2015 Conference: Martin Kropff


Profitability, sustainability and risk

10-12 August 2015


Sir John Crawford Memorial Address
Conference Scholarships


Dr Martin Kropff
Director General of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) from June 2015

kropffFrom June 2015, Martin Kropff will be the new Director General of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). He is currently Rector Magnificus and Vice Chairman of the Executive Board of Wageningen University and Research Center (Wageningen UR) in the Netherlands. He obtained his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in biology at Utrecht University and a Ph.D. in agricultural and environmental sciences at Wageningen University, both cum laude. In 1984, he was appointed assistant professor at Wageningen University. From 1990 to 1995, Kropff was the systems agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, where he led an interdisciplinary program on the introduction of systems analysis and simulation in rice production research. Upon his return to the Netherlands in 1995, he served successively as Full Professor of Crop and Weed Ecology, Scientific Director of the University’s C.T. de Wit Graduate School for Production Ecology and Resource Conservation and Director General of the Plant Sciences Group. In 2005 he joined the Executive Board of Wageningen UR.

Kropff played a key role in raising Wageningen UR’s profile worldwide. In 2013, he joined the CGIAR Consortium Board, where he has worked to improve cohesion and develop a new CGIAR strategy.

Integrating Public and Private Sector Research Goals for Sustainable Food Security

Our ability to deliver sustainable food security depends on three key converging challenges: climate change, population growth and limited natural resources. Understanding the severity of these challenges and the action needed to tackle them is high on the international research agenda. The future is uncertain but it is possible to construct a range of likely futures driven by a range of factors, including international agricultural research investments.

In 2011, the CGIAR represented only 0.86% of global food and agricultural research and development, yet in maize and wheat alone 50% of areas in the developing world are derived from varieties developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), one of the 15 centers that are members of the CGIAR. Investment in research and development may be low in the international public sector as compared to the private sector, but the effectivity and the return on investment is high, especially in those countries that need development support for smallholder farmers. CGIAR maize and wheat varieties are routinely requested by and distributed to institutions in countries that are inhabited by over 98% of all poor, proving the tremendous coverage and impact pathways for two of the world’s main food crops that lead back to CGIAR breeding programs. However, agricultural sectors in donor countries benefit as well. For example, the majority of wheat varieties grown in Australia have a CIMMYT background. CIMMYT contributes to sustainable agricultural development and value chain (from the gene bank to breeding programs, to sustainable intensification, to systems research and value chains) for AgriFood systems based on the major crops wheat and maize, with projects in > 50 countries.

Although most research is funded by donors (countries, foundations etc.), cooperation with industry is increasingly becoming more effective and necessary to achieve the impact required. For example, CIMMYT works with close to 200 small seed companies world-wide to bring seed to farmers. These are small local companies that cannot afford their own breeding program but are able to multiply and bring seed into areas where farmers so far have never had access to seed. Such collaboration results in a triple win situation between public research, small companies and farmers.

Cooperation between public and private sector institutions is also essential to take advantage of new technologies to address current and future food security challenges. Not only will delivering joint, high-quality research improve products to clients and build capacity, cost sharing through precompetitive domains also ensures that all partners benefit from a greater total investment and technical expertise. At CIMMYT we do so in the frame of a wide range of cutting edge projects, including unlocking the genetic diversity contained in our gene banks and substantially raising the yield barrier in wheat. In the Netherlands, a topsector approach has been developed by which the government and industry and knowledge organisations jointly invest in research and innovation through Public-Private Partnerships. As the scientific representative member of the topteam, I was involved in designing and executing the jointly developed agenda for the Agri&Food topsector in the past 5 years that included international cooperation. An enhanced use of scientific expertise has been the result. At the same time interesting programs have been developed in Wageningen such as the Integrated Seed Sector Development program that started in Ethiopia and is extended to other African countries where a strong seed sector is required for future food security based on better on-farm technologies, cooperatives and links with industry.

Research alone can remain an academic undertaking unless it is informed by real problems on the farm and efforts are made to deliver solutions through private-public collaborations to real users; the two together will have the greatest impact on both productivity and sustainable food security.