Agricultural Research, Plant Breeding, and Food Production

By Marivi Colle

Two intertwining areas that have significant impact on food production were the focus of this week’s discussion – agricultural research and Green Revolution. Briefly, the discussion revolved around the benefit of investing in agricultural research, the importance of plant breeding to assist the advancement of discoveries through biotechnology for crop improvement, as well as the strategies and essentials to bring out the developed technologies to the farmers field (i.e. infrastructure, and extension work). In addition, the criticisms about the failure of the Green Revolution to address its ultimate goal, that is to alleviate world hunger, and the role of women in agricultural research were also discussed.

To increase crop production in response to the growing world hunger, investment in agricultural research in developing countries must be of top priority, specifically, in the public sector. It was suggested that it would be easy for a developing nation to accept a new technology if the research and the crop that is being improved is from within, not from the outside. I believe that this is true for some because each country has its own idiosyncrasies. However, foreign assistance is needed since investment in agricultural research entails scale-up funding to aid capacity building such as development of infrastructure, and training of people who will be doing the research. Moreover, an improved organizational system (from policy-making bodies to extension services) must also be put in place for a successful implementation of new research programs. However, this will require addressing other factors hampering agricultural research such as corruption, and political stability. To enhance technology delivery, it was pointed out that education/literacy on agricultural technologies is also a key element that needs to be focused on especially by the extension services.

One concern raised was that development programs are viewed as beneficial only for those who are already at the “advantaged” side and I think this same concern was echoed in the paper by Dr. Jonathan Harwood criticizing the failure of the Green revolution to focus on the needs of the peasant farmers. It was discussed that based on the experience from some developing countries wherein agricultural research was focused on crops that are suited for large commercial production and not for small farmers. However, this was countered that this may not be always the case, such as in the case of China wherein there are programs that encourage those who have the capability to access new technology for crop improvement to help out those who are disadvantaged. This China’s case is ideal specially for developing countries however, there are some cases in the past that support the view of some critics on development programs and examples of which are already mentioned in previous discussion such as the case of Latin America wherein development program such as the Green Revolution resulted in rural inequality due to difference in access to agricultural land and credit to be able to buy inputs such as fertilizer. This may be viewed as failure by many, but I believe that this is a good lesson learned to redress the strategies in the implementation of development programs and these changes are currently manifested in the “Feed the Future: Research Strategy”.

Part of investing in the agricultural research is women empowerment which is one of the issues being discussed in the “Feed the Future: Research Strategy.” Taking the case of Africa, as mentioned in USAID article “Clinton Recognizes USAID-supported African Women Scientists, Discusses Critical Role of Women in Achieving African Food Security:”

“…women account for as much as 80 percent of Africa’s food production. But their access to land, to vital services, such as credit, and to improved technologies is extremely limited. They receive only five percent of agricultural extension training and 10 percent of rural credit. Furthermore, few agricultural projects are being designed to address women’s specific needs. Only a quarter of its researchers and development experts are women and only 14 percent of the management positions in agricultural research and development are female.”

A lot of effort is being done to address gender issue in agriculture research but this not currently adopted uniformly in different sectors and in different parts of the world. Current development program should really be zealous in implementing gender equality.

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