08.3.2021

Breakthroughs in Agricultural Research to Build Back Better

Photo of researcher evaluating cowpea plants in the field, by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.


Breakthroughs in food and agriculture research, development (R&D), and innovation have improved the quantity and quality of food production around the world, while reducing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. Yet, after decades of progress global hunger is trending up. Supply chain disruptions due to the Covid pandemic along with increasingly challenging weather and climate conditions have threatened food supplies and thrown hundreds of millions of people into poverty.

By significantly increasing international agriculture R&D investments and by providing social safety nets, we can help families and communities thrive while improving our food systems in the coming decades.

One such successful story of international food and agriculture research and collaboration is the commercial launch of Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea. Cowpeas are a nutrient-rich source of food, with high protein and fiber content, and are central in the diet of many low-income people in West Africa. PBR Cowpea, officially called SAMPEA 20-T in Nigeria, is the first public-sector biotech food crop released in Africa. Resistant to the pest, Maruca vitrata, the insect that is responsible for up to 80% of annual cowpea yield losses, PBR Cowpea will benefit consumers and about eight million Nigerian farmers. This commercial launch was made possible through an international partnership under the coordination of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), with the Institute for International Crop Improvement at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center leading the regulatory submission process.

The Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation strongly encourages governments, the private-sector and foundations to accelerate their funding of international food and agriculture research, like that for the PBR Cowpea, to strengthen smallholder agriculture and protect food systems for future generations.

Of particular interest are international agriculture research centers such as CGIAR. Formerly called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR is the world’s largest global agricultural research network. Established in 1971, CGIAR comprises 15 research centers working under an One CGIAR mandate to reduce poverty, enhance food and nutrition security, and improve natural resources. CGIAR’s early scientific work included Dr. Norman Borlaug’s development of high-yielding wheat, credited with spurring the Green Revolution and saving a billion lives primarily in Asia, where many people were on the brink of starvation. Today, CGIAR focuses on ending hunger through science to transform food, land, and water systems in the climate crisis.

SoAR’s commissioned work, The Payoff to Investing in CGIAR Research report, coauthored by Julian M. Alston, University of California, Davis; Philip G. Pardey, University of Minnesota; and Xudong Rao, North Dakota State University, examined the benefit-cost ratio of CGIAR investments. The report found that CGIAR investments of roughly $60 billion in present value terms has generated a benefit-cost ratio of 10 to 1 over the past five decades.

The Payoff to Investing in CGIAR Research provides a strong economic investment case for funding partners as they consider future investments in international agriculture research and development. With a strong presence and long-term partnerships in developing countries, CGIAR is uniquely positioned to further create and develop needed innovations. Additional investments in CGIAR research would continue to yield dramatic returns on investment and benefits for poor communities, particularly in Africa and South Asia where smallholder farmers and local food systems are most vulnerable.

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