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ECART was launched in May 1992 in response to the need for concerted efforts in meeting the diverse and complex demands of developing countries in natural resources management, poverty alleviation, livelihood development, market development, capacity strengthening and institutional development. It exists both to offer European research skills and expertise in a more accessible manner, and to encourage more effective co-ordination of research activities within Europe.

ECART seven members, before its evolution into an EEIG, were :
CIRAD Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement France
IICT Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical Portugal
NRI Natural Resources Institute United Kingdom
NRIL Natural Resources International Ltd United Kingdom
GTZ Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit GmbH Germany
IAO Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare Italy
WUR Wageningen University and Research Centers Netherlands

These are leading European research organisations sharing common objectives in the field of development-oriented research for sustainable development (agriculture, crops, livestock, forestry and inland fisheries) and natural resources management. Together, the organisations represent a European capacity of over 7,000 professional staff. Collaboration through ECART allows the member organisations to make a greater and more efficient contribution to sustainable agricultural development in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In addition to their own expertise the six organisations can mobilise expertise from other national and international research and development organisations in Europe and elsewhere.

All the original member institutions are characterised by a history of extensive field involvement in addressing natural resources development issues in developing countries. ECART works closely with regional agricultural research networks in the South (e.g. CORAF, ASARECA, SADC/FANR, APAARI, etc) and with national agricultural research systems (NARS) in individual countries, responding to their needs and their priorities. ECART has active collaboration linkages with the international agricultural research institutes under CGIAR. ECART also has close relations with the institutions of the European Union (and EU-sponsored initiatives such as EIARD, ERA-ARD, EARD-INFOSys+), aid agencies of the member states, and other European organisations, and has been involved in the establishment of the European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development.