The preliminary program for the ASTI/IFPRI—FARA conference Agricultural R&D—Investing in Africa’s Future: Analyzing Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities has now been posted on the conference website.
Full time-series dataset available for Sub-Saharan African countries
ASTI is pleased to announce that all available data for its recent Sub-Saharan Africa survey round are now ready to download from the ASTI Data Tool. The new data cover 31 countries over the period 2001–08, and include indicators such as research staff levels and public expenditures on agricultural R&D.
ASTI Country Pages provide a wealth of agricultural R&D information
ASTI has compiled country-specific data, publications, links, and additional resources on its country webpages. Simply select a country from the list on the ASTI website to access.
According to the latest country note by ASTI and the Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR), Rwandan agricultural research agencies have been rehabilitated since the first half of the 1990s, but challenges still remain. Agricultural research capacity grew modestly between 2005 and 2009, from 100 to 116 full-time equivalent (FTE) researchers. This growth mainly occurred in the higher education sector. Overall, the qualification levels of research staff clearly improved between these years, given that the number of MSc-qualified staff doubled. Rwanda’s agricultural research staff is, however, younger and less well-qualified in terms of postgraduate degrees when compared with staff in other countries of the region. Despite government and donor training efforts, greater investment is needed to raise staff qualifications to the levels necessary across all agencies and to increase the proportion of senior staff. The lack of national PhD programs in the agricultural sciences is also a significant constraint to improving qualification levels. To overcome these challenges in the short run, the country has managed to attract a large number of foreign scientists on a contract basis to fill a number of vacancies. Ongoing training initiatives will need to address the problem in the longer term.
Rwanda’s investment in agricultural R&D also increased slightly during 2005-09. The country’s agricultural research agencies are highly dependent on donor and development bank funding. Furthermore, the 2009 research intensity ratio of $0.51 indicates that investment in agricultural R&D is relatively low in Rwanda compared with the overall importance of the sector to the economy. In addition, the translation of research results into agricultural development has been weak given the lack of coordination between research, extension, and end-users. The recent restructuring of the main government research agency, ISAR, and the extension agencies under the authority of the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) is intended to address this issue. However, investment and capacity limitations must also be addressed if the new Board is to lead a more effective agricultural research and extension system.
Comprehensive information on agricultural research and development (R&D) conducted by the private sector is limited. ASTI and Rutgers University attempted to fill this knowledge gap by conducting in-depth surveys during 2009–11 on the private sector’s role in research and innovation in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. The findings of these surveys will be posted on the ASTI website in the coming weeks. The Senegal country note and country report are the first in a series providing insight into policy and institutional issues constraining private investment, and options for addressing these constraints.
In 2008, private companies represented just 14 percent of Senegal’s total agricultural R&D spending, with the public sector (mainly ISRA, ITA, and the universities) carrying out the vast majority. The reasons for this limited private involvement in agricultural R&D in Senegal are manifold. Many private companies operate with limited competition, discouraging future R&D investment. Furthermore, most companies lack long-term vision when it comes to the benefits of research, and many believe that new technologies will eventually spillover from the public sector or from abroad, eliminating their need to invest their resources. A more enabling environment for private R&D needs to be created to change this perspective. A large number of companies mentioned that government policies and regulations (and their poor implementation) hamper large-scale private R&D and innovation. Among those cited were the lengthy administrative procedures required to import agricultural inputs; the stringent regulations involved in registering and releasing new products; the lack of enforcement of laws to eliminate unfair foreign competition that disadvantages Senegalese companies; the widespread piracy of private innovations, and the lack of tax incentives to reward companies who invest in innovation.
Nonetheless, the Senegalese government has taken various measures in recent years to stimulate private participation in agricultural R&D and innovation. Regional seed, fertilizer, pesticide, and livestock regulations have been harmonized to reduce trade barriers in the subregion. Additional national initiatives, such as the establishment of the competitive fund, FNRAA, to stimulate private-sector involvement in R&D and the launch of the ambitious government plan to boost food production, GOANA, have provided tremendous opportunities to the private sector and have enhanced public–private partnerships in agricultural R&D and innovation.
Despite the limited overall involvement of the private sector in agricultural R&D and innovation in Senegal, the private sector plays an important innovative role in key export areas. While the government sector dominates the country’s agricultural R&D system when it comes to food crops, companies like SENCHIM, Suneor, SODEFITEX, and SPIA are major innovators in the groundnut and cotton subsectors, which provide Senegal with its principal export crops. The horticultural and fisheries subsectors have also demonstrated their capacity to innovate in recent years. Innovations in food processing, storage, and packaging have enabled many Senegalese products to meet strict European quality and hygiene standards, boosting Senegal’s exports in these areas. In addition, an increasing number of private innovations are being patented, both locally and abroad.
ASTI has compiled a detailed directory containing contact and website details of agricultural research agencies in Sub-Saharan Africa, including those from the government, nonprofit, and higher education sectors. The directory forms a unique repository that provides quick and easy access to a wealth of information on agricultural R&D agencies operating in the region. It is a product of a survey round conducted during 2009–10 by ASTI and national partners in which 370 agricultural R&D agencies from 31 African countries participated.
The complete directory can be accessed at http://www.asti.cgiar.org/pdf/ASTI-Directory-2011.pdf. The pdf directory also contains links to country website pages that provide more resources, including R&D capacity and investment data and ASTI publications. Country-level directories can be accessed from the country pages on the ASTI website. Simply select a country from the list of available Sub-Saharan African countries, and click on “Country Profile” to access the directory.
ASTI plans to keep the Africa directory updated and to improve its country coverage over the coming years. It also aims to release similar directories for other developing regions in the coming months.
The new country note released by ASTI and the Burundi Institute of Agronomic Sciences (ISABU) points out that the political turmoil that hit Burundi in 1993 wreaked havoc on the country’s agricultural research and development (R&D). Much of Burundi’s research infrastructure was damaged or destroyed, donors withdrew, and overall investment and capacity levels plummeted. It was not until the signing of the 2003 peace treaty that the country’s main donors (Belgium and the World Bank) returned to the scene, leading to a revival of agricultural R&D investment—albeit at a timid pace. In 2008, Burundi’s investments in agricultural R&D totaled 3.3 billion CFA francs (or 9.6 million dollars PPP, both in 2005 prices), which is still far below the levels recorded before the 1993 crisis. Agricultural research capacity levels have also shown an upward trend since 2003: in 2008, Burundi employed 98 full-time equivalent (FTE) agricultural researchers.
Despite this slow recovery, a number of major challenges still need to be overcome. ISABU, Burundi’s main agricultural R&D agency, lacks a critical mass of PhD-qualified researchers. This is a serious impediment to running high-quality research programs and attracting external funding. Additionally, scientists do not consider ISABU to be an attractive employer mainly because its salaries are low compared to those offered by universities, NGOs, and international organizations. In December 2010, the national government responded to this challenge by modifying the status of ISABU’s researchers. The institute can now ofer much higher salaries and there is hope that it will succeed in attracting and maintaining suitably qualified researchers.
Burundi’s agricultural sector has been severely weakened by the decade-long sociopolitical crisis and the harmful impact of climatic disturbances, which have become more frequent since 2000. Agricultural R&D can play a crucial role in helping to increase production and providing opportunities for rural populations to boost their incomes. This in turn will lead to greater food security and the alleviation of poverty. The onus is therefore on the Burundi government to define a precise set of national R&D priorities and develop a matching set of agricultural R&D programs to address these priorities in a relevant and coherent way. The realization of real progress necessarily implies long-term support from the national government, donors, and the private sector.
The latest country note by ASTI and the Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute (IRAF) points out that over the past few decades, Gabon’s agricultural research spending levels have exhibited a highly volatile trend. In 2008, the country invested 406 million CFA francs, or 1.6 million PPP dollars (in 2005 prices), which represents an extremely low level compared with most other African countries. Spending just 0.2 percent of its AgGDP on agricultural R&D, Gabon’s intensity ratio is one of Africa’s lowest. In contrast, the total number of agricultural researchers has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. In 2008, the country’s research capacity totaled 61 full-time equivalent (FTE) researchers.
These indicators bring to light a true paradox: on the one hand, Gabon employs an increasing number of agricultural researchers; on the other hand, the resources needed to carry out the research responsibilities are extremely low and erratic. Another paradox appears when one considers that—despite its status as one of Africa’s most developed countries—Gabon is of the world’s least developed countries in terms of its agricultural R&D facilities. The agricultural research agencies lack staffing, equipment, programs, and funding. Government grants allocated to the three agricultural research institutes under the National Scientific and Technological Research Center (CENAREST) institutes are irregular and frequently adjusted downwards as the budgetary year progresses, which leaves the institutes in dire financial straits. This has led to situations where CENAREST researchers find themselves underemployed, which negatively impacts their motivation. In addition, Gabonese researchers feel discouraged or disinterested in the face of the rigidity marking the civil service and the obstacles standing in the way of obtaining tenure or permission to travel or study abroad.
Since Gabon is a middle-income country, it is not attributed a high level of priority by foreign donors, whose attention is captured instead by many of its neighbors. The responsibility to endow the country’s research agencies with the tools and funds they need to be fully operational is in the national government’s hands. In order for Gabon’s agriculture to become a prominent sector that will help lead the country towards food sovereignty, the national government will have to increase its level of funding to support agricultural R&D – considerably so, and without further delay.
The recent country note released by ASTI, notes that in the past, Zimbabwe earned a reputation in Africa for its long-established national agricultural research system and high-quality academic institutions. After 2000, however, economic decline constrained the government’s ability to provide adequate funding for agricultural research. In 1992, total public agricultural research and development (R&D) spending amounted to 299 billion Zimbabwe dollars or 9 million PPP dollars (all in 2005 constant prices), whereas by 2002 this amount had fallen to only 76 billion Zimbabwe dollars or 2 million PPP dollars. Although expenditures grew between 2002 and 2005, inflationary pressures intensified in 2005 and research staff losses began to accelerate. The situation was exacerbated by the withdrawal of donor funding since 2003. In addition, private companies affected by the economy were unable to contract research services as they had done in the past.
Most of the research agencies in Zimbabwe are in need of financial resources to retain and employ additional personnel and to improve their laboratory facilities. Training needs are also significant. BSc-qualified staff accounted for half of Zimbabwe’s total agricultural research capacity in 2008 and 87 percent of research staff at the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS), the country’s main agricultural research agency—indicating a very low percentage of postgraduate trained staff, compared with the main public agricultural R&D agencies in other countries of the region.
The latest country note by ASTI notes that agricultural research and development (R&D) in Namibia differs from most other African countries in several key ways. The country’s agricultural R&D intensity ratio is nearly four times the African average, its R&D agencies are relatively well-funded by the national government, and foreign donors play only a marginal role in financing agricultural R&D efforts. In 2008, the country invested 94 million Namibian dollars or 22 million PPP dollars (both in 2005 prices) and employed 70 full-time equivalent (FTE) agricultural researchers.
Despite these positive indicators, the major constraint to effective agricultural R&D is the reality that Namibia’s agricultural scientists are among the least highly qualified in Africa. The country’s universities currently do not offer PhD programs in agricultural sciences, so scientists seeking training beyond the MSc level must travel abroad. Notwithstanding numerous government-funded training efforts that have improved average qualification levels in recent years, Namibia still lacks a critical mass of PhD-qualified scientists, which is crucial to both producing effective research results and securing future R&D funding.
The Directorate of Agricultural Research and Training (DART) is currently the country’s principal agricultural R&D agency, accounting for roughly 60 percent of its agricultural R&D staff and investments. Being a directorate under the Ministry, DART is constrained in its ability to offer competitive salaries and attract and retain well-qualified researchers. Moreover, even though DART generates substantial funding through the sale of goods and services, these funds are channeled back to the Treasury, leaving little incentive for the directorate to develop this income stream. The recent Cabinet approval of the creation of a national agricultural research institute or NARI, tentatively scheduled for 2013/14, is set to change all this. As a state-owned company the proposed NARI will be more client-driven, have the flexibility to offer higher salaries, and be able to generate funding through its own activities. All these factors are likely to have a positive effect on future agricultural R&D investment levels and staff development in Namibia.
On April 7, at a policy seminar at IFPRI headquarters in Washington, D.C., Nienke Beintema, ASTI program leader, presented the new IFPRI Food Policy Report on African Agricultural R&D in the New Millennium: Progress for Some, Challenges for Many. Following a brief overview of the report’s main conclusions, the seminar featured a discussion on opportunities for addressing the challenges facing African agricultural R&D systems. The seminar, chaired by Mark Rosegrant, IFPRI Division Director, also featured presentations by Eugene Terry, formerly of the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) and Greg Traxler, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A video of the seminar is available on the IFPRI website: http://www.ifpri.org/event/african-agricultural-research-and-development
The report has been picked up by a number of media outlets, including:
Voice of America: Africa's Hungriest Need Better Agricultural Research