Last week I posted a blog article reporting the UK's publication of a new science strategy designed to help improve food security and sustainability. One bit of the Food and Innovation Research Strategy announcement which caught my eye was the statement that research investment in agriculture by the UK's DFID (Department for International Development) was to double to £80m/yr by 2013. The strategy summary document says that this is to "provide poor farmers with access to technologies and help national governments with more effective agricultural policies, based on good evidence. This includes support to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and regional research organisations in Africa."
This caught my attention because one of the things I do at CABI is work on the Research4development.info website, produced for DFID by a consortium led by CABI to provide up-to-date news and information on DFID's current research portfolio, and to act as a repository for the outputs of DFID-funded research, both ongoing and completed. So I thought I'd take a closer look at the agricultural research strategy of DFID.
As is often the case with funding announcements, the statement that DFID's agricultural funding is to double is not 'new money', but a restating of funding increases already announced. (Not that this makes the money any less useful or welcome, of course). The increase was first set out in 2008, with the formulation of DFID's first five-year research strategy. Launched by the Secretary of State for International Development in April 2008, the strategy outlined how DFID would double its investment in research to £220 million a year by 2010 and put research at the heart of its efforts to tackle global poverty. One of the main themes of the strategy was sustainable agriculture, and the strategy document set out how research on agriculture, fisheries and forestry would double to £80 million a year by 2010.
Much of the agricultural research funding is channelled through the CGIAR Centres (see here for details of CGIAR funding, including both core funding of the centres and funding of specific programmes)., In 2008 the CGIAR itself announced reforms that would allow a greater focus on strategic research as well as reflect the extension of the CGIAR's role beyond crop productivity to include natural resource management and policy advocacy. At the end of 2009, CGIAR released a "masterplan" for agricultural research and technology transfer at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The 45-page strategy calls for, on the one hand, action that harnesses multiple advances that the group says are waiting to be rolled out. The second strand is to boost research into longer-term solutions. Climate change is a key challenge of agricultural research, as the higher average temperatures, changing patterns of rainfall, more extreme weather events, and rising sea levels, all threaten agricultural production. Without changes in agricultural systems, the food security and livelihoods of millions of people, particularly in the developing world, will be affected.
Agricultural research is an effective way of spending aid money. According to the World Development Report 2008, investment in agriculture research has "paid off handsomely," delivering an average rate of return of 43 percent in 700 development projects evaluated in developing countries. The results of DFID's funding of agricultural research can be followed by subscribing to the R4D newsfeed on sustainable agriculture. Or for more information, see the links below.