned and carried out by the CGIAR Advisory Services (CAS), is based on External Reviewer interviews with 40 RTB leaders, donors, and partners, a detailed study of a sample of outcome impact case reports, and a bibliometric analysis of 371 published papers using novel methods spearheaded by CAS. These phase 2 reviews of the current CGIAR portfolio should contribute to the re-casting of the CGIAR Research and Innovation Strategy to 2030.

RTB brings together four CGIAR centers and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD). The wide range of disciplinary skills that each brings to RTB has, the review says, created opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas and enabled researchers to take full advantage of synergies and complementarities. This is reflected in high-quality science; more than half (57%) of RTB publications are indexed in the Institute for Scientific Information’s Web of Science core collection and are open access. The review also highly commends RTB for repackaging many of its research results and tools as “golden eggs” for wider impact at scale.

The review commended the professionalism of the RTB Independent Steering Committee (ISC) and its role in improving the quality of science and program effectiveness maintaining the quality of science. Eugene Terry, ISC chair, commented “it’s very gratifying to see this positive review and recognition for the vital role of the ISC in providing independent scientific advice – it’s important this function is considered in the One CGIAR”.

Impressive outputs

At the same time as contributing to publicly available scientific knowledge, RTB also has an “impressive” record of physical outputs, according to the review. These include the release of 87 new crop varieties — the fruits of a modernized breeding program — and widely-applicable tools such as the Seed Systems Toolbox and approaches to pest and disease management, both of which have been packaged as golden eggs, which allow farmers to take advantage of online information technology.

The review catalogs RTB’s many milestones, including 131 innovations with 78 external partners, almost all of which involved other CGIAR centers. RTB was very active in policy work, contributing to 21 national and regional policy instruments. The largest single group of policy partners was government agencies that manage seed regulations and phytosanitary control.

RTB Flagship Program 5 — Improved Livelihoods at Scale — is recognized as making a significant contribution to sustainable intensification. The scaling readiness web portal — another golden egg — offers practical support for decision-makers, and the overall approach is attracting the attention of other CGIAR Research Programs.

“Scaling approaches,” the review says, “will enable further sustainable intensification of RTB agri-food systems”.

Cross-cutting themes

Cross-cutting themes are an important aspect of RTB research. Gender came in for specific praise as being well integrated into all the Flagship Programs. There are gender experts in each partner Center, and, the review notes, “gender research is well integrated throughout biophysical research”. Noteworthy too is RTB’s leadership of the Gender in Breeding Initiative, which is ensuring that the needs of women are represented in the product profiles that guide the development of new varieties. Tools developed to ensure gender-responsive breeding are another of the golden eggs.

Capacity development was crucially important in most of the outcome impact case reports evaluated by the review and climate change, likewise, is a significant factor in almost all the relevant case reports.

Youth in agriculture is a relatively new cross-cutting theme for RTB and CGIAR. While further integration will be needed, the review noted that RTB has worked to encourage young women and men in the production of high-quality cassava flour in DR Congo and other projects. Pilot studies are underway to understand better why and how young people take up agriculture and policies to support youth.

A golden future

Overall, the review noted “significant and measurable progress” in Phase 2 of RTB. Looking to the future, it highlights the importance of RTB’s golden eggs. These are some of the most productive research outputs that have been repackaged as collective knowledge assets with demonstrated broad applicability. Golden eggs offer a wider impact at scale and through them, RTB can further contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. The review says it is “critical” that these packages be developed and expanded to cover all of RTB’s many achievements. Indeed, it recommends that CGIAR consider the broader use of the concept of golden eggs.

The review includes recommendations for One CGIAR. The institutional reform to become One CGIAR will require a newly integrated leadership and Board in place this year to support collaboration for more coherent global and country responses. The 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy situates CGIAR in the evolving global context, which demands a systems transformation approach for food, land, and water systems. And importantly, it builds on CGIAR’s track record of collaborating with partners to deliver impacts for more than 50 years, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of hunger and poverty and supporting low-income producers and consumers. Clearly, the transition to the new portfolio should seek to conserve the strongest elements of the CGIAR’s successes to date, including the RTB golden eggs.

For more information on CAS: https://www.linkedin.com/company/cgiar-advisory-services/