Institutional History of Watershed Research: The Evolution of ICRISAT’s Work on Natural Resources in India

In recent years international agricultural research centers had to respond to changing mandates with a more
explicit focus on poverty reduction and environmental sustainability from an earlier focus on improved
agricultural productivity. Natural resource management (NRM) research has been an important area that
has witnessed several institutional changes within the CGIAR system for the fulfillment of these goals.
Most research centers have sought and promoted innovations through concepts such as participatory
research, partnerships, and alternatives to the transfer of technology approach. In this report, we argue that
while these changes have indeed contributed to a greater poverty focus of the CG centers, there is a greater
need to understand the practice of science amongst these centers and the underlying institutional
constraints that hinder or enhance learning in the proposed transition of these research centers into learning
organizations. In this study, the institutional history of a CG center has been used as a tool to promote
institutional learning and change. It demonstrates that research managers in the CG system have not
adequately accessed the institutional innovations of its own scientists in facilitating changes under newer
mandates. By tracing the various ups and downs of ICRISAT’s thirty-year involvement in NRM research,
this report points to the need for greater sensitivity in research design towards institutional constraints that
prevent faster learning and the need for evolving mechanisms to enable real-time learning in projects.

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