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Historical Perspectives on the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR): CFP for workshop and edited volume

Organized by Helen Anne Curry (University of Cambridge) and Timothy Lorek (University of Michigan)

For nearly fifty years, international aid for agricultural research has been shaped by an unusual partnership: an ad-hoc consortium of national governments, foreign aid agencies, philanthropies, UN agencies, and international financial institutions called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Formed in 1971 on the heels of the first celebrations of a Green Revolution in 1968, CGIAR was tasked with extending that apparent transformation in agricultural production to new countries and new crops. Its initial model prized two elements. International Agricultural Research Centers would hire international experts and develop and deliver research-based interventions. Meanwhile a Technical Advisory Committee, a select group of scientists, would prioritize areas of need to be addressed at the research centers with resources from CGIAR donors. The research centers quickly mushroomed from the founding four in 1971 to thirteen in 1983 and eighteen a decade later; today there are fifteen CGIAR research centers. During its first half century, the language of CGIAR centers' research and development missions has evolved from Cold War security concerns to new terminology like food security, gender equity, and sustainability. Although the language, mechanisms of funding, and decision-making have changed in the intervening decades, CGIAR and this network of research centers remain powerful actors in shaping international development and, with it, global agriculture.

This influence is widely acknowledged. Histories of twentieth century agriculture and international development make frequent reference to CGIAR research centers, especially the most prominent of these, and occasionally to CGIAR itself. Yet if one sets institutional accounts aside, there are surprisingly few historical treatments that take these as their primary concern. The exceptions are the two centers made famous by their role in disseminating the wheat and rice varieties that made headlines in 1968: the International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Even in these cases, the years around 1970 tend to mark the end point, and not a starting point as the founding of CGIAR at that time would suggest.


The impending fiftieth anniversary of the CGIAR founding motivates this call for papers. We are seeking scholars with expertise in the history of CGIAR and the international agricultural research centers as contributors to a workshop and edited volume. We anticipate that the volume will serve as a resource for anyone interested in the histories of these institutions and their influence on agriculture, science, and policy since the 1970s. It will also serve as a foundation for future directions in CGIAR studies as it will link broad international histories of development and the Green Revolution with deeply contextualized studies of particular crops, mechanisms, or locations.

What we're looking for

We therefore invite proposals for original historical contributions of 6000–8000 words, inclusive, which achieve two ends:

  • provide an accessible, authoritative history of one of the international centers or of a cross-cutting issue (e.g., maize cultivation, water management, nutrition) or theme (e.g., gender), suitable for a non-expert readership;
  • as part of this historical account, offer an assessment of the extent of influence of that center, or the larger CGIAR system, on agriculture, science and/or policy.

We are particularly interested in histories involving the following CGIAR centers:

  • International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (Nigeria)
  • Africa Rice Center (Cote d'Ivoire)
  • International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya, Ethiopia)
  • World Agroforestry (Kenya)
  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (India)
  • WorldFish (Malaysia)
  • Center for International Forestry Center (Indonesia)
  • International Potato Center (Peru)

We especially welcome contributions that contextualize CGIAR centers within the political, economic, social, and environmental histories and historiographies of the host locations. As such, we are interested in the perspectives obtained by studying CGIAR sites from the perspective of African, Asian, and Latin American studies/history, or that employee categories of analysis including (but not limited to) gender and queer studies, race and ethnicity, subaltern and postcolonial studies, environmental history, or political ecology, or that make use of creative methodologies involving oral histories or multimedia. We likewise welcome submissions from scholars working in science and technology studies and diplomatic and international history.


This project will unfold in two parts. The first will be a meeting at the University of Cambridge (UK) to collectively workshop chapters; this is tentatively scheduled for March 2021. The goal of the workshop will be to generate the feedback necessary for preparing final drafts, which will be submitted to an academic press by September 2021. Travel and accommodation for the workshop in Cambridge will be provided for all contributors.

Those wishing to propose a paper for the workshop and edited volume should prepare a working title, 500 word abstract, and a 1–2 page CV; these materials should be sent as a single document to no later than 15 March 2020. Notification of acceptance will follow shortly thereafter. Contributors to the volume will be expected to have a draft of their chapter prepared by 7 January 2021, and will be invited to participate in a workshop at the University of Cambridge that is tentatively scheduled for March 2021. The goal of the workshop will be to generate the feedback necessary for preparing final drafts. Travel and accommodation for invited participants will be provided.

If you have questions about this CFP, please contact Helen Curry and Tim Lorek via