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Improving lives by solving problems in agriculture and the environment

Foreword from the CEO

2017 was the first year of our latest Medium Term plan covering the period to 2019. It is fair to say that the situation we faced at the beginning of the year was rather different from what we envisaged when the plan was written! It has been a tough year for the organisation as we have faced headwinds from a number of political, economic and social trends particularly in relation to tight funding for academia, questions over the effectiveness of overseas development assistance and significant changes in government focus in both Northern and Southern hemispheres. These challenges meant that we fell short of our financial targets, albeit still delivering a healthy surplus. Despite this we have already delivered, or are on track for, 84% of the milestones that we set ourselves in the Medium Term Plan so CABI has come through the year well and had significant successes leaving us in a stronger position at the beginning of 2018.

 Our plan was very clearly framed around delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and this year’s CABI In Review has been structured around case studies which show how CABI is contributing to the global achievement of the SDGs. Our investment in staff with sociology and economics backgrounds has given us much greater capability to assess the long-term outcomes and impacts of our programmes and I am delighted that we can now report progress in terms of the changes we are bringing to lives around the world, not just to CABI’s finances.

SDG 1 (No Poverty) is at the heart of development and CABI’s focus is very much upon improving market access for farmers so that they can improve their incomes by trading more of their output at better prices. Sometimes, farmers struggle with a lack of physical infrastructure to allow them to get their crop to market but the most pernicious barriers are often invisible – they are the result of rules and regulations that may be difficult for farmers to identify, understand and comply with. An important part of our work is to help smallholders to overcome these non-tariff barriers and also, at the policy level, to encourage countries to harmonise approaches and standards. This aspect of our work also links closely to themes from SDG 12 (Sustainable Production) where we look at ways in which farmers adopt integrated practices of plant, seed and soil health so as to improve the long term quality, quantity, safety and climate resilience of their crops and the land on which they are grown.

SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) is very much at risk due to the clear and present danger from invasive species worldwide, but no more so than in Africa and Asia where smallholder farmers have limited resources and little access to environmentally-friendly means of controlling the threats to their crops or livestock. During 2017, we were supported by DFID to assess the significant threat to food security in Africa arising from fall armyworm, a newly-arrived pest from the Americas. The results were shocking but unfortunately proved correct as large swathes of maize and other crops were devastated by this pest. We are extremely grateful that the threat has now been recognised by multiple agencies and that DFID and DGIS have provided significant funding to help CABI take positive action on the ground. These efforts are driven through our new flagship programme, Action on Invasives, which draws on CABI’s many years of expertise in this area, covering both developing and developed country problems – all of which contribute to SDG 15 (Life on Land).

SDG 4 (Quality Education) is addressed through CABI’s core Publishing products and it is welcome to see this range coming back into stronger growth as a result of renewed focus in 2017. At the end of the year, we were sorry to lose our Chief Information Officer, Andrea Powell. She had been with CABI for 26 years, and successfully led the business for the last 12, during which she oversaw the transition to the digital age. Nevertheless, we are delighted to have recruited a very strong successor – Dr Andy Robinson – who I am confident will be able to lead the business forward to further success. Our case studies for this CABI In Review focus on the way in which we are contributing to lifelong learning and knowledge sharing beyond the university, building upon the wealth of information in our databases through the development of advanced education tools and by using the newly acquired capabilities of SciDev.Net to train researchers and journalists to communicate about science more effectively.

Trevor Nicholls, CEO