Overcoming the world food and agriculture crisis through policy change and science

Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS),

Fourth Foundation Day Lecture

New Delhi, March 6, 2009

Today’s acute world food situation is shaped by volatility of food prices, low growth in agricultural productivity, and severe constraints on access to investment capital for agriculture. The sharp rise in global food prices in 2007–08 severely undermined the nutrition security of the poor, provoked social and political instability, and increased competition for already limited natural resources. The crisis, however, also renewed the focus on food and agriculture in national and global agendas, after decades of policy neglect and underinvestment in agricultural science, rural infrastructure, and rural institutions. India has responded particularly strongly to the challenges in the world food system with policy actions that will be discussed here in a global context.

Many studies have shown that spending on agricultural research and development (R&D) is one of the most effective types of investment for promoting growth and reducing poverty. For example, for every 1 million rupees spent on agricultural R&D in India in the 1990s, 323 poor people were lifted above the poverty line (Fan, Gulati, and Thorat 2008). Yet global investment in R&D has been stagnating, and current levels are hardly sufficient to work at the frontiers of science. This past underinvestment is now evident in the slow response of agricultural production in much of the developing regions to surging food demand and in the failure to prevent food price volatility.

To serve as long-term insurance against emerging risks, including climate change, R&D investment needs to be ahead of the curve. Now that the global fi nancial crunch and economic slowdown are letting the air out of the food price bubble, concrete policy changes and investments must be made to overcome the food crisis and allow the world food system to face new challenges and respond to new opportunities.

von Braun, Joachim
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