Home / IRRI: developing CGIAR partnerships with the private sector for impact acceleration

IRRI: developing CGIAR partnerships with the private sector for impact acceleration

An interview with Remy Bitoun
Sarah Cummings - CGIAR and private sector, blog 2
November 26, 2020 By: Sarah Cummings Image: IRRI

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a member of the CGIAR, aims to improve the health and welfare of those who depend on rice-based agri-food systems, protecting the environmental sustainability of rice farming. Founded in 1960 by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations with support from the Philippine government, the institute has offices in 17 rice-growing countries in Asia and Africa. IRRI Tech Transfer advances the institute’s vision through public-private partnerships with companies and organizations that align with IRRI’s objectives. In an interview with Remy Bitoun, head of IRRI Tech Transfer, I discussed the current status of engagement with the private sector from his personal perspective and what initiatives can be scaled up by the CGIAR in the context of OneCGIAR.

Remy Bitoun has a university education (Engineer in Agronomy) and a PhD in biotech. After this, he joined the cooperative seed group Limagrain in France, in Israel and in India. After being part of a successful startup in Israel, Remy Bitoun joined IRRI some 5 years ago. In his experience, working in public private partnerships (PPPs) is not always easy, but provides an opportunity for impact acceleration.

Modes of working with the private sector

After 5 years of activity, IRRI Tech Transfer has a ‘proud and modest’ record, according to Remy Bitoun. During this period, IRRI has set up a policy for working with the private sector and increasing the chances of a successful partnership aligned with IRRI’s vision and mission.

IRRI IP policy specifies that private sector partnerships must be aligned with our mission. Remy Bitoun:

Under this policy, if the proposed partnership is not relevant to our mission, or if the partner has activities in gambling, defence industry or alcoholic beverages, we politely decline the opportunity. This ability to say “no” is important and helps align expectations with the private sector. At the moment, this policy appears to be successful with more than 20 partnerships per year concluded  with the private sector, in different shapes and forms. As can be seen in IRRI’s web site, we partner with small regional companies, with medium sized companies and with large multinational groups like Bayer, Corteva or Syngenta.

IRRI proposes three main modalities for public private partnerships: membership in public-private R&D consortia such as the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium, bilateral sponsored research with the private sector, and private sector licensing partnerships.

Bilateral sponsored research with the private sector

IRRI undertakes sponsored research on topics of mutual interest the private sector. In these cases, the private sector comes to IRRI with an idea of product or service which is not currently available and which they are unable to develop themselves. In this type of arrangement, IRRI can do the research in partnership with the private partner, and brings IRRI’s considerable scientific expertise and experience. In this type of arrangement, the end product and new IP developed during the project are owned by IRRI, when a significant amount of IRRI’s pre-existing intellectual property (IP) was used to develop the product. The company commissioning the research will acquire certain rights to use the project’s deliverables, such as – for example – a non-exclusive or limited-exclusivity licence on the rice varieties produced. The licenses come with a commitment by the company in terms of quality of product, impact assessment and impact acceleration. As Remy Bitoun explains: ‘Limited exclusivity licenses are compatible with CGIAR’s Intellectual Assets Principles. Usually, when a private partner is interested in a specific elite variety, the variety will benefit rice farmers too.’

Private sector licensing partnerships

IRRI-owned assets are disseminated through partnerships with our public sector partners. When appropriate, IRRI also offers those assets to private sector partners. In such cases, and in order to ensure full alignment with IRRI’s mission, IP rights are of key importance. IRRI expects those licensing partnerships to provide impact acceleration, for example introducing new rice varieties into the market place at a faster pace. The private sector partner is expected to invest its expertise and resources  in production scale-up, marketing and distribution of good quality elite seeds at an affordable price to farmers. Also, when appropriate, we request the partner to share revenue with IRRI and with public sector organizations. The  flow of revenue from the private sector is  reinvested in additional IRRI research projects. This allows  IRRI to fund long-term, or high stake, institutional projects.

Public-private consortia

In addition to the above two modes, IRRI develops public-private consortia, for example the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium (HRDC). About 80% of the seed companies involved in hybrid rice are part of HRDC, and pay a yearly membership fee which cover the cost of R&D performed by IRRI for the consortium. Public Sector Partners active in hybrid rice can join the consortium for free and access the results.  A number of NARES partners (national agricultural research and extension services) such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Philippines Rice Resarch Institute (PhilRice) are members of IRRI consortia. Remy Bitoun: ‘HRDC deliver hybrid varieties, elite parental lines and breeding material to its members.’ HRDC hybrids which are ready to introduce into the market can be licensed to HRDC private members, and in this case the licensing agreement provides a direct payment to the IRRI.  Royalties are shared by IRRI with the Revenue Sharing Fund of the Treaty organization, namely the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), part of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Another type of consortium is the Direct Seeded Rice Consortium (DSRC) which is a public-private multi-stakeholder Research for Development (R4D) program that collaborates in the development, scale-up and optimization of innovations, practices, and methodologies for direct-seeded rice. For the public sector, membership is free as in other public private IRRI consortia, but the private sector pays a yearly membership fee. The DSRC is a catalyst to science-based solutions for direct seeded rice best practice in Asia, improving ecological sustainability of rice growing and saving on labour-intensive tasks. The DSRC provides best practice technology packages, with the information being shared publicly and freely for all stakeholders.

IRRI just launched a new consortium, the Network for Accelerated Rice Varieties for Impact (NARVI) which is a partnership program for testing new (not yet released) IRRI elite inbred rice, and for their use for further breeding by members, in various countries. As Remy Bitoun notes ‘Here IRRI is offering an off-the-shelf product and it’s a good product, for dissemination. In addition, NARVI members can use this material for their further breeding and improvement.’ Private sector members sign licensing agreements and there maybe strings attached and a limited exclusivity agreement. commercialization policy, receiving feedback from experts on ethics and business development.

Lessons of working with private sector

IRRI and ACI Bangladesh

IRRI has been working with Advanced Chemical Industries (ACI), previously a subsidiary of the UK-based Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) Limited, and now an independent company which is one of the largest in Bangladesh, with four diversified strategic business units. With the help of USAID, IRRI and ACI have developed a partnership to help ACI build a state-of-the-art rice breeding program in Bangladesh. The partnership aims to improve the lives of rice farmers through supporting better rice varieties and agricultural technologies. The collaboration includes  projects that accelerate genetic research and advanced rice breeding and product development for the Bangladesh rice ecosystem. This agreement builds on the successful partnership developed between the two organizations through the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium (HRDC), started in 2014, a public private partnership that enhances the dissemination of hybrid rice technology.

IRRI’s unique expertise and technology platform is available to ACI in the form of an intensive technology-transfer program, partially financed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). In addition, ACI is deploying specific elite varieties developed by IRRI that are suitable for Bangladesh agro-climatic conditions. A strong screening program, developed by ACI with the help of IRRI specialists, will yield a robust pipeline of new elite varieties. ACI will be responsible for market introduction of the best ACI varieties.

Source: IRRI and ACI partner to develop improved rice varieties for rice growers in Bangladesh.

What are your main lessons of working with the private sector and to what extent are they potentially applicable to other CGIAR programmes? According to Remy Bitoun, IRRI is using IP management as a leverage for impact acceleration:

For example, we provide elite genetic material free of charge to public sector institutions while the private sector has to pay for access to the same material. ‘Without IP management, everything that is produced at IRRI would be free for all private sector companies. With IP management, IRRI can decide the terms and conditions that would apply for different dissemination pathways. We didn’t invent this approach – the Australian institute CSIRO, for example, has experience of working with the private sector, and so have the leading US and UK public R&D institutes.

In our Private Sector Engagement approach, we are working with large, medium-sized and small companies, to reduce the time-to-market for the diffusion of smart technologies. We also allow medium-sized companies to compete with multinationals and deliver science-based products to rice farmers. We expect farmers to benefit from  a larger diversity of providers. A good example of this is our private sector partnerships in Bangladesh, including a partnership with ACI (see Textbox).

Cooperation with the private sector in Bangladesh has also been explained by IRRI Director General Matthew Morell:

Along with our existing relationships with the public sector and civil society, partnerships with the private sector that expedite the flow of IRRI germplasm and know-how to the market for the benefit of rice farmers and food security in Bangladesh are in line with IRRI’s vision and mission. The objective of this collaboration with ACI is to facilitate higher rice yields, better quality, climate-change–tolerant varieties, and improved sustainability of rice production in Bangladesh.

Remy Bitoun comments:

This multi-year project has involved IRRI supporting ACI with research stations, good genetic material and technologies, and ICTs over a 5 year period. Although patience is not my forte, this new company supports Bangladeshi farmers. As there is no exclusive relationship, this does not undermine the work of IRRI’s main public partner in Bangladesh, namely the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). The partnership with ACI is good for farmers, good for Bangladesh and Asia, and good for IRRI.


CGIAR Consortium Legal/IP Network (CLIPnet) is a community of practice (CoP) which aims to assist CGIAR institutes and their partners to manage their intellectual assets or intellectual property in ways that best achieve the CGIAR Vision, by ensuring the broadest possible impact on target beneficiaries and maximizing global accessibility of intellectual assets.

CLIPNet is a multi-disciplinary group from the members of the CGIAR Consortium comprising of lawyers, grant managers, and senior managers from genetic resources, communications and corporate services. CLIPnet annual meetings present the opportunity for the CGIAR Center/System Organization Legal/IP focal points to share knowledge, experiences and best practices on the sound management of intellectual assets across the CGIAR System.


According to Remy Bitoun: Several CG centres have approached IRRI, via their ClipNet focal persons (see Textbox), to share best practices in private sector engagement.  Also, two years ago, the CG Centers shared good practice on working with the private sector, in the context of a CGIAR workshop on Private Sector Partnership for Impact Acceleration, which took please in Montpellier, France, on 10-12 July 2018. At this workshop, all CGIAR research institutes were represented, and there was a strong appetite to share good practice, evident by the senior level of the participants. The workshop was built around presentations from Centers and well-regarded specialists on IP management, IP lawyers, and with members of the private sector. Marco Ferroni, currently Chair of the CGIAR System Board, who knows the potential of public private partnerships participated in this workshop. The workshop helped answer questions like ‘what does the CGIAR want to achieve with private sector engagement, and how can we increase our chances of success ?’ Recently, the CGIAR reaffirmed its commitment to leveraging ambitious partnerships for change, and building interdependent relationships following rigorous ethical standards with small, medium and large enterprises, as well as with private sector coalitions, to accelerate sector-wide progress. The One CGIAR project is an opportunity for scaling up the best models for working with the private sector, and building on existing models.

CGIAR and the private sector in the future

Remy Bitoun suggests that the OneCG project being implemented will allow the CLIPNet community  (See Textbox) to integrate IP, private sector engagement and business development, leveraging the scientific and convening power of the CGIAR to scale up our engagement with the private sector. In this way, ‘the CGIAR would be able to lead strategically on its engagement with the private sector.’

The CGIAR already has an impressive experience of working with the private sector.




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