The JIRCAS 50th Anniversary International Symposium 2020 featuring the theme, "The role of international collaboration in agricultural research to address challenges in the post-COVID-19 global food system" was succesfully held online on November 10, 2020.
First, JIRCAS President, Dr. Masa Iwanaga gave an opening speech. He referred to the globalization trends over the past 50 years which have turned the global food system into the channels of transmissions to expose the global community to the impacts of climate change and pandemics, which have then exacerbated poverty and inequality. At the same time, he stated that the global issues such as the impacts of climate change and nutritional challenges have presented location-specific features. Then, Dr Iwanaga pledged that JIRCAS would keep committed to its engagement in joint on-site research activities with partners in the post-COVID-19 era. He concluded his opening remarks with a call for international collaboration to “build back better” for a resilient, equitable and sustainable future.
The distinguished partners and counterparts contributed to the Symposium by sending their messages to commemorate JIRCAS’ 50th Anniversary with their wishes to strengthen further collaboration with JIRCAS jointly to solve the global agendas. They include Mr. Hishinuma, Director General, Secretariat of AFFRC, MAFF; Dr. Kadiresan, Managing Director of CGIAR; Dr. Matsuda, Vice-President of National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO); Dr. Sun, Vice President of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS); Mr. Wiriyapaha, Director General of Department of Agriculture (DOA), Thailand; Dr. Traoré (on behalf of Director General), Institute for the Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA), Burkina Faso; Prof./Dr. Razafinjara, Director General of Madagascar Centre National de la Recherche Appliquée au Développement Rural (FOFIFA); and Mr. Nakamura, President of Directive Committee, Fundación Nikkei-CETAPAR, Paraguay.
At the Symposium, three keynote speeches were delivered. JIRCAS Vice President Koyama reflected JIRCAS’ half-a-century history of endeavours in the developing countries to develop agriculture, forestry and fisheries technologies with local partners in response to shifting priorities of research agendas over decades. He expressed JIRCAS’ continued commitment to international collaboration to contribute to achieving global food and nutrition security and SDGs. Dr. Schmidhuber of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented his analysis with latest data on the trends and current status of the international trade as the channels of transmission of COVID-19. His multi-perspective diagnosis highlighted rather a surprising resilience of the food trade in response to COVID-19 shock in comparison to the other crises in the recent history on one hand, and on the other revealed the exposure and vulnerability of food importing countries whose economies depend heavily on revenues from energy exports, tourism, and remittances. Dr. Iiyama, Director, Research Strategy Office of JIRCAS elaborated the structural challenges of today’s global food system. She emphasized the critical importance of research on sustainable agricultural intensification, especially targeting the smallholder agricultural sector in the developing countries, and called for interdisciplinary science, public-private cooperation, as well as collaboration between research and development institutions.
The Panel Session “the modus-operandi of international collaboration” was chaired by Dr. Saito, JIRCAS Director, Research Planning and Partnership Division, and joined by the distinguished panelists, including Dr. Iwanaga, JIRCAS President; Mr. Sato, Vice President of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); Dr. Wopereis, Director General of World Vegetable Center, and Dr. Sanginga, Director General of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Mr. Sato shared a summary of the survey implemented by JICA in the developing countries to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the agricultural sector, which revealed deteriorating food and nutrition security due to disruptions in distribution channels. In response, JICA has been implementing the provision of seeds, fertilizers and other essentials to ensure food and nutrition security of the target populations. Mr. Sato stressed JICA’s commitment to helping the agricultural sector of the developing countries improve resilience, through capacity development and investment in infrastructure, and to work with research institutions for larger developmental impacts. Dr. Wopereis acknowledged the dominant presence of the private players in the vegetable sector, especially in seed production. He in turn emphasized the critical role of public investment and research to address locally specific needs in order to achieve healthy diets through vegetable production and consumption, and appealed for strengthening the alliance among WorldVeg, CGIAR, international and national agricultural research institutions. Dr. Sanginga shared his concern over the dilemma and challenges of African agriculture – the aging of farming population, the unemployment among the youth with college degrees, while the food import bill has been rising, in other words, exporting “jobs” to Asian rice exporting countries. Based on his experiences of interacting with a Japanese yam-processing firm, he stressed the urgency of private sector involvement and business-led agriculture transformation for the inclusive growth. JIRCAS President Dr. Iwanaga, reflecting the challenges of the current global food system with the triple burden of malnutrition while overstepping of the planetary boundaries, proposed a shift of research priorities from internationally traded crops to locally important crops which have been nutritionally and economically valued yet whose research has been relatively neglected. He then emphasized the importance of communicating the contribution of agricultural research to build a sustainable future to encourage investment and promote collective actions.
JIRCAS Vice President Koyama reiterated JIRCAS’ mission to contribute to the global food and environmental issues since its establishment 50 years ago and pledged for continuing international collaboration to achieve SDGs. He concluded the Symposium by expressing his gratitude to all the participants as well as long-term research and development partners and his wishes to meet one another physically in Asia, Africa, Latin America or elsewhere, as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic is contained/controlled.