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GFAR was jointly established by FAO, IFAD, The World Bank and CGIAR and is the only multi-stakeholder global forum in which public, private and civil actors, across all aspects of the generation, access, transformation and use of agri-food knowledge, come together through their own representative mechanisms, to collectively shape the future of agriculture and realize desired SDG impacts.

In December 1994, an International Consultation entitled "Towards a NARS Vision of International Agricultural Research" was convened by IFAD in Rome, within the framework of the process of renewal of the CGIAR System. Some 80 National Agricultural Research System (NARS) leaders came together and produced a Declaration with concrete actions to strengthen NARS-CGIAR partnership. The Lucerne Ministerial-Level Meeting, which followed in February 1995, urged the CGIAR “to accelerate the process of systematizing participation by NARS of developing countries in setting and implementing the Consultative Group’s agenda".

A follow-up meeting to “develop an action plan to strengthen NARS-CGIAR partnership” was held on May 21, 1995 in Nairobi to discuss ideas for the formulation of an Outline Action Plan (OAP) adopted at the October 1995 CGIAR International Centers' Week. The Plan called for establishing or convening regional fora of NARS leaders. These meetings ensured that the broader NARS community had an opportunity to discuss issues of importance for developing stronger NARS-CGIAR partnerships. The outcome of these meetings led to the rejuvenation of regional organizations of NARS (AARINENA and APAARI) and the establishment of new regional fora (FARA to cover Africa, and FORAGRO).

Several preparatory meetings at IFAD HQ in Rome between May- September 1996 enabled selected NARS leaders from four (4) regions to share ideas on strengthening the CGIAR’s partnership with NARS, building on the outcome of the NARS-led consultative process since the Rome NARS Consultation (1994) and on the outputs of the regional fora meetings held between December 1995 and October 1996. A common understanding was reached on an agenda for a Global NARS meeting to be held during the CGIAR ICW96. At the end of this meeting the Global Forum on Agricultural Research was born – with the full engagement of NARS leaders from Africa, West Asia and North Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America.

A Memorandum of Understanding between IFAD and FAO established the GFAR Secretariat formally in 2003. GFAR Secretariat has since been hosted at FAO Headquarters.