By Gert-Jan Stads, Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI)
Last week in Bangkok, the Asia–Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) hosted a high-level policy dialogue on Investment in Agricultural Research for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific. In his opening remarks, the association’s Executive Secretary, Raghunath Ghodake, described this meeting as “a dream come true for APAARI.” Over 150 research stakeholders and policymakers came together for the two-day meeting, the purpose of which was to examine the challenges facing agriculture and agricultural research in Asia and the Pacific.
In preparation for this event, APAARI approached Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) in July with a request for recent data on agricultural research spending and capacity in the Asia–Pacific. Unfortunately, funding constraints meant that ASTI’s datasets for the region had not been updated in recent years. In the intervening months, however, ASTI worked with its collaborators from Laos, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam who provided recent human resource and expenditure data for some of the largest agricultural research agencies operating in these countries. This information was combined with ASTI’s recent datasets for South Asia and high-quality secondary datasets for China, Indonesia, and Thailand, to provide a rough general overview of financial and human capacity trends in Asian agricultural research.
Overall, since the turn of the millennium Asia has recorded rapid growth in its levels of agricultural research spending (excluding the private for-profit sector). Most of the growth in regional spending was driven by just one country: China. In 2013, China invested $9.4 billion purchasing power parity or PPP dollars (in 2011 prices) in agricultural R&D. Spending in India and Indonesia has also increased substantially since the turn of the millennium. These countries rank second and third, spending $3.4 and $1.4 billion PPP dollars in 2014, respectively.
Many countries in Asia continue to underinvest in agricultural research, however. Cambodia, Laos, and Pakistan all invest less than 0.20 percent of their agricultural GDP in agricultural research, which is clearly insufficient considering the numerous emerging challenges these countries face, including widespread poverty, rapid population growth, climate change, and environmental degradation.
On a positive note, the number of PhD-qualified agricultural researchers has risen in nearly all Asian countries since 2000, although in some countries—particularly Nepal, Pakistan, and Vietnam—many senior researchers are approaching retirement age. Women also remain severely underrepresented in agricultural research in Asia, and many countries have a long way to go to ensure that female perspectives are integrated within research agendas and ultimately into the formulation of agricultural and related policy.
At the meeting, ASTI presented an overview of recent agricultural research investment and capacity trends in Asia. More extensive collection and analyses of data on agricultural research expenditures, capacity, and outputs in Asia are needed, however, over the long run. Fortunately, this last message did not fall on deaf ears. ASTI’s presentation managed to spark donor interest at the meeting. Over the next few weeks, APAARI and ASTI will work together to secure the necessary funding to build in-country capacity for agricultural research data collection and analysis in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and to maintain this capacity over time.