‘High hills surround the valley, encircling it like a crown’ (Walter Daniel, 1167)

After the Normans conquered England in 1066, they quickly achieved hegemony over much of the country. By 1086 the ‘Great Survey’, the Domesday Book, had been completed for much of England and parts of Wales.

At the same time, different religious orders began to spread their influence and established communities around the country. In a peaceful and secluded valley beside the River Rye in the heart of the North York Moors near Helmsley, a Cistercian community founded Rievaulx Abbey in 1132, their first monastery in the north of England. A second magnificent Cistercian monastery, Fountains Abbey, lies about 27 miles west of Rievaulx.

Originally a cluster of wooden buildings, the abbey expanded over the next four centuries until Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries (after 1536). The abbey was abandoned and became the ruin we see today, still standing proudly in the landscape where it was founded. Not much can have changed in the intervening centuries. Rievaulx still exudes a profound sense of peace and tranquility.

It’s not my intention here to provide a detailed history of Rievaulx Abbey. English Heritage owns and manages the site, and a detailed history of Rievaulx’s founding and growth can be found on its website.

I first visited Rievaulx in the summer of 1968 at the end of my first year at university, when I went on a youth hosteling holiday on the North York Moors. Fifty years ago! I can hardly believe it.

Then, in July 1988, when Hannah and Philippa were ten and six, we made a family visit while on holiday near the coast north of Scarborough. In 2013 we visited the National Trust’s Rievaulx Terrace that overlooks the abbey ruins (see below).

A week ago we took the opportunity of a visit to our younger daughter Philippa and her family in Newcastle upon Tyne—and the improving weather—to visit Rievaulx once again. It’s actually only a few miles off the usual A19 route we take when traveling to Newcastle these days.

It was a glorious sunny day. In fact, we enjoyed the first sensations of summer (the weather has since deteriorated, and it feels more like autumn as I write this blog post). The drive north from home (in Bromsgrove in northeast Worcestershire) took a little under four hours, including a 35 minute coffee and comfort break at the Woodall Services on the M1 south of Sheffield. On arrival at Rievaulx, we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch, then headed off to explore the ruined abbey and museum for about an hour and a half.

Rievaulx Abbey ground-plan (courtesy of English Heritage). Click on the image to open a PDF file of this plan, another one and a map of the valley where the abbey stands.

One’s first impression of Rievaulx are the ruins of the church, with tiers of pointed gothic windows on each side. There are some rounded and earlier Norman arches around the site. The eastern end of the church (enclosing the Sanctuary and Choir) was for use only by the monks. The western end, the nave (now completely demolished except for the bases of the main columns), was used by the lay brothers.

The Cloister and its Arcade must have been magnificent in the abbey’s heyday. Just one small fragment of the Arcade has survived, in the northwest corner of the Cloister. Immediately east of the Cloister are the remains of the Chapter House where monks came for their daily meetings. Several abbots are buried there, but the body of William, the first abbot was moved to its own shrine in the 13th century

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To the south of the Cloister is large building housing the Refectory, and kitchen. The Day Room is located to the east of the Refectory, and this is where the monks worked on various activities, from mending clothes to copying manuscripts. South of the Day Room are the Tanning Vats where leather was prepared.

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Further east is the Infirmary Cloister and a staircase to what became the Abbot’s House. Above the doorway is an original in situ figurative sculpture of The Annunciation.

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There is a small museum displaying some interesting artifacts that have been uncovered on the site, as well as sections of sculptures that once adorned the various buildings of the abbey.

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During its 400 years Rievaulx Abbey suffered several changes in fortune. There were raids from across the Scottish border, and the Black Death hit during the 14th century. The abbey was finally suppressed in December 1538, and the monks were cast out although they received a pension. The abbey was sold to Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland although the most precious items were reserved for the crown. Thereafter the abbey buildings fell into ruin as we see today.

But there has long been a fascination with Rievaulx Abbey, and in the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas Duncombe II constructed Rievaulx Terrace high on the hillside above the abbey ruins where his guests could be entertained and walk. There are some spectacular views of the abbey from there, as we experienced in 2013.

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‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here . . . ‘

Well, that was what I thought. Until a few days ago, that is.

On the outskirts of Southwell (pronounced Suthell, or more precisely /ˈsaʊθwɛl/or /ˈsʌðəl/) in Nottinghamshire there is a large redbrick building standing in about six acres of land. This is The Workhouse (or Greet House), beautifully stark in its Georgian symmetry.

Built in 1824 during the reign of King George IV, The Workhouse was ‘home’ to about 160 destitute men, women and children who were provided with ‘Indoor Relief’. The cost of providing support, under the Poor Laws, to recipients in their homes (so-called ‘Outdoor Relief’) had become less sustainable. So the Workhouse was built at Southwell to provide shelter for a limited number of paupers, many old and infirm.

Life in The Workhouse was no bed of roses, but maybe not as harsh as many others around the country, where everyone toiled in the most appalling conditions. But shelter and food was provided, and both boys and girls received a basic education, learning to read and write, and do sums.

No doubt the workhouse regime changed from time to time, as each new Master was appointed and took control of their lives. The Master and his family lived in a suite of rooms above the main entrance.

Workhouse Master Herring and his family in 1855

The Workhouse at Southwell was featured in Episode 4 of the second series of Secrets of the National Trust broadcast recently on Channel 5, and presented by Alan Titchmarsh. I have to admit it presented such a despondent scenario, a visit there didn’t seem very appealing. Consequently, Steph and I decided we wouldn’t make a special visit there, but combine it with another trip in the vicinity. And, as it happened, a diversion to Southwell last Monday added only a few miles to our return journey to visit our younger daughter and her family in Newcastle.

I mentioned my preconceptions about The Workhouse (based on the Titchmarsh program) to one of the volunteers. From what he told me, it seems that Titchmarsh wanted to present a more balanced picture of life in The Workhouse, but the series producer somewhat ‘over-egged the doom-and-gloom pudding’ story of The Workhouse. As I said there’s no denying that life inside was tough for the inmates. Life would probably have been tougher on the outside.

Now, having made a visit to The Workhouse I am so pleased that we did. It was revealing, interesting, conscience-pricking (although it’s not altogether appropriate to judge what The Workhouse stood for by today’s standards), and the National Trust volunteers (mostly in contemporary costume) brought the story of The Workhouse to life and made the visit even more enjoyable. They were very convincing, particularly the skivvy in the cellars who answered all my queries, in character.

The Workhouse consists of a three-story main building (with cellars), divided into separate sections for men and women, and able-bodied or old and infirm for each. Each group had its own exercise yard, with a privy in the corner from which ‘night soil’ was collected as manure for the garden.

Plan of The Workhouse. (5) is the National Trust entrance; (6) is the wash-house; (8) is the garden. The exercise yards can be seen either side of the main entrance to The Workhouse, with a privy in one corner of each. There are now gaps in the wall between the exercise yards to facilitate the flow of visitors. (4) is an assembly point for guided tours.

Husbands were separated from wives, and children from their mothers beyond the age of two. In the children’s dormitory, the glass in the windows (at least the lower panes) was frosted so they could not look at and see their mothers working in the yards below.

A block of outhouses to the rear of the main building contained the laundry, a bakery, and the ‘dead’ room.

Water was collected from the roof, and stored in a 160,000 gallon storage tank underneath the kitchen. Food was stored in the cellars.

Able-bodied men, who were unemployed outside The Workhouse, were considered lazy, and set to work on menial tasks such as unpicking old ropes or oakum. The old and infirm often had no work to do.

The various dormitories were on the first and top floors.

Many of the upper rooms have deteriorated and are in urgent need of conservation.

What is remarkable is that The Workhouse was still being used as an emergency shelter to house homeless families, in the so-called ‘bedsit’, as late as the 1980s.

If walls could talk, what tales they would tell us. But in the able-bodied men’s exercise yard (on the right on the panorama immediately below), and presumably out of view of the Master, at least one of the inmates did leave a legacy of their days in The Workhouse. Clearly etched on several bricks, someone has marked off the days.

It’s hard to imagine just how tough life must have been for the inmates of The Workhouse at Southwell. Surely it cannot have been worse than what they had endured, penniless and hungry, outside. With the enactment of the Poor Laws, society provided (limited) support for those who had fallen on hard times. In many ways, society has a lot to answer for today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daffodils and doves . . . but no fireworks

Yesterday (18 April) was, in many parts of the UK, the warmest day since the end of August 2017. After the lingering cold and grey weather we have had to endure in recent weeks, the prospect of a bright, sunny day certainly was encouraging. And, not being ones to squander an opportunity to be out and about when possible, we made the short trip to Coughton Court, a National Trust property on the outskirts of Alcester in Warwickshire, just 12 miles from home.

Coughton Court is one of our ‘local’ National Trust visits, and we’ve been there on several occasions mostly to walk through the bluebell wood and gardens. It has been in the same Throckmorton family for over 600 years, and the family still has apartments there.

We were too early to see a carpet of bluebells in the ancient wood to the east of the house. But we were not totally disappointed and some had already begun to bloom.

The Daffodil Society is holding its 2018 show at Coughton this weekend that we would have liked to attend, but have other plans made. So our visit yesterday was to view the extensive planting of daffodils in the grounds of Coughton Court. We were concerned that they would be past their best, but because of the dreary weather (and access issues at Coughton due to waterlogged car-parking) just hadn’t been able to schedule our visit before now.

Yes, some daffodil varieties were past their best, but there were still plenty more to lift our spirits.

In the orchard, there was a carpet of purple and white fritillaries under the apple trees (just about to come into flower) mixed with primroses and grape hyacinths.

Afterwards, we headed a further two miles southeast to view Kinwarton Dovecote¹ that stands alone in the middle of a field. Built in the 14th century (probably during the reign of King Edward III), the circular dovecote has more than 500 nesting niches, from which young pigeons or squabs would be taken for their meat.

It has walls that are about three feet thick, and it rises at least 20 feet to the top of the nesting ledges. A ‘potence’ or pivoted ladder (in need of repair) provided access to the highest niches. What an impressive structure that has stood proudly in the Warwickshire landscape for six centuries. What stories it could tell.

But what about the reference I made in the title of this blog post to ‘fireworks’. Well, the Throckmorton family of Coughton Court were implicated in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to overthrow recently crowned King James I (and VI of Scotland) by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. The plot, on 5 November, is celebrated each year by fireworks displays nationwide.

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¹ We have visited other dovecotes owned by the National Trust and you can read about them here.

Crystal balls, accountability and risk: planning and managing agricultural research for development (R4D)

A few days ago, I wrote a piece about perceived or real threats to the UK’s development aid budget. I am very concerned that among politicians and the wider general public there is actually little understanding about the aims of international development aid, how it’s spent, what it has achieved, and even how it’s accounted for.

Throughout my career, I worked for organizations and programs that were supported from international development aid budgets. Even during the decade I was a faculty member at The University of Birmingham during the 1980s, I managed a research project on potatoes (a collaboration with the International Potato Center, or CIP, in Peru where I had been employed during the 1970s) funded by the UK’s Overseas Development Administration (ODA), the forerunner of today’s Department for International Development (DFID).

I actually spent 27 years working overseas for two international agricultural research centers in South and Central America, and in the Philippines, from 1973-1981 and from 1991-2010. These were CIP as I just mentioned, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a globally-important research center in Los Baños, south of Manila in the Philippines, working throughout Asia where rice is the staple food crop, and collaborating with the Africa Rice Centre (WARDA) in Africa, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Latin America.

All four centers are members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (or CGIAR) that was established in 1971 to support investments in research and technology development geared toward increasing food production in the food-deficit countries of the world.

Dr Norman Borlaug

The CGIAR developed from earlier initiatives, going back to the early 1940s when the Rockefeller Foundation supported a program in Mexico prominent for the work of Norman Borlaug (who would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970).

By 1960, Rockefeller was interested in expanding the possibilities of agricultural research and, joining with the Ford Foundation, established IRRI to work on rice in the Philippines, the first of what would become the CGIAR centers. In 2009/2010 IRRI celebrated its 50th anniversary. Then, in 1966, came the maize and wheat center in Mexico, CIMMYT—a logical development from the Mexico-Rockefeller program. CIMMYT was followed by two tropical agriculture centers, IITA in Nigeria and CIAT in Colombia, in 1967. Today, the CGIAR supports a network of 15 research centers around the world.

Peru (CIP); Colombia (CIAT); Mexico (CIMMYT); USA (IFPRI); Ivory Coast (Africa Rice); Nigeria (IITA); Kenya (ICRAF and ILRI); Lebanon (ICARDA); Italy (Bioversity International); India (ICRISAT); Sri Lanka (IWMI); Malaysia (Worldfish); Indonesia (CIFOR); and Philippines (IRRI)

The origins of the CGIAR and its evolution since 1971 are really quite interesting, involving the World Bank as the prime mover.

In 1969, World Bank President Robert McNamara (who had been US Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson) wrote to the heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome and the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) in New York saying: I am writing to propose that the FAO, the UNDP and the World Bank jointly undertake to organize a long-term program of support for regional agricultural research institutes. I have in mind support not only for some of the existing institutes, including the four now being supported by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations [IRRI, CIMMYT, IITA, and CIAT], but also, as occasion permits, for a number of new ones.

Just click on this image to the left to open an interesting history of the CGIAR, published a few years ago when it celebrated its 40th anniversary.

I joined CIP in January 1973 as an Associate Taxonomist, not longer after it became a member of the CGIAR. In fact, my joining CIP had been delayed by more than a year (from September 1971) because the ODA was still evaluating whether to provide funds to CIP bilaterally or join the multilateral CGIAR system (which eventually happened). During 1973 or early 1974 I had the opportunity of meeting McNamara during his visit to CIP, something that had quite an impression on a 24 or 25 year old me.

In the first couple of decades the primary focus of the CGIAR was on enhancing the productivity of food crops through plant breeding and the use of genetic diversity held in the large and important genebanks of eleven centers. Towards the end of the 1980s and through the 1990s, the CGIAR centers took on a research role in natural resources management, an approach that has arguably had less success than crop productivity (because of the complexity of managing soil and water systems, ecosystems and the like).

In research approaches pioneered by CIP, a close link between the natural and social sciences has often been a feature of CGIAR research programs. It’s not uncommon to find plant breeders or agronomists, for example working alongside agricultural economists or anthropologists and sociologists, who provide the social context for the research for development that is at the heart of what the CGIAR does.

And it’s this research for development—rather than research for its own sake (as you might find in any university department)—that sets CGIAR research apart. I like to visualize it in this way. A problem area is identified that affects the livelihoods of farmers and those who depend on agriculture for their well-being. Solutions are sought through appropriate research, leading (hopefully) to positive outcomes and impacts. And impacts from research investment are what the donor community expects.

Of course, by its very nature, not all research leads to positive outcomes. If we knew the answers beforehand there would be no need to undertake any research at all. Unlike scientists who pursue knowledge for its own sake (as with many based in universities who develop expertise in specific disciplines), CGIAR scientists are expected to contribute their expertise and experience to research agendas developed by others. Some of this research can be quite basic, as with the study of crop genetics and genomes, for example, but always with a focus on how such knowledge can be used to improve the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers. Much research is applied. But wherever the research sits on the basic to applied continuum, it must be of high quality and stand up to scrutiny by the scientific community through peer-publication. In another blog post, I described the importance of good science at IRRI, for example, aimed at the crop that feeds half the world’s population in a daily basis.

Since 1972 (up to 2016 which was the latest audited financial statement) the CGIAR and its centers have received USD 15.4 billion. To some, that might seem an enormous sum dedicated to agricultural research, even though it was received over a 45 year period. As I pointed out earlier with regard to rice, the CGIAR centers focus on the crops and farming systems (in the broadest sense) in some of the poorest countries of the world, and most of the world’s population.

But has that investment achieved anything? Well, there are several ways of measuring impact, the economic return to investment being one. Just look at these impressive figures from CIAT in Colombia that undertakes research on beans, cassava, tropical forages (for pasture improvement), and rice.

For even more analysis of the impact of CGIAR research take a look at the 2010 Food Policy paper by agricultural economists and Renkow and Byerlee.

Over the years, however, the funding environment has become tighter, and donors to the CGIAR have demanded greater accountability. Nevertheless, in 2018 the CGIAR has an annual research portfolio of just over US$900 million with 11,000 staff working in more than 70 countries around the world. CGIAR provides a participatory mechanism for national governments, multilateral funding and development agencies and leading private foundations to finance some of the world’s most innovative agricultural research.

The donors are not a homogeneous group however. They obviously differ in the amounts they are prepared to commit to research for development. They focus on different priority regions and countries, or have interests in different areas of science. Some donors like to be closely involved in the research, attending annual progress meetings or setting up their own monitoring or reviews. Others are much more hands-off.

When I joined the CGIAR in 1973, unrestricted funds were given to centers, we developed our annual work programs and budget, and got on with the work. Moving to Costa Rica in 1976 to lead CIP’s regional program in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, I had an annual budget and was expected to send a quarterly report back to HQ in Lima. Everything was done using snail mail or telex. No email demands to attend to on almost a daily basis.

Much of the research carried out in the centers is now funded from bilateral grants from a range of donors. Just look at the number and complexity of grants that IRRI manages (see Exhibit 2 – page 41 and following – from the 2016 audited financial statement). Each of these represents the development of a grant proposal submitted for funding, with its own objectives, impact pathway, expected outputs and outcomes. These then have to be mapped to the CGIAR cross-center programs (in the past these were the individual center Medium Term Plans), in terms of relevance, staff time and resources.

What it also means is that staff spend a considerable amount of time writing reports for the donors: quarterly, biannually, or annually. Not all have the same format, and it’s quite a challenge I have to say, to keep on top of that research complexity. In the early 2000s the donors also demanded increased attention to the management of risk, and I have written about that elsewhere in this blog.

And that’s how I got into research management in 2001, when IRRI Director General Ron Cantrell invited me to join the senior management team as Director for Program Planning & Coordination (later Communications).

For various reasons, the institute did not have a good handle on current research grants, nor their value and commitments. There just wasn’t a central database of these grants. Such was the situation that several donors were threatening to withhold future grants if the institute didn’t get its act together, and begin accounting more reliably for the funding received, and complying with the terms and conditions of each grant.

Within a week I’d identified most (but certainly not all) active research grants, even those that had been completed but not necessarily reported back to the donors. It was also necessary to reconcile information about the grants with that held by the finance office who managed the financial side of each grant. Although I met resistance for several months from finance office staff, I eventually prevailed and had them accept a system of grant identification using a unique number. I was amazed that they were unable to understand from the outset how and why a unique identifier for each grant was not only desirable but an absolute necessity. I found that my experience in managing the world’s largest genebank for rice with over 100,000 samples or accessions stood me in good stead in this respect. Genebank accessions have a range of information types that facilitate their management and conservation and use. I just treated research grants like genebank accessions, and built our information systems around that concept.

Eric Clutario

I was expressly fortunate to recruit a very talented database manager, Eric Clutario, who very quickly grasped the concepts behind what I was truing to achieve, and built an important online information management system that became the ‘envy’ of many of the other centers.

We quickly restored IRRI’s trust with the donors, and the whole process of developing grant proposals and accounting for the research by regular reporting became the norm at IRRI. By the time IRRI received its first grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (for work on submergence tolerant rice) all the project management systems had been in place for several years and we coped pretty well with a complex and detailed grant proposal.

Since I retired from IRRI in 2010, and after several years of ‘reform’ the structure and funding of the CGIAR has changed somewhat. Centers no longer prepare their own Medium Term Plans. Instead, they commit to CGIAR Research Programs and Platforms. Some donors still provide support with few restrictions on how and where it can be spent. Most funding is bilateral support however, and with that comes the plethora of reporting—and accountability—that I have described.

Managing a research agenda in one of the CGIAR centers is much more complex than in a university (where each faculty member ‘does their own thing’). Short-term bilateral funding (mostly three years) on fairly narrow topics are now the components of much broader research strategies and programs. Just click on the image on the right to read all about the research organization and focus of the ‘new’ CGIAR. R4D is very important. It has provided solutions to many important challenges facing farmers and resource poor people in the developing world. Overseas development aid has achieved considerable traction through agricultural research and needs carefully protecting.

Development aid is under threat . . . and Brexit isn’t helping

The United Kingdom is one of just a handful of countries that has committed to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on overseas development assistance (ODA or foreign aid) in support of the UN’s development goals. In fact that 0.7% target commitment is enshrined in UK law passed in 2015 (under a Conservative government), and the target has been met in every year since 2013. That’s something we should be proud of. Even the Tories should be proud of that. It seems, however, that many aren’t.

For a variety of reasons, the aid budget is under threat. After years of government austerity and the decline of home-grown services (NHS, police, education, and the like) through under-funding, and as we lurch towards Brexit, the right-wing media and politicians are seizing every opportunity to ignore (or actively distort, even trivialize) the objectives of development aid and what it has achieved around the world.  Or maybe they just lack understanding.

In 2016, the UK’s ODA budget, administered by the Department for International Development (DFID), was just over £13 billion (almost USD20 billion). Check this link to see where DFID works and on what sort of projects it spends its budget. That budget has ‘soared’, according to a recent claim by The Daily Mail.

In the post-Brexit referendum febrile atmosphere, the whole topic of development aid has seemingly become toxic with increasing calls among the right-wing media, headed by The Daily Mail (and supported by The Daily Express and The Telegraph) for the development budget to be reduced and instead spent on hiring more doctors and nurses, and other home-based services and projects, pandering to the prejudices of its readers. Such simplistic messages are grist to the mill for anyone troubled by the UK’s engagement with the world.

From: John Stevens and Daniel Martin for the Daily Mail, published at 22:42, 5 April 2018 | Updated: 23:34, 5 April 2018

There is unfortunately little understanding of what development assistance is all about, and right-wing politicians who really should know better, like the Member for Northeast Somerset (and the Eighteenth Century), Jacob Rees-Mogg have jumped on the anti-aid bandwagon, making statements such as: Protecting the overseas aid budget continues to be a costly mistake when there are so many other pressing demands on the budget.

Now there are calls for that 2015 Act of Parliament to be looked at again. Indeed, I just came across an online petition just yesterday calling on Parliament to debate a reduction of the development aid budget to just 0.2% of GNI. However, 100,000 signatures are needed to trigger a debate, and as I checked this morning it didn’t seem to be gaining much traction.

I agree it would be inaccurate to claim that all development aid spending has been wise, reached its ultimate beneficiaries, or achieved the impacts and outcomes intended. Some has undoubtedly ended up in the coffers of corrupt politicians.

I cannot agree however, with Conservative MP for Wellingborough and arch-Brexiteer, Peter Bone, who is reported as stating: Much of the money is not spent properly … What I want to see is more of that money spent in our own country … The way to improve the situation in developing countries is to trade with them.

As an example of the trivialization by the media of what development aid is intended for, let me highlight one example that achieved some notoriety, and was seized upon to discredit development aid.

What was particularly irksome apparently, with a frenzy whipped up by The Daily Mail and others, was the perceived frivolous donation (as high as £9 million, I have read) to a project that included the girl band Yegna, dubbed the Ethiopian Spice Girls, whose aim is to [inspire] positive behavior change for girls in Ethiopia through drama and music.

I do not know whether this aid did represent value for money; but I have read that the program did receive some positive reviews. However, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact raised some concerns as far back as 2012 about the Girl Effect project (known as Girl Hub then).

From their blinkered perspectives, various politicians have found it convenient to follow The Daily Mail narrative. What, it seems to me, they failed to comprehend (nor articulate for their constituencies) was how media strategies like the Girl Effect project can effectively target (and reach) millions of girls (and women) with messages fundamental to their welfare and well-being. After being in the media spotlight, and highlighted as an example of ‘misuse’ of the aid budget, the support was ended.

In a recent policy brief known as a ‘Green Paper’, A World for the Many Not the Few, a future Labour government has pledged to put women at the heart of British aid efforts, and broaden what has been described by much of the right-wing media as a left-wing agenda. Unsurprisingly this has received widespread criticism from those who want to reduce the ODA budget or cut it altogether.

But in many of the poorest countries of the world, development aid from the UK and other countries has brought about real change, particularly in the agricultural development arena, one with which I’m familiar, through the work carried out in 15 international agricultural research centers around the world supported through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research or CGIAR that was founded in 1971, the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network.

In a review article¹ published in Food Policy in 2010, agricultural economists Mitch Renkow and Derek Byerlee stated that CGIAR research contributions in crop genetic improvement, pest management, natural resources management, and policy research have, in the aggregate, yielded strongly  positive impacts relative to investment, and appear likely to continue doing so. Crop genetic improvement research stands out as having had the most profound documented positive impacts. Substantial evidence exists that other research areas within the CGIAR have had large beneficial impacts although often locally and nationally rather than internationally.

In terms of crop genetic improvement (CGI) they further stated that . . . estimates of the overall benefits of CGIAR’s contribution to CGI are extraordinarily large – in the billions of dollars. Most of these benefits are produced by the three main cereals [wheat, maize, and rice] . . . average annual benefits for CGIAR research for spring bread wheat, rice (Asia only), and maize (CIMMYT only) of $2.5, $10.8 and $0.6–0.8 billion, respectively . . . estimated rates of return to the CGIAR’s investment in CGI research ranging from 39% in Latin America to over 100% in Asia and MENA [Middle east and North Africa].

DFID continues to be a major supporter of the CGIAR research agenda, making the third largest contribution (click on the image above to open the full financial report for 2016) after the USA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At £43.3 million (in 2016), DFID’s contribution to the CGIAR is a drop in the ocean compared to its overall aid budget. Yet the impact goes beyond the size of the contribution.

I don’t believe it’s unrealistic to claim that the CGIAR has been a major ODA success over the past 47 years. International agricultural research for development has bought time, and fewer people go to bed hungry each night.

Nevertheless, ODA is under threat everywhere. I am concerned that in the clamour to reduce (even scrap) the UK’s ODA international collaborations like the CGIAR will face even more funding challenges. In Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ dystopia there is no certainty that enormous support provided by USAID will continue at the same level.

Most of my professional career was concerned with international agricultural research for development, in South and Central America (with the International Potato Center, or CIP, from 1973 to 1981) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines (from 1991 to 2010). The conservation of plant genetic resources or  agrobiodiversity in international genebanks (that I have highlighted in many stories on this blog) is supported through ODA. The crop improvement programs of the CGIAR centers like CIMMYT, IRRI, ICARDA and ICRISAT have released numerous improved varieties for use in agricultural systems around the world. Innovative research is combating the threats of new crop diseases or the difficulties of growing crops in areas subject to flooding or drought².

This research (often with critical links back into research institutes and universities in donor countries) has led to improvements in the lives of countless millions of poor people around the world. But the job is not finished. Populations continue to grow, with more mouths to feed. Civil unrest and conflicts continue to blight some of the poorest countries in the world. And biology and environment continue to throw challenges at us in the form of new disease strains or a changing climate, for example. Continued investment in ODA is essential and necessary to support agricultural research for development.

Agriculture is just one sector on the development spectrum.  Let’s not allow the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Peter Bone, or The Daily Mail to capture the development debate for what appear to be their own xenophobic purposes.

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¹ Renkow, M and D Byerlee, 2010. The impacts of CGIAR research: A review of recent evidence. Food Policy 35 (5), 391-402. doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2010.04.006

² In another blog post I will describe some of this innovative research and how the funding of agricultural research for development and greater accountability for ODA has become rather complicated over the past couple of decades.