Dave Watson: Steering the MAIZE CGIAR Research Program

Dave Watson grew up on small family farm in northeast England. He has over 30 years of commercial farming experience. He has a BSc in Agricultural Botany from the University of Reading, UK, and an MSc and PhD in food system development from the University of Hull, UK. Throughout the 1990s, he taught courses on Sustainable Agriculture and Environment at the University of Hull. During the past 10 years, Dave has managed research-for-development partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa, first as program leader for innovative partnerships in the Innovation Systems Programme of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and more recently as Director for Project Development and Management at IITA. Major achievements include the adoption of innovation systems and value chain approaches in IITA. Key aims of his professional career include ensuring that agricultural research is demand driven and leads to significant development outcomes and impact.

The CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) is a multi-center, multi-million dollar, multi-partner, and multidisciplinary program. Please describe your job as director of this program.
My responsibilities are to ensure the successful implementation of the program under the guidance of the MAIZE Management Committee and in coordination with partner institutions; contribute actively to developing effective research and development teams from diverse partner institutions; coordinate the development of impact-oriented, realistic workplans among project members and partners, and support their effective implementation, aligned with available resources and priorities; develop communication, M&E, and knowledge management strategies and facilitate their implementation in collaboration with other personnel; and coordinate partners’ assessment of research priorities to support resource allocation decisions and the development of effective research teams. I also ensure timely reporting required by the CGIAR Consortium and FUND Council; coordinate meetings; and execute agreements with major R&D partners and investors.

In which area do you see MAIZE making its biggest contribution?
I see MAIZE making its biggest contribution in three main areas:
Harnessing the comparative strengths of CIMMYT and IITA in the quest to ensure that MAIZE contributes as efficiently and effectively to human food security, nutrition and health, and the sustainable intensification of maize-based systems in target geographies across the developing world. This is the first attempt to create lasting synergies between CIMMYT and IITA across all areas of R4D.

Increasing collaboration between MAIZE and other key CGIAR Research Programs to ensure that investments in international agricultural R4D (IAR4D) are much better aligned and work collaboratively to address the needs of poor producers and consumers. This entails working more effectively in the same production geographies and value chains. Aside from the Challenge Programs (which were not as successful as envisaged), this is the first real attempt to foster synergies and reduce duplication of efforts across CGIAR. The key partnership that MAIZE is trying to forge is with the CGIAR Research Programs on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics). Much discussion is under way to better align systems work under both programs.

Building partnerships between MAIZE and other partners to ensure that IAR4D directly meets the needs of beneficiaries, and to better align program outputs and strategies to achieve intermediate development outcomes (IDOs) through co-development of and facilitation of robust impact pathways.

This program involves more than 350 partners from the public and private sector. What would make the partnerships more effective?
About 85% of MAIZE is constituted by bilateral projects. These projects have their own partners who manage these partnerships to achieve project goals. Most of the 350 partners are involved in one or more of these bilateral projects.

Only 15% of funds are allocated through Windows 1&2 funding. These funds are being used to foster new and more strategic partnerships under MAIZE. Examples of strategic partnerships include work with (a) Royal Tropical Institute and Wageningen University on better harnessing Agricultural Innovation Systems thinking and improving performance of innovation platforms under MAIZE; (b) CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) on aflatoxin mitigation in Asia; (c) University of Barcelona and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences on developing low-cost phenotyping systems for developing country partners; (d) International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) to develop decision support tools for maize cropping systems; and (e) small and medium enterprise seed companies to commercialize maize varieties produced by MAIZE.

To make partnerships more effective, it is important to develop shared goals and approaches to achieve these goals. This should be possible through the elaboration of impact pathways and the co-facilitation of IDOs. The second round of CGIAR Research Program proposals will necessitate the development of robust partnerships around achievement of IDOs.

What are your plans for disseminating and promoting knowledge generated through the program and ensuring the adoption of research results?MAIZE co-funds a senior knowledge management expert and a small team of knowledge management specialists in CIMMYT. I hope to work with the knowledge management specialists in CIMMYT and IITA to develop a knowledge management strategy and implementation plan. This strategy/plan will focus on innovative approaches to co-develop, disseminate, and promote knowledge. Greater adoption of research results will be achieved through the development of more robust impact pathways and associated theories of change and through more strategic partnerships.

What are some of the opportunities that MAIZE faces?
Opportunities include (a) Greater opportunities for creating synergies between CGIAR Research Programs and CGIAR centers; (b) Less duplication and uncoordinated overlap of efforts between CGIAR centers; (c) Greater opportunities for alignment of CGIAR center R4D objectives with those of national partners (public and private) in developing countries and with advanced research institutions; (d) Strengthening the relationship between CIMMYT and IITA; (e) Support for farming-systems focused innovation platforms; (f) Improved coordination of maize breeding efforts (including breeding for heat tolerance and doubled haploid technology); (g) Institutionalization of gender-sensitive approaches to maize R4D and more gender transformative research; (h) Enhanced capacity for rapid responses. For example the recent response to Maize Lethal Necrotic Virus in Eastern Africa facilitated with Windows 1&2 funds; (i) The MAIZE Management Committee (MMC) functions reasonably well; (j) The MAIZE Stakeholder Advisory Committee is established; (k) project administrators of MAIZE and WHEAT (CGIAR Research Program on wheat) are fully operational; (l) Competitive Partner Grant process & standard subgrant agreements (for all MAIZE partners); (m) Close to getting a timely program overview: Reporting 2012 templates & Traffic Light Progress Overview developed, Research Management System in CIMMYT is starting to work.

What are some of the challenges in coordinating and managing MAIZE?
Challenges include (a) lack of strong Strategic Initiative leadership; (b) lack of structured info/data/methods exchange across projects (Research Management System); (c) limited information on real time progress and insufficient time available to keep up with projects on the ground; (d) inadequate understanding of how MAIZE technologies lead to outcomes and impact; (e) communication and interaction downstream, among strategic initiatives, disciplines, and with partners; (f) MAIZE communication efforts are slow to get off the ground; (g) the MAIZE Partner Priority Survey has received only 30 responses to date; (h) how to involve partners earlier (program strategy review, strategic fundraising); (i) MAIZE is the 6th lowest funded program of 15. Investments need to be made to increase Windows 1&2 funding for MAIZE. Program Reporting template for 2012 (and 2013) only agreed with donors in March 2013; (k) communication of MMC members via Skype and e-mail is not always working and efficient.

What makes MAIZE different from the other CGIAR Research Programs dealing with commodities?
In many respects, MAIZE is very similar to the other CGIAR Research Programs that have a strong commodity focus. Indeed, to a large extent, building on these similarities was the purpose of the CGIAR reform. While recently working together in Cali, Columbia, many CGIAR Research Programs recognized resounding similarities between the IDOs that each program had worked on in relative isolation. Indeed, 15 programs were able to agree on 10 common IDOs. There is even greater scope for further collaboration between all CGIAR Research Programs.

Any advice to our scientists and specialists working on maize improvement and development?
Yes, we have some great scientists working on maize-based systems from both CIMMYT and IITA. We can achieve so much more working together than we can ever hope to achieve working independently.

Leave a Comment