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The new head of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, which was established as part of a major reform of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has praised progress made so far in streamlining the organisation.

In 2009 CGIAR announced that it would bring its 15 centres around the world into a consortium to work on a series of research programmes — financed from a central donor fund — to address agricultural issues in a more holistic fashion.  

The consortium's new head, Frank Rijsberman, started work on 28 May. He had joined CGIAR from directing the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Strategy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He had previously served as the head of CGIAR's International Water Management Institute, from 2000 to 2007.

In an open letter to "CGIAR friends and colleagues" on his first day as CEO, which has been seen by SciDev.Net, Rijsberman praised the "impressive" progress on reform so far, which has included the election of a consortium board to oversee reform processes, and the development of a portfolio of research programmes.

But, he wrote, challenges remained: "The final steps can be just as hard as the first, and are critical to reaping the benefits."

Rijsberman identified three priorities for the coming months: building strong relationships with key CGIAR stakeholders and partners; establishing an effective consortium office; and cementing reforms with a performance management system that would evaluate progress and verify results.

He closed his letter by calling for informal reactions and discussions.

Emile Frison, director-general of Bioversity International, one of the consortium's centres, told SciDev.Net: "Frank Rijsberman brings energy and enthusiasm to CGIAR. He is setting the course for the next era of CGIAR's progress and success.

"Our new strategy at Bioversity International, launched earlier this year, is aligned with CGIAR and we share the same commitment to delivering outcomes that will make a difference for smallholder farmers in developing countries."

Nigel Poole, chair of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), another consortium centre, said Rijsberman's success would depend on his ability to make the relationships between the consortium board and research centres work.

"I will also judge the success of the new arrangement by an increase in funding for agricultural research that will actually improve the lives of the poor in the dry tropics," Poole said.