Countries in Africa south of the Sahara (SSA) are vastly underinvesting in agricultural research, an area proven to have positive impacts on agricultural productivity, incomes, nutrition, and food security. But how much, exactly, should they be investing? The answer has traditionally been a target set by the African Union and United Nations that assumes national investments should be proportional to the size of the country’s agricultural sector in all cases: at least 1 percent of the country’s agricultural gross domestic product (AgGDP).
However, as a recent blog described, ASTI has produced a new, more nuanced method for determining agricultural research investment targets that are most appropriate and attainable for each country. The measure is based on the argument that smaller, more agroecologically diverse countries have different research investment needs than larger ones with more homogeneous agricultural landscapes.
The new measure that ASTI developed—the ASTI intensity index—adds four additional weighted ratios to the mix: those related to the size of the country’s economy, its income, its potential for “spill-over” use of knowledge produced by its neighbors, and the diversification of its agricultural outputs.
As the recently published 2017 ASTI Synthesis Report illustrates, this country-tailored measure provides a fresh perspective on the state and extent of agricultural research underinvestment in SSA.
First, it debunks the myth that all countries must invest at least 1 percent of their AgGDP. For many SSA countries, the 1 percent investment target is simply unattainable—and not worth striving for. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, for example, investment targets of around 0.4 to 0.5 percent of AgGDP would be much more realistic. Likewise, countries like Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe are already investing very close to their optimal levels, regardless of their varying distance to the traditional target.
Small countries like the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Lesotho, and Swaziland, however, should be able to reach intensity ratios much higher than the traditional target: between 2.5 and 4 percent of AgGDP. Irrespective of which intensity measure is used, many francophone countries are significantly underinvesting in agricultural research. These include Chad, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Niger, and Togo.
Another important use of the intensity index is to calculate the agricultural research investment gap: the difference between a country’s actual level of research investment and its estimated attainable investment level, as measured by the highest investment level among comparable countries. Based on this calculation, regional investment in agricultural research in 2014 could have totaled $4 billion (in 2011 dollars adjusted for purchasing power parity)—a great deal more than the $2.5 billion the region actually invested that year.
In other words, the region’s gap between actual and estimated attainable investment in agricultural research was $1.5 billion in 2014 alone. Previous years saw similar gaps.
This raises an interesting question: what might African productivity look like today had all these billions been spent?