Investments in agriculture and food research are declining at a time when these sectors are facing significant risks arising from climate change, biodiversity loss and the spread of pests and diseases that affect plants, animals and humans, an international conference heard.

“As a single and sobering example of the shift in investment in agricultural research, the spending of CGIAR, the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, has declined in inflation-adjusted terms by almost 40 percent since 2014,” said Philip Pardey, co-director of the GEMS agro-informatics initiative and director of global research strategy at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Speaking at The Crawford Fund annual conference held in Canberra, Australia on 15 and 16 August, Pardey said that all available evidence supports a doubling of agri-food R&D spending. “For every dollar invested in agricultural R&D, there is a return of US$10 in social benefit, and this level of return has been consistent over many years,” he said. “Yet, agri-food R&D spending is a declining share of total R&D spending.”

A concerning trend, he pointed out, is that just 10 countries account for almost two-thirds of the total food and agriculture RD spending worldwide.

Pardey noted that currently, on average, only three percent of the total R&D spent in high-income countries is directed towards agriculture, whereas about a fifth of the total R&D spending in low-income countries is focused on food. The geography of food and agriculture R&D, just like the geography of agricultural production, has shifted heavily over the Asia Pacific region.

“The Asia Pacific region [including developed and developing countries], now accounts for almost half the world’s spending on agri-food R&D,” Pardey said. “China is now outspending the US in both public and private agri-food R&D, accounting for around 23 percent of global agri-food R&D spending.

“In terms of sharing knowledge, the private sector now outspends the public sector in agri-food R&D worldwide, at a time when almost 90 per cent of the research in the low-income countries still takes place within the public sector. This has really big implications for how public policy is formulated and how public research is done in terms of its potential.”

Read the full article about food and agriculture R&D at Eco-Business.