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[MONTPELLIER] The world's largest stakeholder conference on agricultural research finished yesterday (1 April) with a set of guiding principles for the future.

Monty Jones, incoming chair of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) — one of the organisers of GCARD — said that the meeting marked a historic moment because it brought together more than 1,000 stakeholders to develop a new vision for agricultural research for development.

"I think it's the first time we've had this kind of collective input," he told a media briefing. Even proposed reforms for international agricultural research centres were "filtering down to national programmes for their effective participation. We go back very happy, very glad that the first GCARD has been a big success."

But some delegates from the non-governmental organisations community were sceptical about the extent to which stakeholders will be involved in the process.

"What is the real role of development partners? They are not really partners at all — they are there to disseminate your products but they are not involved in all stages of your research and development," said Neth Daño, a programme manager for the ETC Group in the Philippines.

"From the first day [of the conference] we've been saying business as usual is not acceptable but this all looks like business as usual to me," she added.

"Our presence here should not be seen as an automatic endorsement of all the outcomes of the [GCARD] conference," said Assetou Kanoute, of the Association for Development of Production and Training Activities in Mali, speaking on behalf of more than 40 NGOs present at the conference.

"Making a new era of agricultural research a reality requires a new paradigm with poor farmers and food providers at the centre of what we do."

One of GCARD's tangible results is a roadmap for how better to tailor agricultural research to the needs of the rural poor.

It highlights the need for implementation of regional priorities, identified through regional consultations. It also says that characteristics of a well-functioning agricultural research for development system include: "increasing mutual and equal accountability among all stakeholders" and "strengthening key relationships among research, development (extension, seed suppliers, the banking sector) and farmer[s]". The document will be further refined in the next 2–3 months.

But the roadmap is not a formal declaration, nor is it binding.

"Agriculture is very complex and location-specific," Mark Holderness, executive officer of GFAR, told SciDev.Net. "Previous definite processes have alienated people."

"The roadmap essentially says 'here are common principles that you now ought to take up and think about and look at how the system is functioning'," he added.

"We welcome opportunities to engage constructively and contribute our expertise to future deliberations," said Kanoute.