Research Capacity and Effectiveness

Mohinder Mudahar, Robert Jolly and Jitendra Srivastava point out that in most situations four kinds of research may be distinguished. In their words, they are as follows:

• Basic research, which creates new scientific knowledge to achieve new understanding but with no immediate commercial application.

• Strategic research, which provides knowledge and techniques to solve specific problems that have a wider applicability.

• Applied research, which develops new technologies and tangible inventions by adapting basic and strategic research to solve specific field problems.

• Adaptive research, which involves selecting and evaluating technological innovations to assess their performance in a particular agricultural system and adjusting technologies to fit specific environmental conditions.17

They also point out that basic research falls mostly in the domain of the public sector (because of externalities that make it a public good), whereas private sector participation is more likely to occur in applied and adaptive research. It is in these last two types of research that most of the ferment regarding institutional approaches is occurring. Private sector research does not necessarily lead to private ownership of the results; it can be carried out with public funding. Given the resource limitations in developing countries, many would argue that their research systems, both public and private, should concentrate on applied and adaptive research, building on international findings as much as possible. Thus, the type of agricultural research to be undertaken within a country is one of the first issues that requires an answer.

In regard to economic rates of return to agricultural research as a whole, Mudahar et al. cite a review of studies by Evenson and Westphal that reported the following mean rates of return: Africa, 41 % (10 studies); Latin America, 46% (36 studies); and Asia, 35% (35 studies).18

Estimates of the linkage between research effort and agricultural productivity have been made as well. Purcell and Anderson19 collated studies of this linkage for both developed and developing countries, although they found only two studies for the latter. For India over the period 1965-1987, Evenson and Mark Rose-grant20 estimated that the elasticity of total factor productivity in the crop sector with respect to the public sector's research 'stock variable' lay in the range 0.05 to 0.07. In other words, a 14 to 20% increase in research effort would generate a 1 % increase in productivity per year. For 22 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa over the period 1971 to 1986, Thirtle, Hadley and Townsend21 derived less optimistic results, calculating the elasticity of

17. Mohinder S. Mudahar, Robert W Jolly and Jitendra P. Srivastava, Transforming Agricultural Research Systems in Transition Economies: The Case of Russia, World Bank Discussion Paper No. 396, The World Bank, Washington, DC, USA, 1998, pp. 61-62.

18. Robert E. Evenson and Larry E. Westphal, Technological Change and Technology Strategy, Center Paper No. 503, Economic Growth Center, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, 1995 (cited in Mudahar et al., 1998, p. 7).

19. D. L. Purcell and J. R. Anderson, 1997, p. 116.

20. R. E. Evenson and M. W. Rosegrant, Total Factor Productivity and Sources of Long-Term Growth in Indian Agriculture, Environment and Production Technology Division Discussion Paper No. 7, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA, 1995.

21. C. Thirtle, D. Hadley and R. Townsend, 'Policy-induced innovation in Sub-Saharan African agriculture: a multilateral Malmquist productivity index approach', Development Policy Review, 13(4), 1995, pp. 323-348.

total factor productivity in all agriculture with respect to public sector research to be 0.02, which implies that a 50% increase in research effort would be required to attain a 1 % increase in productivity per year. Among other considerations, such estimates are sensitive to initial scale, to the relation between the size of the research effort and the size of the agricultural sector. They also assume no improvements in research efficiency with the existing capacity. Therefore, these estimates are only suggestive of the relationship between research and productivity.

A more recent analysis of the contributions of agricultural research was carried out for India by Evenson, Pray and Rosegrant.22 They concluded that (p. 63) the returns to additional public investments in agricultural research reach almost 60 % in each of the periods 1956-1965, 1966-1976 and 1977-1987. In regard to the contributions of research to total factor productivity, they estimate (p. 59) that public research accounted for about 29% of the growth in total factor productivity over the entire sample period, with the rest accounted for by increased use of inputs and by private research, extension, literacy and markets.

Strong contributions of agricultural research in Africa also have been observed:

In recent years, as a result of the growing donor pressure to demonstrate impacts of agricultural research, several studies have been conducted to document impacts and estimate rates of return to research investment in Africa. These studies provide evidence of the increasing availability of improved varieties of major food crops to farmers in Africa, increased food production in regions where adoption has occurred, and positive returns to research investment, indicating that agricultural research in Africa has had productivity increasing impacts on its agriculture. The widespread adoption of improved maize, wheat and rice varieties is especially noteworthy, covering more than 50% of the area under these cereal crops by the early 1990s.

As a result of this growing evidence, the impacts of agricultural research in Africa can no longer be denied. The generation and diffusion of improved, higher-yielding maize open-pollinating varieties in Western Africa and hybrids in Eastern and Southern Africa, higher yielding wheat in Eastern and Southern Africa, hybrid sorghum in Sudan, semi-dwarf rice for irrigated regions in West Africa, early maturing cowpeas in West Africa, and disease-resistant potatoes in Eastern and Central African highlands are now cited as outstanding success stories of technological change in food crop production in sub-Saharan Africa.23

For Indian agriculture, Evenson et al. observe that private research accounts for about half the expenditure that public research does, and that it is concentrated on those crops in which hybrid seeds play a significant role (p. 18). In addition to the private sector, other non-governmental institutions in developing countries have the capacity to participate in agricultural research, including farmers' organizations (especially in the applied and adaptive modes) and universities and specialized institutes (in all modes, including basic research). Lack of co-ordination between governmental and non-governmental research institutions has been identified as a pervasive problem. In their review of World Bank-supported agricultural research, Purcell and Anderson identified this issue as a principal one, along with several others:

The net result of investment [in agricultural research] has been an improved human resource base (albeit with some mismatches between available and needed skills); a substantially expanded research infrastructure in facilities and equipment, combined with doubts about the appropriateness of some investments; improved links with external research entities; advances in agency coordination within

22. Robert E. Evenson, Carl E. Pray and Mark W. Rosegrant, Agricultural Research and Productivity Growth in India, Research Report 109, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA, 1999.

23. M. K. Maredia, D. Byerlee and P. Pee, 2000, p. 554.

national agricultural research systems (NARS), but inadequate attention to involvement of academic institutions; mixed results in improving research-extension farmer linkages; weak development of the incentive structure for researchers; and, despite considerable emphasis in the second half of the review period, slow progress in improving the efficiency of resource allocation in NARS agencies.24

They felt that in some cases an emphasis on financing an expansion of research capacity detracted from the need to improve the efficiency of the research effort per unit of expenditure. Thus, while research funding problem is a central issue in almost all developing countries, improving the efficiency of research programs is another critical issue that is encountered in all regions of the world.

When a given level of research expenditure is spread over increased numbers of research staff, efficiency suffers, and the problem is exacerbated by the declines in real levels of expenditure. Donor agencies often try to take up the slack, but this creates an issue of sustainability. These points have been made cogently for African agricultural research by Philip Pardey, Johannes Roseboom and Nienke Beintema, as follows:

Sub-Saharan African countries made some progress in developing their agricultural research systems during the past three decades. Particularly the development of research staff has been impressive in terms of numbers (a sixfold increase if South Africa is excluded), declining reliance on expatriates (from roughly 90% expatriates in 1961 to 11% in 1991), and improvements in education levels (65% of the researchers held a postgraduate degree in 1991). . ..

Developments in agricultural research expenditures were considerably less positive. After reasonable growth during the 1960s and early 1970s, growth in expenditures basically stopped in the late 1970s.. . . Donor support has clearly increased in importance. Its share in the financing of agricultural research increased from 34% in 1986 to 43% in 1991. While increased donor support somewhat compensated for declining government funding, it is unlikely that such high levels of support can continue indefinitely.

Many of the developments of the past decade in personnel, expenditures, and sources of support for public sector R & D in Africa are clearly not sustainable.25

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