South Asia as a whole more than doubled agricultural R&D spending between 1996 and 2009, riding largely on increased research allocation in India, the largest economy in the region.
But, in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, growth has been stymied during the same period, according to a report released last month (September) by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
With World Bank projections showing that population in the region will double by 2050, agricultural productivity has become a prime concern for South Asian countries.
India’s current agricultural R&D spending is 0.40 per cent of total agricultural output. It has set an ambitious target of hiking it to one per cent during the recently commenced 12th five-year plan (2012–2017). Nepal aims to increase it from 0.23 per cent to one per cent.
However, the current rate of increase in investment in agricultural R&D is insufficient and the report – Public Agricultural R&D in South Asia – said that spending must quadruple in the coming years if targets set by these countries are to be met.
Agricultural R&D investment to agricultural output ratio of South Asian countries is also significantly lower than that of other emerging economies. While the ratio for India is 0.40 per cent, that for China is 0.50 and 1.80 for Brazil.
According to Rajeswari Raina, a scientist working on agricultural policy at the National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies, New Delhi, spending has not increased much in real terms. "When we remove the education expenditure and include salary hikes, there is little increase in the effective budget available for research," she told SciDev.Net.
Raina said this would result in lesser scientific understanding of trends in Indian agriculture, especially at a time when rapid and location-specific climate variability impacts are evident.
The report stressed that investments be better managed, timed, and targeted to ensure maximum productivity and poverty reduction.
Yash Pal Abrol, former head of plant physiology at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, told SciDev.Net that better management and coordination were needed so that research does not become repetitive.
The report suggested diversification of funding sources, increase in the sale of goods and services and increased private sector participation – which requires national governments to provide enabling policy environments.