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For the last four decades, agricultural production has increased considerably in developed as well as developing countries. Much progress has been made in increasing yields and production of various crops, especially cereals. In many food deficit countries food supplies have increased more rapidly than population growth. Results have been achieved thanks to the utilization of improved production technologies. Food production increase has also been the result of sustained investment in the agriculture sector, particularly in agricultural research, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Investment in agriculture in many developing countries is largely dependent on foreign assistance. However, since 1988 official development finance has declined and in particular from multilateral organizations. The major challenge is the downward trend in investment in agriculture in developing countries and how one will cope with providing food for a growing world population that is expected to reach 8.7 billion in 2030.

Agricultural research has played a crucial role in agricultural production through the sustained supply of improved production technologies. Investment in agricultural research has more or less followed the same trend as the agriculture sector overall. Foreign assistance has played a key role in agricultural research development in all developing countries and particularly in Africa. Funding in the form of loans and grants from international donors accounted for approximately 34 percent of total research expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1960s. African NARS have increasingly relied on foreign funding, reaching about 43 percent of their total funding in 1991. Despite these huge investments, NARS are still plagued by many deficiencies, in particular as regards institutional development. However, the challenge ahead for agricultural research is immense and without continued investment in agricultural research there may be little impact on reducing food insecurity and poverty levels. In 2020 a total of 205 million children may be malnourished.

The many issues that plague NARS of developing countries, in particular those of sub-Saharan Africa, despite more than four decades of investments in particular from foreign assistance, constitute the background and rationale of this study. The objective was to investigate to what extent institutional development has been truly dealt with properly in foreign assistance programmes/projects. A set of indicators was chosen against which the impact of donor assistance on institutional development of NARS was measured.

All governments of the selected seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, have defined their agricultural policies and, accordingly, their agricultural research policies.

Agricultural research started in sub-Saharan Africa as botanical gardens until the First World War. After the First World War and the need for more exotic raw materials for the fledgling industries of the colonial powers more formalized and structured research was needed and each colonial power organized it with its own particularities although with some similarities. The colonial powers, France and the United Kingdom, alike, adopted a similar approach of creating regional research entities catering for several territories. They soon realized that it was more cost-effective to run these research facilities at federal level.

The historical development of NARS in the seven countries indicates a marked difference between French- and English-speaking countries. The exception is Mali that created its national institute IER immediately after independence. All the three earlier French colonies (Cameroon, Madagascar and Senegal) created their national institutes almost a decade after independence. However, in the aftermath of independence, they all signed bilateral agreements with France whereby the French tropical research institutes established just after World War 2, were given full responsibility for the management and execution of the research programmes, with co-financing between France and each country almost on a par. However, apex policy formulation bodies came into being before the national institutions.

The English-speaking countries took responsibility for the research structures in their territories, although for a while the colonial power under fledgling federal institutions tried to maintain some inter-country organizations that nearly all collapsed a few years after. The most radical change happened in Ghana, where they began to reorganize the inherited research infrastructure, both those locally administered and those transferred from the federal institutions that had been disbanded.

Overall, in each of the selected countries a more or less diversified NARS exists. All NARS are dominated by a NARI/NARO that accounts for at least 60 to 70 percent of all resources. The NARI/NARO is always a public organization, funded from public funds. They have inherited important research facilities from the colonial period, but are generally too large for their national needs. They have always tried to use the facilities, but with limited resources. This has caused a serious run-down of research infrastructure and major need for maintenance. The cost for rehabilitation has, however, exceeded possible national financial sources. A lot of research infrastructure has therefore been abandoned as part of a downsizing of operations of NARIs/NAROs. In all countries human resources have increased fairly well in terms of quantity as well as quality, but the inadequacy of the research environment has created a high degree of instability in most NARS. Financial resources remain an Achilles' heel, because operational funds have not increased at the same rate as the human resource build up. Expenditures per scientist have been and are often inadequate for most NARS. The level of full time employment is often less than 50 percent.

Overall, NARS have had a positive impact, despite some weaknesses, on the production systems of these countries. Over time, they have also benefited hugely from foreign assistance.

The analysis and assessment of foreign assistance provided to seven selected countries in a total of 36 projects allow for the following conclusions:

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