Posted November 1999
Research has been done for many years in Central and Eastern Europe, but generally is operating below its full potential. Improvement could come through: concentration of the resources for strategic research at a smaller number of research centres; better focussing of effort on current problems by involving the agricultural industry directly in programme definition and monitoring; closer linkage between applied research and extension activities; increased attention to staff development, including international contact.
Formerly technology transfer was achieved by instructions to agronomists and zoo-engineers on large state farms, by research centre staff. With the transformation to private farm businesses of varied sizes, extension needs have changed drastically. Suitable services, mostly state run but with various infrastructures, are at different stages of development according to country. Important policy issues include the degree of charging possible and desirable, the relative attention to large or small farms, and ensuring effective interaction with researchers, marketing organisations, financial institutions and other key sources of knowledge.
The transition from a command to a market economy in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has had a profound effect on agricultural production and farming systems. This paper considers the way extension and research services are operating in the CEE countries and how they might develop to meet the needs of the rural areas in the future. First, however, the competitiveness of farms in the CEE countries. There cannot, after all, be any future for agricultural advisory or research services if farms in these countries cannot produce sufficient income for the family's needs and ultimately produce sufficient income for the people working them to have a standard of living comparable with the majority of the population.
In a paper that attempts to cover a number of countries, generalisations must be made. To these there will be exceptions, and in some countries very significant exceptions. Because of this, an adequate treatment of specific countries' circumstances are beyond the scope of this document. Due to the special circumstances prevailing in Bosnia and Yugoslavia, these countries are excluded from consideration within the paper.
It seems probable that most, if not all, CEE countries will join the EU within the next 10 to 15 years. This will open current European Union (EU) markets to the CEE farmers and open CEE markets to the current members of the EU. In this paper, CEE farm competitiveness is assessed in comparison with farms in "the West" primarily those in the EU. This is not to say that the rest of the world can be ignored, with current trade disagreements and the forthcoming WTO trade discussions looming, to do so would be unrealistic. However, agriculture in the EU is a major industry contributing 3.5% of GDP and it is inconceivable that EU farmers will not, in some way, be enabled to produce profitably for, at least, their home market.
Climate, land quality, altitude and aspect are all broadly similar between the CEE countries and the EU. Water availability for irrigation in CEE is restricted not by lack of precipitation but by lack of working infrastructure. In most CEE countries, land restitution programmes have resulted in very many, very small holdings. In Bulgaria there are 1.8 million family farms and average farm size is 1.5 ha. In Poland average farm size is 7.9 ha. A few countries, e.g. Czech Republic and Slovakia, have followed a different path and retain a significant land area managed in large units. Amalgamation of the very small farms into larger units is taking place but, for social and economic reasons, the process is very slow and likely to remain so until the whole economy grows sufficiently to draw labour from the land to other industries. Farm size remains, and is likely to remain for several years, a major impediment to the competitiveness of farms in the CEE.
The most common demand from CEE farmers is for affordable credit. Economic circumstances have required high interest rate regimes, often 60 per cent or more, that farmers believed to be uneconomic. Banks are relatively inexperienced in agriculture and very hesitant to lend to farmers. In some cases, their staff lack the expertise to assess the viability of farm plans, which are often difficult to assess because of the uncertainty of prices for farm products (and inputs).
Collateral is also lacking. The relatively rapid return of land to its former owners has not been accompanied by a corresponding speed of provision of ownership documents. CEE countries have imposed restrictions on ownership in a bid to retain the land for the countries' nationals. For these and other reasons, the land market is practically non- existent and thus land has little value as collateral against which the banks can lend money.
Not only are the land values low but the farmer's other assets are also usually small. Buildings are not suited to low-labour, western type production, and machinery is limited in quantity, old and unsuitable for small scale production (Slovakia is one exception where government loans have been used to purchase substantial numbers of modern equipment). The quantity of livestock kept on a small farm is itself very small (the few remaining intensive livestock units are exceptions to this) and banks are chary of using something as mobile as a cow for collateral.
Several countries, often with the World Bank and other donor assistance, have introduced schemes for credit guarantees and to provide affordable credit to farmers. Training of bank staff on how, realistically, to assess farm plan viability has been integral to the schemes. These are helpful and, in time, will have significant impact but until a free market for land and greater product price stability are established, lack of capital will remain a significant impediment to agricultural progress.
Lack of money is stated by practically all farmers and advisers as the major factor contributing to the huge drop (approximately 40 per cent) in agricultural production from the CEE countries now compared with 1989/90. Recovery is taking place and production of oilseeds and vegetables now exceeds 1989/90 levels (World Bank, 1999). Yields are very low. Milk yields are around 3000 kg/cow compared with 5500 kg/cow in the EU, and cereals average about three tonnes per ha compared with six tonnes/ha in the EU. In part, this may be due to the genotypes used but the main cause is the low level of inputs used and lack of skills and knowledge of the farmers.
The number of private farms in Estonia tripled in the five-year period (1992-97) the number reaching 22,700. This is typical of the rise in the number of farmers in many CEE countries. The great majority of these people produce for their family food supply and have little experience of commercial agriculture. Those that used to work on the state or co-operative farms often worked for all their career in just a single job, e.g. feeding the cows or tractor driving. When they started with their own farm, they therefore lacked the range of technical and business skills and knowledge necessary for management of a successful farm. The Czech and Slovak Republics are exceptions to this as a high proportion of the farmers there are agricultural graduates.
Having gained "independence", it was not surprising that most farmers considered co-operation a dirty word and were unwilling to join in voluntary co-operative activities that appeared to people in the West as an essential step if they hoped to survive in business. This reluctance is rapidly giving way and the number of co-operative ventures appears to be increasing partly, no doubt, as a result of the help and encouragement from the technical assistance projects provided by multi-national and bi-lateral agencies. Larger production units will benefit for several years from the low cost of employed labour although over time the labour cost differential can be expected to decrease. Those countries that join the EU with its greater chances for labour mobility can expect the differential to reduce more rapidly than those that accede later.
Labour management skills need to be high to ensure that the people working are productive and are trained to meet the demands of a market economy. This is an area in which CEE countries experience significant problems due to the full employment culture inherited from the previous regime and the prevalence of alcoholism in some rural communities.
Farmers that remain in business for the next few years will do so because they are able to surmount the difficulties, particularly the low prices, and can be expected to be very effective competitors for the currently much more protected EU farmer.
The move to a market economy resulted from the economic collapse of the Soviet Union and the CEE countries. Market links were severed for both inter and intra country trade. Establishing new links and meeting the new market demands is a slow process. It is, of course, possible for processors to meet EU standards and the few that have done so demonstrate this to be the case. Most specialists would agree that, while it is possible to achieve the standards, to do so on a universal basis is a monumental task.
Primary producers require an incentive to improve product quality. The sight of many small cans of milk beside the road in full sunlight is common in some CEE countries, but not conducive to high grade product arriving at the depot. The processing plants can only afford to give a financial incentive if they are able to achieve better prices for their product.
Many food processing plants fail to meet western standards for health and hygiene, and lack the necessary equipment to prepare and package products to meet western market requirements. Romania for example, in 1998, was said to have only three plants licensed to supply the EU. Many plants are working well below capacity and unable to make the investment necessary to produce the quality of product demanded by the consumer. Farm size is so small that the investment needed on the farm to meet western standards is prohibitively expensive and, even if that could be done, the logistical problems for the processor remain great. The cost of milk collection from many small farms (half of Polish farms market less than 7200 litres milk per annum) must be expensive.
Only now are systems of market information being developed so that policy makers, farmers and traders can identify prices and trends in supply and demand. Until these are developed the comparative advantage that some of the CEE countries possess for the production of certain crops like oilseeds, vegetables, soft fruit, particularly for processing, and essential oils, that require a large amount of hand labour, cannot be utilised to maximum potential.
Under-investment in the infrastructure was a characteristic of the later years of the communist period. This, coupled with the changes in land ownership and break up of the large collective farms, means that lack of infrastructure is limiting farm production. Farms in Estonia, for example, have an electricity supply adequate for domestic use but not for farm production. Roads are often poor and, in the rural areas, inadequate for modern transport. Irrigation and drainage systems are inoperable due to years of under- maintenance. Conversely, many grain stores and grain processing plants are well situated for bulk transport and of a design which will allow reasonably efficient materials handling.
The degree and type of support and protection given by individual governments to the agriculture sector varies. The analysis of the different approaches adopted is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice to say that in all CEE countries some support, including border tariffs and restrictions on exports has been provided for the agricultural sector but this has not resulted in major improvements in the productivity or competitiveness of the farming industry. It seems unlikely that any CEE governments will find significantly more money to support their agriculture in the foreseeable future. Rapid improvements in farm competitiveness because of government intervention, therefore, seem unlikely. It could be argued that the allocation of resources within many ministries of agriculture gives insufficient weight to policy development.
The EU PHARE programme has provided much help in the past and has major programmes of financial assistance (e.g. SAPARD) planned which, if implemented effectively by individual CEE countries, will provide valuable assistance and accelerate change in the rural areas but the impact on farm competitiveness is unlikely to be felt for several years. The many bi-lateral aid programmes have provided help to the agricultural industries of the CEE countries and will no doubt continue to do so, though perhaps with reduced emphasis on those that are closest to EU accession.
The analysis above, though full of generalities, indicates that there will be considerable difficulty in achieving the goal of CEE farms becoming competitive with farms in "the West". However there are definite signs of recovery in agricultural production in the CEE countries. Oilseeds and vegetables are already above 1989/90 levels of production, agricultural GDP is increasing in Bulgaria and Romania in contrast to national GDP, and there is a movement towards greater co-operation between farmers. The CEE governments themselves and international donors continue to support the industry focusing not just on national food security but also on making the industry competitive. There is also a greater understanding of the multifunctional role of agriculture in rural areas through the provision of employment, maintenance of landscape, care for the environment and maintenance of biodiversity.
Major problems remain, including the lack of clarity of food, agriculture and rural policies on the part of governments. The PHARE pre-accession programmes, e.g. SAPARD, are now causing governments to address these issues. Provision and efficient administration of credit and investment in food processing are two very important problems that must be addressed although there has been much progress in both areas in the last nine years. Banks are moving forward with an increased understanding of the agriculture industry and with staff training schemes but the sheer size of the capital investment required in the food processing sector makes this, arguably, the greatest challenge in achieving a competitive agriculture. Primary production too requires huge investment to become competitive but this can be expected to follow once the market for higher price products is established.
In the near future, demand from Russia and other member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) seems unlikely to return to pre- 1998 levels let alone pre-1988 levels and so producers must look to other markets. Entry to the EU will open the EU market to CEE producers and, if they are to exploit these opportunities and retain a significant share of the home market, their produce must meet western standards. Meeting these standards will require food processors to insist on higher standards from their suppliers and this "pulling" effect from the product purchaser will provide impetus for the primary producers to adopt appropriate technologies to meet the buyers' demands. This demand will provide a strong incentive for the farmers to use the extension and research services and for the extension and research services to ensure they have the skills, knowledge and resources to meet the needs of the farmers.
Changing demands from produce buyers will also increase pressure on producers to amalgamate holdings so that effective commercial units become the norm. This has clear implications for employment in agriculture and emphasises the need for policies that consider the needs of the whole rural community. Within the 10 CEE countries the value added per worker in agriculture is only 11 per cent of that in the EU. An increase to half the EU level would imply that the current Gross Agricultural Product, measured on the basis of an output price comparable to the EU could be produced by a workforce of six million instead of the current 10 million. While the quality of employed labour may be a problem at present, the combined effects of an increasing rate of unemployment, better and more relevant training and changes in management styles can be expected to result in improvements.
One area that the CEE farms have potential to exploit is "eco-friendly" production. Due to the greatly reduced level of agrochemicals used since 1989, much of the production is verging on "organic". If formal certification schemes are established quickly, as is happening in some countries, then there is a significant opportunity for some producers to meet the increasing demand for "organic" produce, a demand not being met by western growers. With the low labour costs in the CEE countries, they could be fully competitive within a few years. Only a minority of producers can be expected to follow the organic route and become commercial. The majority should be encouraged to follow a more eco-friendly farming policy that utilises integrated crop management techniques and retains the bio-diversity that is an unplanned but welcome benefit resulting from the decline in agrochemical usage.
The conclusion is that although the farms and the ancillary industries in the CEE countries have huge changes to make before they will be competitive with those in the EU, there is no intrinsic reason why, within the next 10 to 20 years, farms should not become so. Those countries that have retained relatively large farms, e.g. Czech Republic and Slovakia, have a significant advantage compared with those where the majority of land is managed in very small units e.g. Bulgaria. The continued interest in investment by western farmers in the CEE countries is evidence that hardheaded businessmen share this belief.
Before addressing the specific issues of CEE research, the scope and objectives of agricultural research in general need to be briefly considered. Research is a key component of all Agricultural and Rural Knowledge and Information Systems (ARKIS), and its primary role is innovation. Research brings new knowledge, concepts, methods and materials into the agricultural industry, and therefore bears directly on competitiveness.
The huge advances achieved over the past fifty years, in yields, in efficiency of production, in reliability of yield, and in quality of produce, have originated from research findings. That the EU countries, by and large, have outpaced the CEE countries in making these advances, is a reflection of their more effective research efforts, coupled with better technology transfer and a more alert, commercially aware response from farmers.
Agricultural research embraces a broad range of objectives and approaches. Four sub-divisions are commonly identified:
In reality, these definitions are not clear-cut. They rather represent ranges in a continuous spectrum that goes from the most advanced 'cutting-edge' science to the other extreme of simple checks for good performance of new materials or methods under particular farm or climatic conditions. However, they have proved to be useful working categories that help in defining the main roles of different research establishments, and in determining the balance of national research programmes.
Another classification of research is into 'public good' (sometimes called 'policy-driven') and 'private good' ('industry-driven'). The former benefits directly the general public, and merits government commissioning and funding. Research relating to environmental safety, public health and the rural economy is often 'public good'. 'Private good' research benefits directly particular industries or companies, and merits commissioning and funding from these beneficiaries. The design and testing of new products or machinery often fall into this class. Again, the class boundaries are indistinct, and depend on judgement. For example, testing a new pesticide treatment against a prevalent crop or animal pest problem could be of primary importance to the economy and social stability of a particular region and rank as 'public good', or it could be important mainly for the profitability of the manufacturer who then should pay for the research.
All countries with a large agricultural industry require a well-focussed and cost-effective agricultural research base that has an appropriate balance of these different classes of research. Relevant characteristics and requirement of CEE and EU research are discussed below. Of course, a full analysis is not possible within the space and time constraints, but some indications and examples can be given, which may complement information given in other workshop papers and guide further studies.
In most EU countries, the bulk of government-funded agricultural research tends now to be basic or strategic in nature. Formerly, applied and development work were supported to at least the same extent as the basic/strategic research, but they are now increasingly recognised as 'near-market' and left for industry to support. This is particularly true of research leading to the production of new plant varieties and animal breeds, which is mostly done by private companies.
Moreover, the nature of the research has shifted very markedly towards biotechnology, molecular biology and genetics, and, to a lesser degree, towards environmental and ecological studies. Studies on biochemistry, soil science, crop and animal husbandry and plant protection have declined, in some countries to dangerously low levels. These are in fact worldwide trends, which reflect the excitement and great momentum of molecular bioscience and related methodologies, and to some extent also the current concern about environmental contamination, sustainability, and the need to conserve biodiversity.
Similar changes are also occurring in the CEE countries to varying degrees but in general more slowly. The shift to 'bioscience' requires expensive materials, know-how and training and all of these tend to be in short supply. Private sector funding in CEE is generally not available in amounts sufficient to support any major transfer of applied/development work from the public sector. Thus it is good, at least for the next decade, for CEE countries to retain and develop in the public sector a strong core of applied research and development work. This can identify, test, adapt and implement new methods and materials as they become developed and proved in EU and other countries, as well as in CEE. With very limited resources it may well be wise to avoid the temptation to shift too far towards more 'high-flown' molecular science. However, a degree of such expertise is necessary in order to recognise, introduce and adapt advances in biotechnology that are made in other countries.
Most CEE countries have a very strong tradition of research into the production of new plant and animal varieties. Most institutes and stations seem to have breeding programmes. This seems to be excessive. Corresponding levels of reward are hard to see, with new locally raised varieties often failing to compete with well-established varieties or with newer varieties obtained from EU or other countries. There are some exceptions, a notable one being the production of the sunflower variety Albena at the Wheat and Sunflower Research Institute in Bulgaria. This variety became grown widely in a number of countries, including France, and through good commercial arrangements it has brought great financial benefit support to the originating Institute. One does still question, however, whether a small country such as Estonia should really be running an independent varietal breeding programme for wheat. A shift of emphasis towards exploiting foreign varieties and towards more research into efficient crop and animal management may well be better justified in order to raise yields and quality to EU-competitive levels.
Integrated crop management has become a major research topic over the past decade in many EU countries, and is now entering farm practice. The need for pesticide, fertiliser, energy and seed inputs is minimised, and disease, pest and weed populations are reduced through the combined use of appropriate crop rotations and tillage methods, resistant crop varieties, and the exploitation of beneficial natural processes. At the same time, profitability and produce quality are maintained, and environmental risk is decreased. This holistic, systems approach deserves more attention by research and extension services in the CEE countries, where conventional inputs cannot be afforded and the integrated approach could be highly beneficial.
There is a need for more research into methods and systems for 'organic farming', i.e. farming without use of synthetic pesticides or artificial fertilisers, since demand for 'organic' produce', sold at a profitable price, is increasing throughout Europe. Little research is done on this in EU countries as yet, and even less in the CEE countries where reducing input costs would be particularly advantageous.
The question of how far research needs to change to meet the needs of the reformed farming structures is a difficult one, not only because farm sizes and organisation vary greatly between CEE countries, and are likely to change further, but also because much research is not particularly size-specific. Some economic studies, and research into produce storage, and machinery development, could be aimed specifically at the small farmer. However, mainstream agricultural research should probably continue to focus on the medium to large producer, and on the more important crops of the country, in the interest of improving the national economy and meeting EU standards. The question of how the research topics are determined, and the need to involve the farming industry, are discussed later.
Research results in EU countries are published mainly in internationally distributed English-language journals, in international conference proceedings and in institute annual reports. The latter are now attractively produced in colour format and suit a broad readership including farm advisers, farmers and industrial sponsors. In CEE countries, most results are published in local journals or conference proceedings in the national language, and so get very limited exposure. Good results, and good scientists, also deserve also a much wider readership through international publications. Most CEE institutes do produce annual reports, but these are often poorly presented and do not attract many readers.
The need for rapid and pervasive transfer of results, not only to the scientific community, but also to local advisers and farmers, cannot be over-stressed. All available means, whether by news-sheets, magazines, open days, meetings, radio and TV, should be used. One good example is provided by the Plant Protection Institute at Poznan, Poland, which receives, collates and distributes up-to-date information on risks of potential damage from crop diseases, and the need to apply spray treatments, from and to a large network of Plant Quarantine and Protection Stations throughout the country, which in turn inform farmers to assist in decision-making. Over the last few years this system has been made more precise, computerised and put 'on-line', with some initial assistance from the PHARE programme.
In both CEE and EU countries, agricultural research is done by institutes, local research stations, universities and colleges, and private companies. In general the institutes and universities do mostly basic and strategic research, whereas local research stations, colleges and private companies do applied research and development. In most EU countries this distinction is seen as important, and is insisted on by controlling and funding bodies, in order to maximise focus and use of resources, and to clarify responsibilities.
In CEE countries, there is a tendency for all types of research centres to try to cover all aspects, which can lead to dilution and isolation of scientific effort. In particular some small, local centres are inclined to undertake long-term basic or strategic studies, which might (if successful) confer scientific prestige but actually have little chance of success. Such studies are better done in larger institutes or universities that have the necessary facilities and can support multidisciplinary scientific teams that have sufficient 'critical mass' to achieve goals within a reasonable time-frame.
Most CEE research centres, large and small, have always had an extension role, informing and advising the agronomists and zoo-engineers that were attached to large state farms. However, extension needs are now much greater and more complex. In the main they should be handled by separate units, which could be located at research centre sites if available in the locality. Extension staff should be fully committed to extension work, which can include field demonstrations, but they must interact with researchers in order to keep abreast of the latest developments and also to inform them about current farm problems. Economic analyses of returns on investment in research and extension services internationally have generally shown that strong linkages between these services have a beneficial effect on the value of each.
Compared with EU countries, the CEE countries tend to have a considerably larger number of institutes and stations, and larger total staff numbers, although a much smaller amount of industry-funded research. Bulgaria, with 8.5 million people, has at least 35 state-funded agricultural research institutes and a similar number of smaller experimental or diagnostic stations (including veterinary centres). Romania (22.5 million people) has 39 institutes and 74 territorial research stations, with 2,500 scientists and 20,000 total staff. Albania (3.5 million people) has 16 institutes, and Slovakia (5.5 million people) has 21 institutes.
These examples can be compared with 15 institutes and 27 stations in the UK, with 59 million people and which has a five times larger agricultural production and a three times larger cultivated land area than Bulgaria. Numbers of graduate research workers in 1992 were approximately 183 per million ha agricultural land in the UK (1990), compared with 403 for Bulgaria and 148 for Hungary (1990). France, with the biggest cultivated land area of all European countries, has 22 research institutes, and 3900 agricultural scientists.
The degree of spread of resources amongst separate major research centres is a serious policy question for all countries. In most CEE countries the spread is much too thin, so that facilities and equipment become out-of-date and poorly maintained. Library and communication facilities are poor, and pay is not adequate to attract and retain the best staff. It is often argued that regional differences in climate and soil within a country necessitate a large number of research centres. However this need is often exaggerated, and can largely be answered by placing field experiments with local advisory services or directly with farmers. Indeed on-farm research can give valuable findings regarding the practical feasibility and reliability of using new methods and materials, and readily permit demonstration to local farming communities. There is much to be said for concentration of the more complex and costly resources, human and physical, that are required to maintain an effective core of basic and strategic research.
In some CEE countries, for example Romania, a 'mother' institute will control in some detail several satellite institutes or research stations that work on similar or related topics. Such multi-site management systems are difficult to run well, particularly if distances are great. If several centres are needed, then they may well be more effective if they are separately funded and managed, but respond to a common sponsor who can ensure good inter-communication, co-ordination and avoidance of duplication.
Overall responsibility for publicly funded agricultural research in CEE countries lies with an Academy of Agricultural Science or similar academic body, or directly with a Ministry of Agriculture or Ministry of Science and Education. In the EU, Ministries, either directly or through Research Councils which they appoint, are usually in overall control, although increasingly this is exerted 'at arms length' through commissioning projects and giving grants for major capital purchases, rather than through direct employment or management of staff.
The most important factor in research direction is not the organisational system but rather the people involved in decisions on research priorities. Whatever Ministries, Councils, or Academies may be involved, it is crucial that there is representation from all stake-holders, which include the farming industry, the food processing, marketing and export industries, farming supply industries (seeds, machinery, agrochemicals, feedstuffs etc.) extension services, government economic, environmental and public health policy-makers, as well as relevant scientific bodies and individual scientists. Experience suggests that in CEE countries research decision-making has been (and still remains) too scientist-dominated, and too remote from current agricultural needs. Moreover, priorities are often set by scientists who are themselves direct beneficiaries of the decisions made.
According to a report (Zijp, 1997) there are some pockets of excellence, but on the whole research is in turmoil, and the further east one goes, the more the system seems broken down. Many research managers agree that the national systems are oversized and overspecialised with little focus on economic efficiency, environment and small farmers.
At the level of individual institutes and regional research stations, input from the farming and other industries is again important. Most EU research centres have governing or advisory bodies with a broad membership, including farmers, farm suppliers and advisers, who meet regularly with the directors and their senior staff and review and influence the research programmes and the provision of necessary staff and facilities. This seldom seems to be done in CEE countries, but could prove very beneficial in building sustained links with the farming industry and improving research focus and technology transfer.
Some EU research centres also organise 'members' associations', or 'supporters clubs', which farmers, advisers, suppliers and others interested in research progress can join for a small subscription. Through meetings, newsletters and contact with research staff, the members keep up-to-date with information and can influence the work of the centre. These clubs work very well, although care must be taken to limit access of members to staff attention. The researcher's main job is to do research, and not to spend all day on the telephone or visiting farms giving individual advice.
'He who pays the piper calls the tune'. Certainly this is the case in research. Over the past 20 to 30 years, the customer-contractor relationship has come to dominate research funding, in almost all countries, including both CEE and EU countries. The contractors are the various types of research centres and the customers comprise the following groups:
This group predominates in all countries, but particularly so in CEE. At certain UK institutes the proportion of government funding in their total income has now decreased to about 50 per cent or even less. Whereas the government bodies formerly gave block grants to institutes and universities, now they allocate funds on a project-by-project contract basis, for fixed time periods, and monitor progress at project level. Commissioned work may be placed specifically at particular centres, or even with particular researchers, or it may be advertised for competitive application.
This group forms an increasingly important funding sector for applied research in EU countries. Examples from the UK include, amongst others, the Home-Grown Cereals Authority, the Sugar-beet Growers' Research Organisation, the Horticultural Development Council, the Meat and Livestock Commission, and the Milk Development Council. In France ITCF (Institut Technique des Cereales et des Fourrages) is a major funding source for research and development projects concerning cereals and forage crops. Such bodies receive compulsory levy money from farmers, some of which is ear-marked specifically to support research. They have research committees, with mainly farmer and food-industry membership, who decide on their short to medium term research needs and commission relevant, well-defined projects for set time periods at appropriate research centres. They have control of the results, which are promulgated to their levy-payers or members through meetings, demonstrations, web-sites, news-sheets etc, as well as being published in the scientific literature.
This type of research funding has not been seen operating in the CEE countries, but as their agricultural industries become more profitable it could well become feasible, and highly beneficial. As an interim measure in Romania, the World Bank is currently planning to sponsor the operation of a competitive grants scheme for applied agricultural research. The farming industry will be strongly represented in the setting of priority research topics, judging grant applications, and awarding the grants. If this project develops properly, it may become a possible prototype for other countries. A detailed guide to the organisation of competitive grant schemes for agricultural research has recently been published (Srivastava, 1999).
Funded by voluntary subscriptions from their members, farmer associations sponsor applied research projects in the EU. Some are very specific in scope, for example the UK Maize-growers Association. Others have broader interests, and can be large enough to sustain their own small research centres. In the UK a network of Arable Research Centres is entirely financed by arable farmers who set programmes of field trials and receive very rapid results that are confidential to the subscribers.
Large industrial companies, for example breeders of plant and animal varieties, agrochemical, fertiliser and animal feed manufacturers, and veterinary drug manufacturers, do most of their research 'in-house', with their own staff and facilities. They also commission research projects in research institutes and universities, either to gain access to expertise or facilities that they do not possess themselves, or to obtain an independent assessment of the performance of their products. In the main, these are relatively small, short-term projects, but there are recent examples in the EU of the medium to long term funding by international companies of large research programmes at public sector institutes, particularly in molecular biology and genetics. Company funding of research in public-sector centres occurs both in EU and CEE countries, and is encouraged by governments. It is still relatively small in CEE countries, but can be expected to grow in response to increases in commercial opportunities for the companies, and in research expertise and facilities.
'Link' schemes, involving joint funding (often 50:50) from government sources and from industrial companies or levy-funded bodies, have been run successfully in some EU countries over the past decade. Schemes are usually initiated by a Ministry and/or Research Council, and aim to support a number of research projects at different centres, with different industrial co-sponsors. An area of research thought to be in the national interest (e.g. environment-friendly arable crop management) is identified by the Ministry, and joint proposals from research centres and industrial organisations are invited, assessed by a panel with government and industrial representatives, and - if accepted - jointly funded. The agreed industrial contribution can include provision of facilities or other non-cash assistance.
With regard to international funding, the EC is the main source for the EU countries. DGVI (Agriculture) is the primary sponsor of agricultural research, but DGXII (Research and Development) also contributes. Applications are invited for a range of topic areas considered to be important to the EU, and competition is fierce. Normally, the EC will only consider applications that involve a partnership between researchers from two or more member countries, in order to encourage inter-country collaboration. For many years the only relevant EC funding available to CEE countries has been from the TEMPUS Programme, which has paid for meetings and visits between researchers at EU and CEE universities and colleges. However, it is now very likely that the new Framework Programme 5, which has a large element of agricultural research, will be open to CEE countries. This will be a very valuable advance with respect to research funding and to 'East-West' collaboration.
Other sources of income for research include sales of produce from institute lands or animal production units, and royalties from patents or plant breeder's rights. These are generally relatively small, although at some CEE institutes with large amounts of unrestituted land, with intensive animal production, or with successful varietal breeding programmes, they can be substantial. In Romania, in 1998, the research institutes of the Academy for Agriculture and Forestry still possessed 100,000 ha of land. There is a danger that institutes running large commercial ventures can divert too much energy, time and resource to these ventures, to the detriment of their primary research role.
The overall amount of money put into agricultural research will depend on national priorities, the state of the economy, the importance of the agricultural industry, and the availability of non-government sources of funding. There can be no generally desirable target. Public spending on agricultural research, as a proportion of gross national agricultural production is in the range one to two per cent in most EU countries. Estimates for CEE countries tend to be lower (0.4 - 0.8 per cent), but are variable and unreliable because of rapid currency changes.
Management and use of funds
The correct apportionment of money between salaries plus social payments of researchers and overheads (the costs of maintaining their working environment) is crucial to effective and sustainable research management. There is a temptation to accept inadequate funding, that merely covers payments to workers, or little more, and this in effect makes the project concerned parasitic on others. In EU countries, the ratio of 1:1 for staff payments to overheads is typical. In CEE countries where staff payments are relatively low, but costs of materials, equipment, books, etc. approach EU levels, then a ratio of 1:2 might be more appropriate. Unfortunately this seems to be seldom achieved, so that researchers are deprived of the facilities they need for the most effective work.
Funders in EU countries are increasingly, and rightly, concerned that they get 'value for money'. However, the effectiveness of research, as of any creative and innovative activity, is very difficult to quantify. Various criteria can be used, such as numbers of papers published in peer-reviewed journals, citation status of papers, number and size of research contracts obtained, number of patents granted and amounts of royalties obtained, and estimated value of commercial uptake. However, all of these can be misleading, and subjective judgement by the funder and/or his advisers must still be involved in order to gain a reasonable assessment. Despite the difficulties, and however approximate, some attempt to estimate 'value for money' is made by EU funding bodies, whereas in most CEE countries this aspect probably merits more attention.
Whilst a few researchers may be born geniuses, most scientists gain much from good training and good experience. The universities are hugely important as training grounds in basic science and technology. The length of first-degree courses in relevant subjects such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry or economics, varies between countries, from three years, as in the UK, to five or more years as in the Netherlands and some EEC countries. A period of three years is generally sufficient.
In the EU, universities are also responsible for training graduates in research methodology, through Ph.D. studies. In most CEE countries, however, the norm has been for graduates to do their Ph.D. studies at a research institute or station, and then to stay there for their career. Experience in different laboratories and under different leadership, possibly in different countries, can be highly beneficial to promising young scientists. Working periods for CEE scientists in EU countries, and vice versa, should be encouraged. At present they are few, because there is no ready source of funds. Nevertheless, the availability of more visiting fellowships supported by the EU or other international sponsors would greatly stimulate CEE and also EU agricultural research, and promote communication between scientists.
Attendance at national and international scientific conferences and workshops, is highly stimulating to scientists at all stages of their careers, particularly if they present papers or posters. At the Brighton Crop Protection Conference, the premier annual conference for this important subject, it was encouraging to note in 1998 that out of some 750 non-British delegates, 20 were from Poland and 10 from Romania, although only three came from Hungary and two from Bulgaria.
A key role for scientists is to keep informed of developments in other countries, and to identify new concepts, methods or materials which could be introduced into their own country. CEE research centres, especially the smaller ones, often have a poor coverage of international journals and books, through lack of funds, but computer-based searches and e-mail contact with foreign scientists can help. English has now become the lingua franca of science, and it is vital for researchers, especially younger researchers, to learn English well enough to communicate internationally in their writing, reading and speech.
Annual staff reviews are conducted at most EU research centres. Each worker, however senior or junior, has to meet with his/her line manager to discuss his/her work, publications, achievements, difficulties over the past year, and a written record is made which includes objectives and any training needs for the coming year. This seems not to be done at CEE research centres. It is not an easy task to obtain a useful degree of openness in such reviews, and training is necessary. However, they have almost always proved very beneficial for all concerned and should be conducted throughout CEE organisations.