Investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) in Sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than 20 percent from 2001-2008, but most of this growth occurred in only a handful of countries.* Nigeria alone accounts for one-third of the increase. Spending in most of the region has stagnated or fallen, according to a new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
In a survey of 32 African nations, the study found that investment in agricultural R&D had rebounded in many of the larger countries, primarily Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. However, in 13 countries, spending actually declined. Even where funding did increase, much of the money went to boost low salaries and rehabilitate infrastructure and equipment after years of neglect.
The state of agricultural R&D is particularly grave in francophone West Africa, where insufficient national investment has left programs debilitated and dangerously dependent on volatile external funding. Many of these countries are also struggling with a rapidly aging pool of scientists, many of whom will approach retirement within the next decade. Most countries in the study are facing human capacity challenges, such as recruitment freezes, retention problems, and researchers who either lack high-level training or are old and nearing retirement, according to the report.
IFPRI’s Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative conducted the survey in collaboration with more than 370 agricultural research agencies. ASTI is spearheaded by IFPRI on behalf of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
“Studies show that investments in agricultural R&D have greatly contributed to economic growth, agricultural development, food security, and poverty reduction in developing regions over the past five decades,” said Nienke Beintema, head of ASTI. “New agricultural technologies and crop varieties have helped to increase yields, improve nutrition, conserve natural resources, and expand rural markets.”
Well-developed, funded, and staffed agricultural research programs are crucial if farmers are to be more productive and prosperous in the future. The report shows, however, that only a few countries are making the necessary investments. In 2008, only eight countries in the study - Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Mauritania, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda - spent more than one percent of their agricultural GDP on research and development, the target set by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Moreover, many countries still depend on donors for funding, which is often short-term and unpredictable, leaving programs vulnerable and hampering long-term planning.
To address the challenges hindering agricultural R&D in Africa, the report recommends:
- increased, consistent, and coordinated funding among governments and donors to counteract decades of underinvestment in agricultural R&D;
- improved recruitment and training, and expanded investments in agricultural higher education to resolve human resource capacity issues; and
- increased regional and sub-regional cooperation in agricultural R&D to pool resources, share information and innovations, and maximize the benefits of research.
“In the face of escalating challenges to food security, such as rapid population growth, climate change, water scarcity, and volatile food prices, investing in agricultural research is more important than ever,” said Gert-Jan Stads, ASTI program coordinator. “Although there has been renewed interest in the role of agriculture in tackling hunger and poverty in recent years, this political support must be translated into action if the immense potential of agricultural research is to be realized.”
*All data related to investment and spending patterns are adjusted for inflation.