Measuring the Effectiveness of Agricultural R&D in Sub-Saharan Africa from the Perspectives of Varietal Output and Adoption

ASTI/IFPRI-FARA Conference Working Paper 7

The presentation of the emerging evidence on performance indicators on crop improvement R&D from the DIVA Project is a frustrating paper to read because the analysis is preliminary and commodity coverage is incomplete. Only about 70 percent of the observations were available for analysis when the paper was revised; no new information was reported for maize and wheat in Eastern and Southern Africa. Moreover, measuring progress between the 1998 and 2009/10 was plagued by caveats that reflected differences in definition and in country coverage that, in turn, blurred comparative understanding. In spite of these sources of frustration, this initial analysis is nonetheless informative,
and sheds light on the emerging character of varietal output, adoption, and change in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The results on scientific input in crop improvement in terms of the number of FTE scientists were mixed and, in general, inconclusive. If anything, the negatives outweighed the positives. On the plus side of the ledger, Nigeria displayed gains in researcher intensity (in scientists per unit of production) across several important food crops, particularly maize. This dynamism substantially elevated Nigeria from the lowest mean level of researcher intensity among all country and commodity
observations in the late-1990s, to an average level of researcher intensity in 2010. All rice-producing countries also showed increases in researcher intensity between the two time periods.

Programs that ranked lower in researcher intensity mostly registered gains in scientific staff strength by 2009/10. Those overlapping observations that ranked higher in the earlier period all lost ground in the later period—that is, high levels of intensity (above 10 scientists per million tonnes of production) could not be maintained over time. This finding reinforces conventional wisdom that efforts to markedly increase scientific staff strength in particular programs and commodities, although perhaps worthwhile, are not sustainable over time.

Offsetting these positive developments were findings that two large potential problems related to scientific staffing and the efficiency of crop improvement R&D are still unresolved. The small country/ small commodity conundrum is still transparent and unchanged in comparing the cross-sectional evidence on researcher intensity for the two periods. Less traded food crops, such as cassava, pearl millet, and sorghum, are characterized by substantially lower levels of researcher intensity than other crops. Low levels of researcher intensity are still endemic to several crop improvement programs, including a smallholder cash crop like groundnuts in West and Central Africa.

Although such problems were very much in evidence in the database on scientific staffing, human resource investment in biotechnology was not. Biotechnology-related areas were not well-represented in the disciplinary composition of most of the NARS crop improvement programs. Realized investment pertained mainly to the traditional area of tissue culture in vegetatively propagated crops. Few if any new released varieties could yet be attributed to marker-assisted selection. In other words, the downstream, adaptive character of NARS crop improvement programs is still their most visible aspect in the recent period.

Arega Alene, Yigezu Yigezu, Jupiter Ndjeunga, Ricardo Labarta, Robert Andrade, Aliou Diagne, Rachel Muthoni, Franklin Simtowe, and Tom Walker
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)
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