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The new world map of agricultural R&D investment

Is agricultural R&D on the decline in the developing world? (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Is agricultural R&D on the decline in the developing world?
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Is agricultural R&D on the decline in the developing world? Is the public sector taking up the work? And how dependable is funding, in good and bad economic times? A new Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D, undertaken by the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative as an input to GCARD2, has provided data to inform the debates and brought up some surprising numbers, challenging conventional wisdom on the direction of investments in the future of agriculture. A full set of primary data for the years 2000 to 2008 has been an eye-opener, in particular, for participants who believed that investments in the developing world had been slowing down.

"ASTI proved the opposite to be true," says ASTI programme head Nienke Beintema. "Developing countries have been driving global public R&D investment growth since 2000. However, much of this growth is driven by a number of the larger, more advanced middle-income countries, while investments in many of the poorest countries are stagnating or declining."

In fact, global public spending rose 22 per cent during the period, boosting research and development after slow growth in the 1990s. And by 2008 this spending was split almost evenly between developed and developing countries. In high-income countries, the annual growth of public investment continued to decline from its 1980s peak and dropped to near zero after 2005.

It was accelerated spending by China and India that accounted for close to half of the US$5.6 billion global increase. Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Nigeria and Russia each contributed another three to four per cent. Massive investment in R&D by these middle-income rising powers will be significant to farmers' futures, but the numbers do hide negative trends in many smaller and poorer states.

Between 2000 and 2008, global public spending rose 22% (© ASTI)
Between 2000 and 2008, global public spending rose 22%
© ASTI

The assessment's 31 low-income countries together accounted for only three per cent of public spending, just as they did in 1981. This is despite the fact that their share of the population had risen by four per cent. And the true difficulties of R&D in low income countries come out in the measures of spending volatility. Most often dependent on short-term grants from donors, spending is twice as volatile as in high income countries, making sustained support of research and development agendas very difficult to achieve.

A private future?

Amid uncertain public financing and the enormous research costs of new technologies like transgenic crops, one widespread view is that the private sector is taking over much of the work of agricultural R&D. ASTI's Global Assessment does show that private investment in this area rose 26 per cent from 2000-2008, and more than a fifth of all spending worldwide is now private.

However, most of this US$18.2 billion in private R&D is spent by companies in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and more than half is on food processing and product development, which are considered manufacturing rather than agricultural sector concerns. ASTI programme coordinator, Gert-Jan Stads notes that its relevance to the world's poor remains limited.

Is the private sector taking over much of the work of agricultural R&D? (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Is the private sector taking over much of the work of agricultural R&D?
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

"The role of the private sector in agricultural R&D has certainly increased in a number of emerging economies, including China, India, and Brazil. But much of the private sector's research is on export commodities or high-value seed. Food security and nutrition issues firmly remain in the domain of the public sector. Although the role of the private sector has increased over the years, agricultural R&D in the developing world remains a predominantly public affair."

Beyond 2008

Beintema, Stads and their team had the pleasure of seeing their analysis bear fruit at GCARD2. "The key messages from ASTI featured prominently in a large number of discussions and presentations at GCARD," Beintema says. "We believe that ASTI successfully managed to change the widespread perception among GCARD participants that growth in agricultural R&D investments in the developing world was declining."

Agricultural R&D in the developing world remains a predominantly public affair (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Agricultural R&D in the developing world remains a predominantly public affair
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The full dataset for 179 countries, complete with graphs and tables, has been made available at www.asti.cgiar.org/globaloverview, where it will continue to inform decisions. ASTI now hopes to bring the assessment up to 2012 in time for the next GCARD. New rounds of data collection have already begun in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia, other regions will soon follow, however, depending funding availability.

One big question that will have many looking to the 2008-2012 data is the impact of the global economic crisis, which has broad implications for both public and private spending. But Beintema cautions that it is too early to say how, or if, this might show up in the data.

Written by: T. Paul Cox

Date published: January 2013

 

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