For the first time in its more than 30-year history, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – a network of public and private donors that supports sixteen agricultural research centres around the world – held its annual meeting outside the confines of the World Bank in Washington, DC. The CGIAR is the largest public sector agricultural research effort and is mandated to serve the developing world’s poor. The chosen site for this week’s (October 2002) annual meeting was the Shangri-La Hotel in The Philippines, home to the nearby International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), one of the research centres in the CG system. Also for the first time in its history, the CGIAR’s annual meeting took place within earshot of farmers’ protests and street demonstrations critical of the CG’s governance structure, research orientation and lack of accountability to Third World farmers. The CGIAR learned that even Shangri-La can be tainted by protests, police barricades and water cannons!
The weeklong meeting was a time of strenuous soul-searching for members of the CGIAR’s Committee of Non-governmental Organizations (the NGO-C). The CG System established the NGO-C in order to get input from civil society. Over the past year, half of the NGO-C’s members have resigned. The NGO-C was evaluating its relationship to the CGIAR in the midst of farmer protests at IRRI on Tuesday, and further protests on Wednesday by several hundred people attending the Peoples’ Street Conference in front of the Shangri-La Hotel. The protests were organized by a coalition of Southeast Asian civil society and farmers’ organizations, especially MASIPAG and KMP (a peasant farmers’ movement that is a member of Via Campesina) and SEARICE.