Our food and agriculture systems face profound challenges in the 21st century.
Consumers need more nutritious food that is affordable and safe; producers seek innovation to help them beat climate change and natural resource constraints; and the entire agri-food value chain must rapidly adopt new practices and tools that contribute to a healthy sustainable world.
Due to agriculture’s dependence on limited resources like water and land, it may be unique in its reliance on productivity and innovation to meet the rapidly growing demand of consumers by 2050.1 Agri-food innovation systems rely heavily on public agricultural research and development (R&D) and extension systems as well as regulatory frameworks that incentivize risk-taking innovation and investment.
Such agricultural R&D investments require long gestation periods of more than a decade to realize the full benefits that these investments generate. Over time, they pay large dividends, including higher profits for farmers, more abundant food supply at lower cost for consumers, and more opportunities and a higher quality of life in rural communities.
Yet, investments in public research in agriculture are not keeping up with the need. Without significant increases in R&D investment and partnerships, food and agriculture systems will fall short of a vision for a healthier, more sustainable world.
This chapter is a call to action to reverse the decline in public agriculture research, development and extension we face today.
Public R&D Sparks Innovation
Agricultural R&D along with extension programs are essential public goods and the principal drivers of Total Factor Productivity (TFP) growth. Public sector R&D and extension programs deliver innovation and information to agricultural producers. They provide access to proven techniques such as conservation agriculture and animal care practices to improve the sustainability and resilience of their operations.
While farmers innovate on their farms, experimenting with practices that can boost their own production, individually they do not have the capacity to conduct long-term research and development activities.
Public R&D provides foundational results that the private sector can further develop to improve specific crops, livestock, machinery or food manufacturing industries. R&D and extension services help producers control costs, reduce loss and waste and become resilient to weather challenges and climate change while conserving natural resources.
Countries that build national agricultural research systems (NARS) capable of producing a steady stream of innovations suitable for local farming systems have generally achieved higher growth rates in agricultural productivity than countries that do not make these investments.
Low-income countries must prioritize and increase investments, as their R&D spending remains much lower than others as a percentage of their agricultural GDP, a common measure of the commitment to productivity and agricultural innovation. Higher income countries must maintain a commitment to ongoing agricultural R&D to keep pace with ever-evolving challenges faced by their producers and consumers.
Leveraging Research to Revolutionize Agri-Food Systems
Low-income countries have yet to attract significant levels of private-sector research funds, and a range of commodities (roots and tubers, tree crops, fish and small ruminants) lack investment.
The private sector brings significant resources in terms of investment and talent to the global agricultural research endeavor. Between 1990 and 2014, private spending on agricultural R&D tripled, from $5.14 billion to $15.61 billion (or doubled in constant PPP$).4 In high-income countries, the private-sector research investment constitutes a large portion of total agricultural research funding.
Many low-income countries, however, lack the public policy environment to attract such investment, such as a lack of intellectual property rights protection, adverse regulatory frameworks and poor marketing infrastructure for inputs such as seeds and machinery.
Africa’s Research Investment Gap
After the food price crisis of 2007 and 2008, many countries renewed their commitments to put agriculture, and particularly agricultural R&D, at the center of their policy agendas.
In many African nations, national agricultural research systems are highly dependent on funding from donors and development banks — funding that has been less predictable during the past decade. These countries must now mobilize new sources of funding to fill the research investment gap and build national research and extension systems to boost productivity in agriculture.
After stagnating during the 1990s, Africa’s agricultural research spending—excluding the private for-profit sector—increased considerably during 2000–2014, from $1.7 to $2.5 billion in 2011 PPP prices. But three countries accounted for nearly half of the investments made in 2014: Nigeria ($434 million), South Africa ($417 million), and Kenya ($274 million). Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda each also spent more than $100 million in 2014.
In contrast, 12 of the 40 countries for which data were available spent less than $10 million on agricultural research, and most of these are in West and Central Africa. Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda drove about three-quarters of the $800 million growth in agricultural research spending during 2000–2014.2
The African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the United Nations (UN) are encouraging governments to allocate at least one percent of agricultural gross domestic product (AgGDP) to public agricultural R&D, a generally recognized investment level to sustain and build agricultural productivity. Overall investment levels in most countries are still well below those required, with only Mauritius, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Senegal and Burkina Faso exceeding the one percent of AgGDP target.3
Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships Help Fill the Research Gap
The international community established key research centers in the latter half of the twentieth-century to help developing countries improve crops such as wheat, rice and maize. CGIAR (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) is today a global research partnership with 15 centers (the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers) spread around the globe.
CGIAR operates in partnership with national and regional agricultural research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector and has expanded its research portfolio to include cassava, chickpea, sorghum, potato, millet and other food crops, as well as livestock, farming systems, the conservation of genetic resources, plant nutrition, water management, policy research, and services to national agricultural research centers in developing countries.
CGIAR also conducts collaborative and cross-cutting research on climate change and food security through its CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.
To begin to fill the research gap in many low-income countries, public-private research partnerships are being formed with CGIAR centers, developing country national agricultural research centers and private-sector companies. Such partnerships improve the nutritional quality and safety of food and leverage funds to tackle environmental and economic challenges faced by producers and consumers.
Research Partnerships for More and Better Maize
A multi-stakeholder partnership between a CGIAR center, CIMMYT (The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Corteva Agriscience™, the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is focused on fighting a deadly virus that destroys maize in developing countries.Keep Reading