Despite greater government commitment to agricultural research throughout South Asia, investment levels may be insufficient to meet the considerable food supply challenges on the horizon, according to a newly published ASTI report.
India continues to be the region’s largest player in agricultural research and technology development. The country’s annual investment in agricultural R&D has doubled since the late 1990s, reaching $2.3 billion in 2009 (in 2005 PPP prices). Other aspects of agricultural R&D that set India apart from its neighbors include the relatively important role of the private sector and the sweeping reforms under way to encourage more effective partnerships and entrepreneurship. On the less positive side, weakened research capacity at state agricultural universities has contributed to an 8 percent decline in total research staffing since 2000.
Compared to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka face greater challenges in bolstering agricultural R&D. Relative spending levels are lower than in India, and year-to-year fluctuations in funding are more extreme due to greater donor dependency. Prolonged recruitment freezes, losses of senior staff, limited training opportunities, and an aging population of researchers have all weakened capacity. Furthermore, research staff in these countries are also less likely to hold postgraduate degrees. With the exception of Sri Lanka, women are severely underrepresented.
In view of major challenges including rapid population growth, climate change, land and water scarcity, and volatile agricultural markets, South Asia urgently needs a revitalization of its agricultural sector. Effective and well-targeted agricultural R&D will play a key role in this regard.
The ASTI report makes the following key policy recommendations:
- Increase investment levels, but also better manage, time, and target these investments to ensure maximum impact on productivity growth and poverty reduction.
- Increase diversification of funding sources through sales of goods and services and private sector participation (meaning governments need to provide the necessary enabling policy environment).
- Develop stronger links to connect agricultural research agencies with farmers, to ensure that research outputs are effective and respond to end-users’ needs.
- Increase subregional collaboration, to streamline allocation of limited resources and reduce duplication.
- Promote policy and institutional reforms that enhance good governance.
For detailed data and analysis of agricultural research trends in South Asia, please download the report.