Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cash-strapped agriculture research

By Ahmad Fraz Khan
AGRICULTURE research is fast becoming a forlorn subject. This is in spite of the fact it had helped multiply yield of almost all major crops that not only ensure food security but promote industrialisation.
Over the past six decades, wheat yield has surged by almost five times, cotton seven times and rice six times.
Despite all these, research is on a low priority list of the government, receiving meagre budgetary allocations.
The empowered provinces now have an opportunity to reorient the entire system to enhance productivity and make Pakistani agriculture produce globally competitive.
According to a World Bank study better research had been adding three per cent to world productivity since 1971. Local scientists insist that with better research agriculture has a potential to grow at six to eight per cent annually against the current two to three per cent.
Investment on agriculture research improves benefits and rate of economic return. Often a small breakthrough in any of the crop could immensely directly benefit both farmers through increased output and urban consumers through price reduction. This simple fact should make research the most deserving sector of official money, attention and planning. Most of scientists and economists also agree that the rate of economic returns on agriculture research is the highest as compared to most other sectors. The global investment in research has a rate of return of 41 per cent. In Pakistan, where agriculture is under-performing, the return should be much higher.
As things stand, Pakistan invests only 0.25 per cent of its agriculture output on research. The funds hardly meet administrative charges of these so-called research organisations, leaving small sums, or nothing for actual research.
Even India and Bangladesh are spending 0.45 per cent (almost double the given size of its agriculture economy) and 0.35 per cent respectively. The developed world manages three to four per cent.
In Pakistan, agriculture research (read innovation system), as scientists see it, has developed some inherent problems which mainly are: little and inappropriate investment on it, lack of coordinated planning, monitoring and evaluation, focus on routine rather than problem-solving, and little commercialisation of research outputs.
Owing to these constraints, the rate of innovation in this sector has slowed down for the last few decades, turning the entire agriculture sector non-competitive in international markets.
To begin with, agriculture planning cannot be compartmentalised, as has traditionally been the case. The sheer spread of institutions (universities, research organisations, official extension wings), private businesses, commercial activities and industrialisation in the field have brought it to a point where each segment has to cooperate and integrate to deliver.
On the second stage, research has to be need-based, rather than an academic pursuit. In the years to come, Pakistan would have bigger challenges emerging for its agriculture. The biggest of all would be the climatic change, which would need totally a new set of technology, agronomy, planning and practices.
Original Article Here

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