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The G20 group of major economies has for the first time put international agricultural research on its agenda, in an effort to take a long-term view on the fight for food security.

The group's first meeting on the topic has endorsed the key role of agricultural research not only in preventing global food crises, but also in making an effective contribution to economic growth.

The meeting, taking place in Montpellier, France, this week (12–14 September), is being hosted by the French presidency of the G20 (the group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies). The meeting involves representatives of international development organisations including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN and the World Bank.

"It is the first time the G20 has actively put international agricultural research on its agenda," said Mark Holderness, executive secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), and one of the conference rapporteurs. "That is a big step in itself — the G20 countries have recognised that [agricultural research has] a wider economic relevance."

Although food security shot to the top of the political agenda during the 2008 food riots, "people put in a rapid response … there was no political buy-in to have a long-term view," Holderness told SciDev.Net.

"We have had another price spike and the World Bank is predicting another because food stocks are dwindling and there isn't the capacity in the system — we need to increase food productivity to meet that need."

According to the meeting's draft summary document, research systems in the G20 countries that help increase agricultural productivity can "contribute decisively to the improvement of food security" in the developing world through "improved coherence and coordination, stronger and equal partnerships and better knowledge sharing".

The G20 countries have been described as "a powerhouse of both agricultural innovation and production, with around 70 per cent of scientific publications on agriculture, and around 60 per cent of agricultural exports," said a paper for the conference prepared by Brazil, Canada, France and Japan, together with international organisations including the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the World Bank and the FAO.

"We are not going to have global-scale research for development without appropriate scientific partnerships," said Anne-Marie Izac, CGIAR chief science officer and another rapporteur.

The meeting also recognised the need for foresight studies to improve preparedness.

Izac said that foresight did not mean just being prepared for emergencies, but asking the research questions "which may not be urgent now, but are nonetheless essential for food security in a dynamic, constantly changing environment".

The CGIAR's Independent Science and Partnership Council advises donors on future scenarios, but foresight studies are "not yet embedded in the international agricultural research system", acknowledged Izac.

France's minister for cooperation Henri de Raincourt said the meeting's outcomes would be taken into account at the G20 meeting of finance and development ministers in Washington DC, United States, next week (23–24 September) before the G20 Summit in November in France.