Innovation and R&D ‘key to meeting rising food demands’

Indonesia has developed a successful innovation system for agriculture Copyright: Flickr/jasperwiet

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Developing nations must invest heavily in agricultural innovation, particularly research and development (R&D), if rising food demands are to be met, according to a report.

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012-2021 report, produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), provides market projections for different agricultural sectors — including biofuels, cereals, oilseeds, sugar, meats, dairy products, fish and seafood — over the period 2012–2021.

The report says that over the next 40 years, agricultural production must increase by 60 per cent — equivalent to one billion additional tonnes of cereals and 200 million extra tonnes of meat per year — in order to meet global demands.

This will require strengthening agricultural innovation systems, particularly in the developing world, where most countries do not yet have innovation policies, but where the highest rates of agricultural growth will occur.

At a press briefing for the report’s launch yesterday (11th July), Merritt Cluff, an FAO senior economist, said that as an example of agricultural growth in the developing countries, "in 2021, Latin America will have almost double the production that it had in 2000".

Ignacio Pérez, an economic analyst at the OECD, told SciDev.Net: "Productivity gaps are greatest in developing countries, and future productivity gains will largely depend on investments in research and development".

He said that Indonesia is a good example of a developing country that has developed a successful innovation system for agriculture, linking its private and public sectors to boost production.

The report also calls for "the need for better policy coherence for agricultural innovation, for a more demand-driven research system, for rejuvenated agricultural education and training programmes, and for greater private sector engagement".

"Low levels of general education of the agricultural labour force in developing countries can be a serious constraint. Building an effective education and extension system is a long-term investment that requires sustained political support."

Pérez highlighted the impact of farmer field schools, which offer training and access to modern technologies to boost crop productivity, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

"Farmer-centred extension approaches can facilitate access to information on modern technologies and raise crop productivity," Pérez said.

The report highlights that public spending on agricultural R&D in developing countries has been low overall, with a heavy dependence on foreign aid. In both cases, money is often granted for projects with strict time limits, "which may hamper the development of national R&D institutions and capacity building".


OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012-2021 doi: 10.1787/agr_outlook-2012-en (2012)