Lindiwe Majele Sibanda joined the Board of Trustees of ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) in 2009. She has just attended her second meeting, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ‘By the time I arrived in 2009, it was clear that ILRI would be part of a new Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, and this was a particularly exciting time to join the board,’ she says. The agreement to join the new Consortium was formally signed this week in Addis Ababa. ‘The Consortium is effectively saying: we are a family with 15 children with different expertise, but we want you to answer to one surname, and the new surname is Poverty Reduction.’ In the past, she says, the centres tended to work in ‘silos’, building their own empires and strengthening the walls between them. Those days are now over.
Sibanda brings a range of skills to ILRI. Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, she received her agricultural training in Egypt, the UK and Zimbabwe, where her PhD studies focused on the nutritional requirements of lactating goats. She was known by villagers as ‘the woman who wears gumboots and overalls.’ Since 2004, she has been chief executive officer of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), based in South Africa, and she still makes regular visits to her beef farm in Zimbabwe.
‘One of the reasons I was keen to join ILRI was because I'd been sceptical about the CGIAR and its contribution to development in the South,’ she says. ‘At FANRPAN, we found it hard to see how research outputs from centers like ILRI informed policy, and we lacked the sort of evidence we needed in our dialogue with government and others.’
As a member of the board, Sibanda hopes she can take the research outputs and messages from ILRI to the wider world, making them relevant and useful to governments, NGOs, the private sector and to the key beneficiaries, the world's poor livestock farmers. ‘Among other things, I will advocate for more resources,’ she says. Over the past 30 years or so, funds for agricultural research have declined. "That's partly because we haven't had enough ammunition, in the shape of good qualitative evidence about the importance of livestock, to counter the decline."
It is time to buck the trend, she says, but that will only happen if research organizations communicate their findings effectively to the outside world. ‘In this new era, I believe we have to invest heavily in communications, and make it clear that scientific research must be properly funded if we are to create a food-secure world where we don't have 1 billion people going to bed hungry every night.’