TWENTY-FOURTH FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE FOR EUROPE
MONTPELLIER, FRANCE, 5-7 MAY 2004
Agenda Item 7
AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH: ITS ROLE AND CONTRIBUTION TO SUSTAINABLE RURAL DEVELOPMENT
1. The FAO concept of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) was one of a number of concepts that crystallized during the 1980s. The importance of the SARD concept1 was recognized and confirmed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio de Janeiro, 3-14 June 1992, with Chapter 14 of Agenda 21 setting out the programmes and specific actions needed to promote sustainable agriculture and rural development. In the years since the UNCED Conference, the concept of SARD has evolved to include social, institutional and economic sustainability, as well as environmental sustainability. It has also become evident that there is no blueprint approach to the implementation of SARD. In this period, three key areas have been identified for intervention and these are building capacities and strengthening institutions; mobilizing investment, and developing appropriate technologies and policies.
2. Interest in rural development has gained considerable momentum in Europe since the first European Union (EU) conference on the subject held in Inverness in 19912. Many important issues have been identified since then with high priority being given to the social and economic cohesion of rural areas, the survival of rural populations and cultures, as well as to protection of the wider environment. This continuing process of debate and review culminated in the Agenda 2000 reforms, which saw rural development policy established as the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). These and other issues relevant to rural development are priority concerns as the EU enters a period of major enlargement. There is a need for a fresh assessment of past achievements and for defining a future course for the development of healthy and productive rural communities.
3. The redefinition of rural development in Europe is echoed in the debate over rural development in transition and developing countries. While some progress has been made, it is generally accepted that a great deal remains to be done to secure sustainable rural communities in the EU. There are significant challenges that still need to be tackled, as well as many diverse opportunities to be exploited. For example, there is a need for better integration of EU and national policies if the broader concerns of rural populations in terms of jobs, incomes, employment, quality of life, health, and education are to be addressed. While a successful outcome depends, to a large extent, on policies to be adopted and measures to be taken, agricultural research can and should play an important role in the collective efforts leading to sustainable rural development. Undertaking research on rural development is far more complex and demanding than traditional agricultural research which is predominantly geared towards increasing productivity and production. It requires a better understanding and broader perception of the dynamics and multifaceted nature of rural development.
4. This paper reviews the role of agricultural research in sustainable rural development and the trends and challenges which have to be taken into account when fulfilling that role in the EU and globally. The document also includes a critical analysis of several ongoing European programmes on agricultural research. The ultimate goal of the paper is to provide comprehensive recommendations for action in order to strengthen the contribution of agricultural research to rural development. The elements for action and the recommendations are addressed mainly to Governments, FAO, other development agencies, donors and the scientific community at large.
5. Over the past decades agriculture in Western Europe and the EU has undergone fundamental changes leading to significant farm growth and a greater degree of specialization. Agricultural research has provided the tools and instruments that have transformed the way in which land is worked and how forest or fish resources are utilized and managed. However, the concentration of production, income and employment at regional level, in turn lead to the marginalization of the less-favoured regions that are situated further away from processing industries and markets. Moreover, while food security has become a less significant political issue in Western Europe since the 1980s, public health, food safety and environmental protection have gained importance. The scientific progress, economic development and agricultural policies that have contributed to successes in productivity have, at the same time, made it more difficult for many people to live from farming alone.
6. In the light of the above, the contribution of agricultural research to rural development is being redefined to meet the challenge of a more complex countryside and of the increased services required from the agricultural sector. Farmers now follow many different and new livelihood strategies with an increasingly diverse range of stakeholders. The crucial issue for the future of agricultural research in Europe, and in developing countries, is to identify the role agriculture can play in the more comprehensive process of sustainable development in rural areas and how agricultural research can support this more extensive role. Only by meeting these challenges can agricultural research make a valuable and meaningful contribution to strengthening food security and addressing the many other roles that agriculture can play in a modern society.
7. Across the globe, agricultural research systems face broadly similar challenges. Countries - whether developed or developing - are affected by the globalization of markets, economic liberalization, advances in science and technology, natural resource management and concern for the environment. They are also influenced by new thinking about the respective roles of the public and the private sectors as well as a growing trend towards involving farmers and farmers’ organizations in the process of agricultural research. These challenges have to a great extent influenced funding and the overall orientation of agricultural research both at the national, regional and international level. Designing technologies and practices for sustainable rural development will require changes in the way research is organized, coordinated, and managed. It will affect methods of research planning and links with other institutions and sectors that have a stake in sustainable uses of land and resources. For some research projects, time frames will need to be considerably extended.
8. Among the challenges, within a European context, are the sustainability of the use of natural resources, the policy shift towards a wider rural development policy, the critical role of the private sector and the implications of the EU enlargement and of the realization of the agricultural potential of the low income countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). These issues are outlined below.
9. The high level of intensification and specialization of agriculture over the last decades in Europe has had a profound effect on rural livelihoods, biodiversity and the wider environment. The situation in Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS has been even more critical. Most of these countries are facing a triple challenge: transition from central planning to market economic principles; the EU accession and a globalized world. The difficult challenge facing agricultural research is how it can reconcile these concerns with the need to increase agricultural productivity and ensure global food security. At present it is clear that mainstream agriculture and current land use and management policies in Europe do not really provide a model for a sustainable future. Thus a key research question is what institutional and economic support system is required in order to efficiently support more sustainable land use systems and food supply chains. A major factor for future agricultural change and further development of land use systems in the region could be the expansion of non-food production (fibre plants, energy crops, etc.) and the economic return and social acceptance of set-aside areas. However a key question related to this issue is how sustainable, and, how environmentally friendly can non-food production be? A lot will depend on framework conditions and further development and implementation of good agricultural practices.
10. In the European Model of Agriculture there is an explicit reference to the multiple functions of agriculture and rural areas. This represents a policy shift from the classical sectoral agricultural policy (first pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP))to a wider rural development policy (second pillar). This second pillar includes the wider rural development policies as well as the agri-environmental programmes (AEP). However, large tracts of Europe are still under environment friendly farming systems, and the nature conservation value in these areas is dependent upon the continuation of these farming practices. The economic potential of the natural environment is manifested in at least three areas: (a) the valorization of the natural environment through an enhanced potential for rural tourism; (b) the demand for public environmental goods and the increasing importance of agri-environmental measures and payments for farmers, and (c) the economic potential of local and high-quality food products and of direct marketing. Agriculture and the potential of rural areas are no longer being evaluated in monofunctional terms. Common explanatory models of agricultural development are not always relevant or even valid. More research is needed to better understand these interrelationships.
11. In contrast to private research undertaken in other sectors such as electronics, information, and engineering; agricultural research carried out by private biotechnology and life science firms is controversial. Little is known about the total private spending on agricultural research and development worldwide3. Private research investment in developed countries focuses on biotechnology, agri-chemicals, food processing and crop and animal technologies more suited to capital-intensive forms of agriculture with high, off-farm, value added aspects. In developing countries, with little private sector investment, it can be expected that the private sector will play a greater role in the future when sustained profitable markets develop. However it is unlikely that private research will substantively replace public agricultural research over the next ten to twenty years.
12. The enlargement of the EU will have substantial impacts on farming systems, agricultural markets, transportation and land use within the present member states as well as on the further development of agricultural policies. Changes in the CAP from production subsidies towards a more direct support of farmers income and particular services, suggest that EU agricultural products will have to compete more effectively in world markets. At the same time there will be increased support for alternative uses of agricultural land and for the establishment and preservation of biodiversity. Agriculture is generally undergoing considerable changes both in the current EU and in the accession countries. These changes include a substantial fall in the number of farms in the EU countries and a corresponding decline in agricultural employment as well as a marginalization of farm households and entire regions. So far little attention is being paid to the fact that impact on rural livelihoods and on high nature value land use systems in accession countries may be very substantial too. In addition demographic aspects including immigration, out migration, rural-urban migration and land abandonment should be taken into account.
13. Before independence, the CIS region was largely reliant on agriculture and 20 to 50 percent of the national labour force was employed in agriculture. With the collapse of the USSR, the republics became independent and moved from large centrally planned economies to self-determined market-oriented ones. Land and businesses were privatized, but, at the same time, funds to support agricultural production, education and agricultural research became scarce. The general decline in agriculture has turned formerly modest importers of agricultural produce into major importers and in several instances major exporters into net importers. The potential to improve the overall productivity through better technologies and farm management in the CIS countries is high, but realizing that potential requires, among other things, a viable agricultural research system. Unfortunately, agricultural research systems in the region were left without essential public and private investments. Most of the countries have not yet developed new research programme priorities based on competitive bidding to respond to changes in the structure of their agricultural sectors and their emerging market economies.
14. Public funding for agricultural research has suffered as governments in many developing countries have faced growing fiscal constraints, often as part of adjustment programmes4. The reversal of funding trends, following a long period of sustained growth, has been encountered in national and international agricultural research programmes, both in rich and poor countries. Furthermore, international donor and aid agencies no longer give agriculture, and with it agricultural research for development, the attention they once did, but provide more support to economic infrastructure, health, education and other services. Even though the European Community (EC) increased its overall aid to developing countries during 1987-98, aid to agriculture declined substantially from 12 percent of EC contributions in the late 1980s to only 4 percent during 1996 to 1998. World Bank lending to the rural sector is also on the decline, agriculture’s share of total lending dropped from 26 percent during the first half of the 1980s to only 10 percent in 2000. The ability to carry out agricultural research for development, however, depends on a long-term commitment to funding regardless of whether these funds come from external or government sources.
15. There are signs of waning interest in supporting traditional agricultural research. Mainly in developed countries, some authors question the value of investing in productivity-enhancing research in an era of chronic surpluses. Others are concerned about the environment and associate some aspects of its deterioration with activities in agriculture. Furthermore, there is increased demand by governments and donors for greater accountability and transparency in the management and conduct of agricultural research. The publicly-funded national agricultural institutions can no longer take for granted their being the sole actor. Nor can they be assured of sustained funding without proving their relevance in the development process and demonstrating efficiency in utilizing available funds. They should endeavour to forge meaningful alliances and partnerships with other stakeholders. In addition they need to broaden their research agenda to encompass a wide range of economic, environmental and socio-cultural issues besides the traditional areas of agricultural productivity, production and food safety.
16. Research on rural development in developing countries is only one of several instruments that can play a part in overcoming the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation. The often low priority given to rural and agricultural development in developing countries implies that even existing valuable agricultural and rural development research will not have the effect that it potentially could have. Developing countries often adopt agricultural policies that disadvantage rural smallholders and rural entrepreneurs as against urban dwellers. The impact of joint European support towards agricultural research for rural development also depends on adopting the right agricultural policies in developing countries. European bilateral expenditure in R&D5 is approximately ECU 430 million per year in support of over 200 collaborative research programmes.6 Aid agencies and governments also provide support for infrastructure. European countries provide up to 40 percent of the funding of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) with an annual budget of US$ 350 million. They also fund research projects through the INCO7 programme of the European Commission. Europe therefore, both on a bilateral and multilateral level, provides substantial support to agricultural research in developing countries.
17. Past history bears evidence to the fact that European researchers, development agencies and governments have in many instances been forerunner innovators and global trendsetters for agricultural research and agricultural projects. For example, the drive for participatory bottom-up approaches to agricultural research and project development have been initiated and led by European researchers. The development and use of farming systems research approaches also received major contributions from the European research community. In many fields European researchers are at the cutting edge of international agricultural research related to, or with relevance for, developing countries. In this context, Europe provides invaluable knowledge on, and models for, rural development in the developing countries. However, without funding to facilitate local adaptation of appropriate technologies such European capacities remain unutilized.
18. European researchers and research institutions are today collaborating in many areas. The framework programmes run by the European Community give great emphasis to multi-partner cooperation. Currently many European universities receive a major share of their income from participation in EU-funded R&D collaborative projects. As a result of a radical reassessment of national aid policies in many European countries, new policies now focus on the necessity for partnership between donor and recipient country and on recipient country responsibility. Twinning public institutions in developing countries with institutions in Europe was a European idea. The World Bank and other major donors have incorporated these ideas and methods into their own priorities and strategies and their ways of working with developing countries. For efficient use of limited funding it is important to identify Europe’s capabilities with regard to research competence and interest in order to best complement other countries that contribute to CGIAR and other multi- and bilateral programmes.
19. The European countries have been instrumental in undertaking global efforts aimed at promoting scientific excellence and research innovation as well as facilitating greater collaboration between scientists and researchers in developed and developing countries (description of major structures is contained in document ERC/04/5-Sup.1). These countries, individually and collectively, have supported global endeavours such as the CGIAR and contributed generously to numerous national and regional agricultural research projects and activities. Over the years, a number of European programmes and initiatives have been developed in the area of agricultural research. Collectively, these structures could be said to have three major thrusts, namely: (a) influencing policies and interaction among stakeholders at regional and global levels; (b) strengthening collaboration between scientists through networks, knowledge management, fora and centres, and (c) providing enabling mechanisms and development assistance for greater collaboration among developed and developing countries. In the following section a brief analysis of these programmes is given, grouped under the relevant thrust.
20. There are two European-supported structures which could be grouped under this thrust, namely: the European Forum for Agricultural Research for Development (EFARD), which is a part of the framework of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research for Development (GFAR), and the European Initiative for International Agricultural Research for Development (EIARD). These structures are complementary to each other and aim at the following common objectives:
21. The structure of EFARD and EIARD makes individual European members responsible for mobilizing national stakeholders (NGOs8, private sector etc.) in formulating joint national positions. Several countries have made great strides in mobilizing national stakeholder groups through national fora, but they act primarily as discussion and policy forums, rather than bodies for implementing projects and programmes. The problem with EFARD and EIARD is that they are mainly bodies concerned with consultations on joint European initiatives related to EFARD, EIARD or GFAR. Each country can, however, pledge allegiance to joint European or global positions only if these comply with and complement existing national policies and activities.
22. There are several structures which could be grouped under this thrust, including: the Network of European Agricultural Tropically and Sub-tropically oriented Universities and Scientific Complexes Related with Agricultural Development (NATURA), the Centre International de Hautes Etudes Agronomiques Méditerranéennes (CIHEAM), the European Agricultural Research Initiative (EURAGRI), and the European System of Cooperative Research Networks in Agriculture (ESCORENA). ESCORENA, a very successful example for scientific collaboration, is a form of voluntary research cooperation among interested national institutions involved in research on food and agriculture and related fields. It was established in 1974 by FAO and research institutions from European countries9. These programmes are complementary to each other and aim at the following objectives:
23. Many of the current networks (NATURA, ECART10, IPMEurope11) represent an important potential for tapping into the European research base in the area of agriculture and rural development research. While networks are determined to play a major role in the formulation and implementation of research relevant to sustainable rural development, their full potential is yet to be realized. A major obstacle here is the inability to sufficiently mobilize and enlist the interest and commitment of scientists to get involved with the activities of the networks. The lack of commitment and involvement from the research community can partly be attributed to the top-down approach in research collaboration, the lack of wider inclusion of institutions, the lack of funding but likewise to the lack of knowledge and experience on how to engage/participate in public tenders and competitive bidding. The lesson is that the execution of activities, forming of partnerships and running of projects must be assigned jointly to scientists of the collaborating institutions in Europe and developing countries. A successful example for mobilizing funds through partnerships is the collaboration between NATURA and ICRA12 leading to joint project activities with Sub-Saharan Africa funded by the European Commission.
24. The European framework programme is an outstanding example in this respect. The major benefit of the 6th Framework Programme in the European Union is that funds are available for carrying out research with partners from within Europe and between partners in Europe and in developing countries. Its objectives include:
25. The framework programmes at EU level have been regarded overwhelmingly as a success with considerable involvement from researchers and institutions in Europe and in developing countries. Scientists from developing countries have had the opportunity to work together with the most accomplished scientists from the EU and vice versa. Research results have often been impressive with real contributions being made in the interests of social, cultural and economic development. Of particular importance is the 6th Framework Programme (FP6) with its increasing orientation towards societal demands and EU level policy development. There is an increasing need for linkages between suppliers and users of research. Production-related research has shifted towards quality issues and food supply chains. The new FP6 is, as found by applicants, hampered by difficult and costly application procedures. The administrative cost in running multi-million and multi–partner projects is often found to be substantial.
26. There has been a lack of an overall strategic R&D policy in the European Community, which in turn has made it difficult to create possible synergies between scientific research carried out through the framework programmes and development aid projects. There are, for example, no clear geographical or regional priorities and the framework programme has a somewhat low profile in many developing countries. The limitation of research collaboration in the INCO-DEV13 programme restricts somewhat the options for initiating collaborative projects between researchers and institutions in developing countries and in Europe. The stimulation of private sector involvement has been limited and shortcomings in the dissemination of research results have been criticized by EU member states.
27. The above analysis of the European programmes on agriculture research shows a number of positive points and some notable successes. Several of these programmes have been running for many years indicating a long-term commitment. They are multifaceted, cover a wide range of activities at the national, regional and global level, and, in general, address pressing issues and concerns. The major benefit of the 6th Framework Programme is that there is reasonable funding for carrying out research with partners from within Europe and between partners in Europe and in developing countries. As far as the networks are concerned, it could be said that despite shortcomings they play a major role in both the formulation and implementation of research relevant to sustainable agriculture and rural development.
28. Notwithstanding the above, some major weaknesses have been identified. There has been a lack of an overall strategic R&D policy in the European Community and its member states. Official development assistance from the European Community to R&D has remained limited with no overall common policy or priorities. There is too much emphasis on short term “technical solutions” instead of improving research capacity in the developing countries. Some of the programmes have a somewhat low profile in many developing countries and this has been seen as resulting from the difficulty of getting the political leadership sufficiently involved. In addition there is the perennial problem of funding and political commitment which at times are both lacking.
29. The major weakness in the European endeavour on agricultural research for rural development is, in the first instance, conceptual. Rural development is seen by most advanced European countries as an issue related to the quality of life of rural communities, while in some accession countries and many developing countries rural development is in actual fact an issue of poverty alleviation, food security and rural household survival. This stems from the fact that decision and policy-makers often interpret R&D mainly in terms of agricultural modernization. Moreover, technical capacities, the institutional set up and financial endowment vary considerably between the current EU Member States and accession countries and the difference is even more evident between the latter and the developing countries. The differing perception of what constitutes rural development and the disparity in the enabling means and resources hamper the development of a clear European agricultural research agenda for rural development. In this regard, it is clear that account should be taken not only of the role of agriculture and agricultural research, but of community participation, training, information, and institutional change and policymaking.
30. The importance of the contribution of agricultural research is widely acknowledged but success would be determined by the ability to upscale and reorient research outputs for the benefit of the wider rural community. An increased emphasis on human resource development is crucial to meet this objective. The following are recommendations for consideration by governments, FAO, other development agencies and donors:
31. Emphasis should be placed on advocating agricultural research as an integral part of rural development among ministries of agriculture, environment and planning, regional institutions, private sector and interested donors and organizations. In this regard, the following actions are recommended:
32. Greater attention should be given to issues which have not yet been adequately addressed. These include the recognized need for more transdisciplinary research, participatory approaches and the creation of information recognizing and describing the complexity of rural sector development and the various roles of agriculture. The following actions are recommended:
33. A vision of agricultural development, multidisciplinary and cross-ministerial integration and qualified human, physical and financial resources is required. Reform must lead to a better output and quality of research, and higher flexibility to respond to the evolving needs of clients. This will involve reforms in the education sector for the training of scientists, by using relevant and appropriate curricula and new ways of communication with all stakeholders involved in research development, transfer and use. The following actions are recommended:
34. A long-term financial commitment is necessary in order to strengthen national research capacity and infrastructure. Paradoxically, never before has the world been better placed scientifically and technologically to eradicate global poverty, hunger and human suffering. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. The actions recommended are:
35. There is a need for information and aggregated data related to the various functions of the agriculture and gender-disaggregated data of the rural sector. In addition, in Eastern Europe there is often a lack of reliable data at the farm level and a deficit of the data analysis needed for research priority-setting and research planning. The following actions are recommended:
36. Current European research networks involve mainly participants from Western and Central European countries, but Eastern European, especially CIS countries, are not well represented. The following actions are recommended:
37. There is a need to critically review agricultural education systems and to develop relevant curricula oriented towards building analytical, technical and participatory capacity and capable of addressing the agricultural and rural development needs in the sub-region. The following actions are recommended:
38. There is a need for an improved cooperation on agricultural research for more efficient information flow and technology transfer among European countries including transition countries and to/from the EU region to other regions (particularly developing countries). Sufficient resources need to be available for and targeted at such research cooperation. Efforts must be made to overcome the present weaknesses in European R&D policies towards transition and developing countries. It is recommended to:
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2 Followed by two conferences in: Cork (1996) and Salzburg (2003)
3 Estimates in 1995, suggest shares of the private sector of 51.5 percent in developed countries and only 5.5 percent in developing countries of the total of 21.7 billion dollars.
4 Public investments in agricultural research nearly doubled from US$ 11.8 billion in 1976 to nearly US$ 21.7 billion in 1995 at the global level, but for many parts of the world, growth in spending during the 1990s slowed dramatically. In rich countries public investments grew 0.2 percent annually from 1991 to 1996 (2.2 percent during the 1980s), in developing countries 3.6 percent (3.9 percent in the 1980s), but in Africa, there was no growth at all, with waning donor support through the 1990s.
5 Research and development (R&D)
6 For AAA countries (African, Caribbean, Pacific countries, Arab States, Asian countries excluding highly industrialized countries)
7 Specific measures in support of international cooperation (INCO)
8 Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)
9 During the period 1996-1998 the networks organized 70 technical meetings and workshops with over 2500 participants from 40 European countries, 12 Near East countries and 19 countries from other geographic regions.
10 European Consortium for Agricultural Research in the Tropics (ECART)
11 European Group for Integrated Pest Management in Development Cooperation (IPMEurope)
12 International Centre for Development Oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA)
13 INCO programme for developing countries (INCO-DEV)
14 Interdisciplinary research requires not only a joint effort on the part of specialists from the scientific community, but also a joint effort by these specialists together with those from business, politics and society. They have to proceed with a common process of problem identification, of developing common theoretical structures, research methods, etc. Such research also implies placing much higher emphasis on the demand side of knowledge production, rather than on the supply side.
15 Biosafety project of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF)