International agricultural research for food security, poverty reduction, and the environment

What to expect from scaling up CGIAR investments and "Best Bet" programs

The recent food crisis, combined with the energy crisis and emerging climate-change issues, threatens the livelihoods of millions of poor people as well as the economic, ecological, and political situation in many developing countries. Progress in achieving development goals (such as cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015) has been delayed significantly; in fact, the number of food-deficient people actually increased in the past two years by at least 75 million. These challenges require multifaceted, science-based technological, economic, and political approaches.

Through its international research centers, its publicly available research, its broad network of partnerships, and its long experience in the field, the CGIAR is well-positioned to contribute to the global effort to foster food production, increase access to food, and reduce poverty and hunger in both rural and urban areas. However, the system cannot effectively address these global challenges without additional funding and improved organizational design. The latter is being addressed by an ongoing change process. The former is the focus of this paper, which examines what can be expected from a scaled-up CGIAR.

There can be no doubt about the strong role of agricultural research in concert with other development investments: numerous studies have shown that investments in agricultural research typically rank first or second in terms of returns to growth and poverty reduction, along with investments in infrastructure and education. Fortunately, there is a new and broad-based consensus that investment in agriculture and in related, research-based innovations must be accelerated. But the obvious questions are: by how much should this investment be accelerated, where should it be focused, and what can be expected from it?

This paper utilizes two different approaches to assess the impact of significantly scaling up investment in public agricultural research in developing countries in general, and in the CGIAR in particular. First, it models the potential impact of doubling research investment on agricultural (food) production and poverty reduction, and also on international food prices. It then provides a compilation of “best bets” for large-scale research investments, as identified by the CGIAR centers in a survey done for this study.

The modeling indicates that increasing investment in public agricultural research in the countries included in the model from about US$4.6 billion to US$9.3 billion during the next five years (2008-13), and doubling CGIAR investment from US$0.5 to US$1.0 billion as part of that, would increase output growth coming from research and development (R&D) from 0.53 to 1.55 percentage points. Doubling this R&D investment would also reduce $1-a-day poverty by 204 million people by 2020. This scenario assumes that expanded investment is targeted toward maximizing total agricultural output, which means allocating R&D investment more to Southeast/East Asia and South Asia than other regions. If, on the other hand, expanded agricultural research is targeted toward maximizing poverty reduction, then R&D investment should be allocated more to Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This could increase overall agricultural output growth somewhat less (from 0.53 to 1.11 percentage points per year), but would lift about 282 million people out of poverty by 2020 (compared to 204 million in the first scenario).

A different global model (IFPRI’s IMPACT model) was used to estimate the effects of accelerated R&D investment—combined with plausible increases in other development investments—on international food prices. The results suggest that when compared to the baseline scenario, a high-investment scenario could reduce the price of maize by 67 percent in 2025, wheat by 56 percent, and rice by 45 percent, while reducing unit costs of production to main farm income. Such expanded R&D investment in agriculture is critical for preventing future global food crises.

von Braun, Joachim
Fan, Shenggen
Meinzen-Dick, Ruth
Rosegrant, Mark W.
Pratt, Alejandro Nin
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
PDF file: 
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