At the 41st meeting of the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) Board of Trustees held at the Center’s M’bé station, near Bouaké in Côte d’Ivoire, Mrs Rebecca Khelseau-Carsky unveiled a plate naming the AfricaRice Library Building at M’bé after the late Dr Robert Carsky, as was recommended by the 25th Board of Trustees meeting held in March 2005.
An annual award to honor the contribution and dedication of the late Dr Carsky, AfricaRice scientist, who lost his life while on active duty during the early days of the Ivorian civil, was instituted by AfricaRice in 2009.
The annual award is conferred on the most outstanding Internationally Recruited Staff (IRS) and General Support Staff (GSS), who have demonstrated high standards of excellence and made extraordinary contributions to rice research, training and research support. Dr Jonne Rodenburg, AfricaRice agronomist at the IRS level and Mrs Maimouna Diatta, French-English translator at the GSS level, received the 2017 Dr Robert Carsky award.
The unveiling of the memorial plate and the award ceremony were some of the highlights associated with the 41st Board meeting, 10 – 13 April 2017, which was chaired by Prof Eric Tollens.
As part of the routine proceedings of the meeting, the Board Chair reported on his activities since the 40th Board meeting held in September 2016, highlighting issues that were Center-related, and those associated with his representation of AfricaRice in CGIAR events.
The Chair briefed the Board on activities of the various entities of the CGIAR System Organization, including CGIAR Trust Fund, the General Assembly of Centers, the Independent Evaluation Arrangement, the Independent Science and Partnership Council, the CGIAR Internal Audit function, the Partnership Forum, the System Council, the System Management Board and the System Management Office. Detailed information was provided on the outcome of the General Assembly of Centers held in January 2017, including the progress being made by the System Management Board and the outputs from its seven ad hoc working groups.
AfricaRice Director General, Dr Harold Roy-Macauley, also reported on his achievements during the period spanning between September 2016 and April 2017. His report highlighted achievements in the following four major domains: advocacy; resource mobilization; coordination and facilitation; and CGIAR System Organization. He demonstrated how his various advocacy activities resulted in the mobilization of additional US$ 9.8 million dollars for the Center within the preceding six months.
Dr Roy-Macauley expressed optimism about the ongoing negotiations with development partners in which additional resources up to US$ 26.8 million were expected. He reported on progress being made on the establishment of the new genebank at the M’bé station, the recruitment of a new Leader for the Genetic Diversity and Improvement Program, and the successful launch of the CGIAR Research Program on Rice Agri-Food Systems (RICE), amongst others. He also highlighted how the Center’s new strategic alliances with partner institutions would enhance the leveraging of investments.
On the issue of finance, Dr Roy-Macauley underlined that the Centre continues to face financial challenges due to the drastic reductions in the CGIAR Research Program funding, the high costs related to the Center’s relocation from Benin to Côte d’Ivoire and the slow payment of arrears of member state contributions, which could have greatly helped in alleviating the situation. He reported that although the Center had taken several mitigating steps to ensure prudent management of its resources, it experienced yet another deficit and was left with 76 reserve days at the close of its books for the 2016 financial year.
Dr Roy-Macauley also informed the Board that the Center’s workforce currently stood at 265 staff, with an increased number of staff now based in Côte d’Ivoire as the Center transitions from Benin. The Board was also informed that the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) had fully taken over the management of the Benin station, following the transfer of most of AfricaRice assets to its headquarters in Côte d’Ivoire. The Board was also briefed on the signing of a host-country agreement with Madagascar and a revised one with Senegal.
On CGIAR System Organization issues, Dr Roy-Macauley informed the Board of his participation in finalizing some of the System’s governance documents and in the General Assembly of Centers in January 2017, which discussed issues relating to improving system- wide resource mobilization, financing and governance issues.
The 41st Board approved the 2016 financial results recording a deficit of US$ 2.24 million. It deferred its decision to approve the US$ 28.06 million 2017 working budget proposed by management – which it esteemed was not realistic due to assumptions which it considered as presenting a high risk of not being fulfilled – pending resubmission of (i) a more realistic budget taking into consideration cuts in unrestricted spending to the magnitude of US$ 1 million and (ii) the establishment of a three-year financial recovery plan.
The Board also received and deliberated on the Center’s Programs report, which highlighted targets, milestones and strategy for achieving the goals of the RICE CGIAR Research Program, challenges related to the relocation to M’bé station and steps being taken by management to increase the volume of research activities at M’bé station with the increasing number of staff relocating from Benin to Côte d’Ivoire.
During the closing ceremony attended by staff and Board members, the Board Chair presented highlights of the 41st Board meeting, emphasizing the prevailing financial challenges being faced by the Center and the need for the Center to continue to strive for excellence, stressing that similar financial difficulties were also being experienced by sister centers. The Chair encouraged the staff to remain resilient and competitive amongst their peers in the international research arena.
On behalf of the Board, the Chair paid a glowing tribute to Dr Masaru Iwanaga and presented him with a Plaque in recognition of his valuable service to the Center as Board member and Chair of the Board’s Program Committee. Dr Iwanaga was rotating off the Board after serving two consecutive terms.
Mr David Governey, an internationally experienced financial and operations professional and a Chartered Accountant, was welcomed as a full Board member at the 41st Board meeting.