Saturday, August 30, 2008

Agricultural aid fails to keep up ag research

Source: "The Food Chain: World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut," KEITH BRADSHER and ANDREW MARTIN, The New York Times, May 18, 2008.

The article states:
nowadays at the International Rice Research Institute, greenhouses have peeling paint and holes in their screens and walls. Hallways are dotted with empty offices. In the 1980s, the institute employed five entomologists, or insect experts, overseeing a staff of 200. Now it has one entomologist with a staff of eight.

“We’ve had an exodus here,” said Yvette Naredo, an assistant geneticist.

Similar troubles plague other centers in Asia, Africa and Latin America that work on crop productivity in poor countries. Agricultural experts have complained about the flagging efforts for years and warned of the risks.......

The United States is in the midst of slashing, by as much as 75 percent, its $59.5 million annual support for a global research network that focuses on improving crops vital to agriculture in poor countries. That network includes the rice institute.
Comment: This posting is a partial response to a comment/request from Glenn for information on the funding of international agricultural research.

The International Agricultural Research Centers of the CGIAR network are the keystones in a worldwide system of agricultural research, doing the heavy lifting. They maintain huge repositories of germplasm for our major crop species, and have historically done the breeding of the most important new crop varieties which then have been adapted by national agricultural research agencies to local conditions. As plant breeding has been increasingly done by the private sector, financed by the sale of hybrid seeds and chemicals, the IARCs have expanded into a wide variety of crop protection and cropping systems research.

As I understand it, the reasons that African yields have stayed so low are complex. Governments have favored low prices for consumers over higher incomes for food producers. There has not been the investment in irrigation needed to provide the abundant and predictable water supply that the high-yielding grain varieties require. The very poor, often subsistence farms in Africa don't have the money to buy modern inputs, and so the systems to supply such inputs are rudimentary there, and as a further result there is little economic incentive for the private sector to provide innovations for those farms. African governments are often financially and administratively weak with a fair number of "failed states", and the efforts of African governments to fund agricultural research and extension service consequently have been inadequate to fill the gap.

Unfortunately, people are going hungry as a result of the lack of agricultural productivity in poor nations, and that in turn can be traced back in part to decades of neglect for the improvement of their agricultural technology and infrastructure. JAD

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