Food security and agricultural development are at the heart of the global issues of the 21st century. On the Asian continent, these issues are all the more critical in that by 2050 the countries of this zone will have to feed more than 5 billion people. So how can their food security be ensured? One of the solutions will necessarily have to be by an increase in investment in research and infrastructure in order to sustainably increase agricultural production.
We recommend reading the IFPRI report on public research and development (R&D) in South Asia, of which we have published the conclusions here1
. What emerges from this report is that if public and private investments in innovation and advancement in agricultural research significantly increased between 1996 and 2009, mainly driven by India, they remain largely insufficient or/and ineffective.
However, as the two experts from IFPRI have pointed out, South Asia has a lot of genuine technical and scientific expertise in R & D. But this will not be enough. The region must focus on increasing financial investments in this sector, but it will also have to implement efficient institutional reform based on better governance, in order to meet the agricultural challenge of tomorrow.
Without significant improvement in productivity and yields, without agricultural innovation and finally without the regulation of agricultural markets, agricultural production will not increase by 70% by 2050, a target that the United Nations considers essential to ensure global food security.
momagri Editorial board
New quantitative evidence presented in this report demonstrates that total public agricultural R&D spending in South Asia more than doubled between 1996 and 2009, while the number of agricultural researchers decreased by 6 percent. These trends were largely driven by India, which has the highest investment levels and strongest human resource capacity in agricultural research in South Asia by far (both in terms of size and qualification levels), as well as the highest agricultural research spending intensity at 0.4 percent of Ag GDP.
Other aspects that set India apart from its neighbors are the comparatively important role of its private sector in agricultural R&D and the sweeping NAIP–stimulated agricultural R&D reform process, which is exploring new forms of consortia-based partnerships involving farmers and private enterprises to increase the relevance and efficiency of research. Overall, Indian agricultural research is relatively well-funded, although the budgets of some state agricultural universities have fallen in recent years.
Compared with India, agricultural R&D in the four other South Asian countries faces greater challenges (Table 3, page 22). Relative investment levels are lower in these countries than in India and have shown greater year-to-year fluctuations, in many instances due to the instability of donor funding. Agricultural research staff in these countries is also significantly less-qualified than in India, the combined result of prolonged recruitment freezes, losses of highly qualified senior staff, limited training opportunities, and an aging population of researchers. In addition, political instability in some countries has either delayed or complicated much needed institutional and policy reforms. Some countries have been left with complex or outdated agricultural R&D structures that are unsuited to current needs.
Various policy reforms have been or are in the process of being implemented to address some of these institutional inefficiencies, including the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in Pakistan (which devolved much of the oversight of the agriculture sector to the provinces); the Strategic Vision for Agricultural Research, 2011–30, in Nepal; NATP in Bangladesh, and NARP in Sri Lanka.
Despite rapid increases in recent years, South Asia’s agricultural R&D spending is still very low compared with other developing regions around the world.
Agricultural R&D intensity ratios in Pakistan (0.21) and Nepal (0.23) are among the lowest in the developing world, and even India (0.40) invests a considerably lower share of its agricultural output on agricultural R&D than other emerging economies such as China (0.50 in 2008) and Brazil (1.80 in 2006). These indicators are a clear sign that South Asia is underinvesting in agricultural research, which doesn’t bode well for future generations. The subregion’s population is predicted to continue to grow sharply until 2050, which—together with additional challenges stemming from climate change and environmental degradation—will necessitate increased food production.
Being aware of these challenges, the subregion’s national governments have set ambitious, but seemingly unrealistic, agricultural R&D investment targets. Investment levels not only need to increase, but also be better managed, timed, and targeted to ensure maximum impact on productivity growth and poverty reduction, particularly in less-favored areas. Increased diversification of funding sources will also be necessary, for example, through increases in the sale of goods and services and in participation by the private sector, which in turn requires that national governments focus on providing the necessary enabling policy environment.
The scientific competence of South Asia’s agricultural R&D agencies is high, particularly in India, but as in many developing regions of the world, stronger linkages are needed to connect agricultural research agencies and their staff with the end users of their research to improve the relevance, effectiveness, and efficiency of research outputs. Further efforts to strengthen subregional linkages are also needed in order to better utilize limited resources and reduce wasteful duplication. In addition, good governance is key to promoting the effectiveness and efficiency of research, and ongoing policy and institutional reform will be needed to further strengthen agricultural R&D and innovation in South Asia.
1 The full version of the article is available from IFPRI’s website at http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/astisouthasiasynthesis.pdf