Agricultural R&D investments in Eritrea have declined rapidly since the turn of the millennium, largely due to the completion of the FAO–led project Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eritrea, funded by the Government of Italy, and reduced government support. In 2008, the country invested close to 11.7 million nakfas or 1.9 million dollars (in 2005 prices) on agricultural R&D. Despite these sharp reductions, Eritrea’s agricultural R&D spending as a share of agricultural output in 2008, at 0.53 percent, was still higher than the ratios recorded in neighboring Ethiopia or Sudan. NARI accounted for more than 60 percent of the country’s agricultural R&D investments, but the overall decline in research funding has understandably had a negative impact on NARI’s activities. On-farm trials have been reduced to a minimum, and the institute’s soil, plant protection, and tissue culture laboratories now have insufficient means of carrying out their work effectively.
In contrast, the country’s agricultural R&D capacity nearly tripled during 1998–2008 in terms of FTE researchers. The 2005 establishment of HAC led to a large influx of BSc-qualified agricultural R&D staff, and many of these new scientists were women—a new phenomenon for Eritrea. Nevertheless, despite various donors having funded training efforts over the years (either in Eritrea or abroad), the country’s agricultural R&D staff remains one of the least highly qualified in Africa. In 2008, just one-third of researchers held postgraduate degrees. Training of young agricultural scientists to the MSc and PhD levels should be a top priority in the years to come, as a critical mass of highly qualified research staff is crucial to producing high-level research and attracting future R&D funding. A lot has been achieved on the agricultural research front since Eritrea’s relatively recent independence in 1993. Establishing a viable and sustainable agricultural R&D system will take time, but the government has taken various important steps in laying the foundations to achieve this goal.