Comments by Greg Traxler ASTI seminar April 7, 2011Let me start by congratulating Nienke and her team on this landmark contribution to ourunderstanding of African agricultural R&D. By all measures - coverage, detail, credibility,accuracy - this measurement effort sets a new quality standard. For the first time we can saythat we have meaningful time series data on the agricultural R&D enterprise in SSA – a numberof important new issues have been brought to light and the potential to understand thepolitical economy of R&D in Africa has been greatly expanded. Even more exciting is that theASTI’s achievements that are highlighted today are one milestone along the way to findingsolutions to lagging agricultural productivity in Africa. I look for the December ASTI/FARAconference to make a major analytical contribution. (I hope that the details of this conferenceare provided to today’s attendees.) I also look forward to the next evolution of ASTI -regulardata rounds that can be used to monitor R&D investment levels on a biennial basis. I shouldalso pause to acknowledge the strong support and leadership that Shenggen and Mark haveprovided to ASTI.I do not want to get in the way of the Q&A discussion, but I was asked to take a couple ofminutes to make some observations. Let me start with a few of the striking challenges framedby the ASTI data and then mention specific issues that ASTI puts on table for Africangovernments and their investment partners. 1. Let me first mention the small country challenge. The 32 countries represent tremendous diversity in experience and prospects. About a third of the countries have less than 100 agricultural researchers, some of those have only a couple of dozen PhD trained researchers, about 2/3 of SSA countries have 200 or fewer researchers, about the same number as a college of agriculture at a US land Grant University. It is a tremendous challenge for these research systems to individually achieve scale, particularly when we consider the number of environments, crops and farming systems within each country. SSA achieved its highest annual investment growth rate ever during the 2001-2008 period, and saw an increase of more than $300 m in annual expenditures. Yet this increase leaves R&D investment intensity where it was in 1975 and still significantly below the CAADP target of 1% of ag GCP. Nearly all of the $300 m
increase is accounted for by just 5 countries. Even for those countries receiving increased funding, the unpredictable manner in which these increases has occurred has blunted their effective use – Nigeria for example has a lower share of scientists holding a PhD today, than they did 10 years ago.2. The problem of instability of R&D funding emerges quite clearly. Annual funding variability is higher in SSA than in any region in the world. As Nienke and Phil Pardey have pointed out, agricultural innovation is slow magic, requiring 20-30 years of cumulative progress. It difficult to attract and retain top scientists and to keep their research program on track if you can’t predict next years’ budget. We see the evidence that donors have been part of the problem in the past. I don’t like the term donor dependency and I hope that we will soon enter an era where that term is obsolete. We need to make better use of traditional funding modalities and explore innovative approaches to supporting R&D. The CGIAR Fund Council is meeting this week. Our approach to funding NARSs is in just as serious need of reform.3. The human capital deficit. India and SSA have about the same total number of agricultural researchers (India has about 8% more), but India has two and a half times as many PhD researchers as SSA. That is a gap of more than 5,000 researchers to be trained, and over the past decade this quality gap has widened. The share of researchers with PhD training has not increased since 2000. The magnitude of this opportunity is increased by the evidence of the increasing average age of African scientists. As most of us in this room know first hand, graduate scientific training is a slow and expensive process. Africa’s needs are urgent and donors can be an important part of training this generation of African scientists, just as they have been in past decades in Asia and Latin America.4. None of these are new problems. What is new is that the new ASTI data bring these problems to light with a clarity that has been lacking up to now. We know which countries are struggling, which are doing relatively well. We can measure the magnitude of the funding variability problem, we can measure the size of the human capital deficit and calculate the cost of bringing SSA human capital up to international standards.
The other thing that is new is that the institutional structure is much richer than in pastdecades. The maturation of supranational organizations such as FARA, ASARECA, CORAFand CARDESSA present new opportunities for addressing the funding stability, andperhaps the small country problem as well. We have an evolving CAADP framework.CAADP presents a new world of opportunity for improving the partnership betweendonors and governments. CAADP targets and aims are clear. Six percent growth ofagricultural GDP. This implies a productivity growth rate of at least 3.5%. This can beachieved only through a seismic shift in our dedication to agricultural R&D. There is noother means to achieve the CAADP growth targets. We can all be part of that effort, butwe must become more serious and sophisticated in how we approach the organizationand funding of R&D. The SSA African agricultural R&D enterprise today is dominated bysmall, underfunded institutions staffed by undertrained staff. This is not the way totransform agriculture in Africa.I thank IFPRI and ASTI for bringing this important task to light. I urge everyone here to,and I thank you for the opportunity to offer my thoughts today.