Investment in agricultural research and development 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 research and development had rebounded in many of the larger countries, primarily Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Agricultural research and development spending in Ghana more than doubled during 2000–08 and dramatically after 2002 following a period of relative stagnation in the 1990s.
In 2008, for instance, Ghana spent $95 million on agricultural research and development compared with $41 million it spent in 2002.
This expenditure was largely as a result of rising salary costs at the agencies under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and increased funding for the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) following the country’s boost in cocoa production.
Agricultural research staff also showed steady growth throughout this period, albeit at a much slower rate than expenditures.
The report said in 2000–08, Ghana’s agricultural research was primarily funded through the government and a number of donors.
Although the government legislated more than a decade ago that the CSIR agencies should derive 30 percent of their budget from private sources, only the Oil Palm Research Institute (OPRI) has come close to reaching this commercialisation target.
It said in 13 African countries, spending declined. Even where funding did increase, much of the money went to boost low salaries and rehabilitated infrastructure and equipment after years of neglect.
The report said the state of agricultural research and development is particularly grave in francophone West Africa, where insufficient national investment had left programmes 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 would 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.
The survey was conducted by IFPRI’s Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative in collaboration with more than 370 agricultural research agencies under the auspices of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The report said a few countries are making the necessary investments. In 2008, only eight countries in the study namely Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Mauritania, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda spent more than one percent of their agricultural Gross Domestic Products (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.
The report recommends increased, consistent and coordinated funding among governments and donors agencies to counteract decades of under-investment in agricultural research and development.
Mr Nienke Beeintema, Head of ASTI, said studies attest that investments in agricultural research and development had contributed to economic growth, agricultural development, food security, and poverty reduction in developing regions over the past five decades.
“New agricultural technologies and crop varieties have helped to increase yields, improve nutrition, conserve natural resources, and expand rural markets,” he said.
Mr Gert-Jan Stads, ASTI Programme Coordinator, said 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 was more important than ever.
He said “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.”