Poverty Alleviation is the Key Issue for Public Agricultural
||Africa (Sub-Saharan), Governmental organization, Small-scale
farming, Socio-economic impact.
||Anandajayasekeram, P. (1999), "Poverty Alleviation is the
Key Issue for Public Agricultural Research." Biotechnology and Development
Monitor, No. 40, p. 24.
In Monitor 39, H.K. Jain argued for
a resurgence of public sector agricultural research. In the view of Ponniah
Anandajayasekeram this would not automatically benefit smallholders.
He argues that to reach this target group, public agricultural research
has to integrate poverty alleviation as a key topic on its agenda.
Rural poverty is acute throughout the region of Eastern and Southern
Africa, and is proving intractable even in relatively wealthy countries.
Strategies proposed to eliminate rural poverty include the development
of alternatives to agriculture, for instance in industry, mining and tourism,
but also the commercialization of smallholder agriculture. Perhaps the
most important challenge for governments throughout the region for the
future, therefore, will be to foster smallholder agricultural production
in ecologically marginal environments, in ways that will sustain or improve
the quality of the resource base over the longer term. This challenge is
not reflected by current research agendas.
Research in Eastern and Southern African countries is conducted by
public institutions, the commercial sector, and civil society organizations
such as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Private sector research
is mostly geared to large-scale commercial agricultural production. Yet
for most Sub-Saharan African countries this contributes only an estimated
3 per cent of overall agricultural research investments. NGOs and some
development agencies have become important players in adaptive research
and extension for the poorer smallholders, but their research often does
not address strategic research questions such as on integrated pest management
or on technologies for ecologically fragile environments. As a result,
smallholder producers in these countries depend to a large extent on public
sector institutions for technological innovations and extension. At the
same time, however, the majority of smallholders are poor and have neither
the institutional nor the economic power to ensure that their technology
needs are met by the public sector research.
This limited access is complicated by the fact that the three core
elements in the public agricultural knowledge triangle – research, extension
and higher education – have all been downsized, restructured, decentralized,
and are increasingly being privatized. Driven by market forces, research
may tend to focus on the needs of the few with economic and political power,
a situation likely to work against the rural poor.
The question remains how agricultural research can have a positive
impact on poverty alleviation. The relationship between agricultural research
and poverty alleviation is complex, involving both direct and indirect
effects. Over 50 impact studies completed during the period 1978 to 1999
in Eastern and Southern Africa have demonstrated a relatively high pay-off:
in over 60 per cent of the cases studied, the rate of returns for agricultural
research investment exceeded 25 per cent. These studies have also shown
that in all cases farm level productivity increased. In some cases these
productivity gains have reduced poverty, improving the nutritional status
of households, and technologies have generated additional employment. However,
the majority of studies did not explicitly address the impact of agricultural
research on poverty alleviation.
While developing technologies, researchers have to recognize the conscious
effort by smallholder producers to maintain subsistence food production,
including indigenous and marginalized crops, varieties and livestock species.
Given the risky economic environment and lack of secure markets, maintaining
own food supplies can be an economically optimal strategy, even if commercial
production of, for instance, cash crops might in theory lead to higher
returns on land and labour. Therefore, a viable commercialization strategy
has to be developed that addresses smallholder needs to improve productivity
in both staple and market-oriented production.
Prioritizing research that has a high pay-off in the short term may
have a significant negative effect on society in the long run, as strategic
research issues that by nature call for long-term investment may be bypassed.
Agricultural research funding decisions of today will largely determine
the kind of research output that will be available to benefit the poor
in ten to twenty years. Research should explicitly target both ‘poor’ and
‘well-to-do’ farmers. Public sector research would seem to have a comparative
advantage in addressing those aspects of a smallholder sustainable agricultural
research agenda that specifically targets persistent poverty, which other
actors are unlikely to address with the scope and depth required. In addition,
research is urgently needed on how incentive structures shape the scientific
delivery process, and how to build political and financial support for
research relevant to smallholders.
Ensuring that the poor and disadvantaged groups are represented in
the priority setting process and developing a judicious blend of bottom-up
and top-down approaches to priority setting is a major challenge facing
practitioners. A simple resurgence of public sector agricultural research
will not be sufficient. Poverty alleviation must be explicitly included
as a criteria in research planning, and this should be reflected in priority
setting and allocation of resources.
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