The OECD and the FAO recently invited public authorities to invest in agriculture to encourage innovation, increase productivity and improve integration in global value chains. This particularly as tomorrow, the world population will be 9 billion and according to FAO forecasts, global agricultural production must increase by 70%.
We recommend reading the recent report on future global food issues from the perspective of agricultural innovation, co-authored by The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and the London School of Economics and Political Science foundation (LES)1
, of which we have published an extract here. According to the report, innovation is too often overlooked by policy makers at national and international levels. Just as agricultural markets do not self-regulate, there is no deus ex machina in agricultural innovation without clear political determination.
If the report welcomes the actions of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) of the FAO and the UNDP, it nonetheless regrets the lack of public investment in R & D, which is essential to maintaining global food security and the agricultural balances of today.
So innovation, but also production and regulation, will be the triptych of future agricultural governance to ensure the lasting combat against global food insecurity.
momagri Editorial Board
Policymakers Assume Agricultural Innovation Will Magically Appear
Agriculture and earth systems analysts rely on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) to provide plausible future scenarios that can be used to anticipate the potential impacts of climate change and compare the outcomes of different policy approaches. A typical agricultural assessment models the future effects of climate change on crop productivity (e.g., temperature, soil conditions, crop yields, crop quality, and precipitation) using each of the scenarios presented in SRES.
Though the SRES scenarios are carefully constructed in view of the best available scientific evidence, they make overly optimistic assumptions about “baseline” agricultural innovation that obscure the scale of the agricultural production challenge and the importance of a concerted, innovation-centric response.
The problem with these assumptions is that they posit significant future agricultural system improvements without specifying where these improvements will come from. In assuming that such improvements will appear absent policy changes, these analyses suppress a critical discussion of how the world will increase crop productivity and food supply. Though they acknowledge that a significant technological gap exists between our current agricultural systems and the more productive and resilient systems we need, they fail to understand that the considerable technological innovation and growth needed to create this improved system will require significant, concerted effort and policy change. The notion that sufficient innovation will occur on its own is naïve, complacent, and contradicted by a long history of breakthrough technologies. Ultimately, creating the necessary improvements in agricultural production systems will require strategic, evidence-based policy and investment decisions.
Governments Under-Invest in Agricultural Innovation
Over the last one hundred years, a variety of support systems for agricultural research have evolved at the national and international level. Most nations directly dependent on agriculture have established some type of national agricultural research system (NARS).
Historically, these institutions have managed a significant percentage of total global agricultural research and development (R&D), driven by domestic economic imperatives and sustained public investment. Those from Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States have risen to particular international prominence, wielding influence and exerting impacts far beyond their own borders.
In addition, a number of international bodies have been active in conducting agricultural research and coordinating efforts to support agricultural growth in developing nations as part of larger economic development agendas, including the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), among others. Private philanthropic groups have also played significant roles. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation was a leader during the Green Revolution, and the Gates Foundation’s agricultural work has become increasingly prominent in recent years.
While the number of institutions supporting agriculture research has expanded over time, public investments in agricultural innovation have not been sufficient to maintain the levels of annual growth in crop yields necessary to achieve the growth in total crop production needed by 2050. Annual yield growth has collapsed across most key food commodities, both globally and in the United States.
These declines in yield growth rates can result from a variety of non-policy factors, including bad weather, exhaustion of natural resource bases, and macroeconomic forces.
But yield growth rates are also influenced strongly by public policies, including changes in regulatory conditions and, crucially, changes in public spending on agricultural R&D. Though public spending on agricultural R&D has remained on an upward trajectory since the Green Revolution, the rate of growth has slowed considerably.
Between 1951 and 1969, public agricultural R&D spending in the United States grew by an average of 4.2 percent per year. From 1970 to 1989, growth slowed to an average of 1.6 percent per year. Between 1990 and the present, growth has slowed even further to an anemic 1 percent per year.81 In 2000, global public investment in agricultural R&D totaled $20.30 billion (2010 dollars). Of this, $4.6 billion (19 percent) came from the U.S. federal government. This represents roughly half of the total U.S. investment in agricultural R&D, the balance of which came from the private sector. As previously mentioned, these public investments have not grown commensurately with the United States economy; nor are they nearly enough to support the levels of annual yield growth required to meet the projected food demands of 2050 and beyond.
In fact, the decline in agricultural R&D outpaces the broader decline relative to GDP in total public funding for all R&D. Through much of the 1990s, a decade marked by economy-wide deterioration in public investments in innovation, agriculture R&D fared well relative to other sectors. Yet, as total R&D investments as a share of GDP reversed course and began increasing again during much of the 2000s, agriculture R&D continued to decline. By 2009, agriculture R&D fell to a historically low 0.035 percent share of the United States economy, a level far below that which is necessary to boost annual yield increases from their current low levels.
1 The complete report is available by following this link http://www2.itif.org/2013-feeding-planet-warming-world.pdf