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:
since their independence at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s the government authorities have taken steps to organize the inherited research infrastructure into National Agricultural Research Systems, through two phases. An expansion phase from 1960 to 1985 and the downsizing and restructuring phase afterwards corresponding to the cycle of structural adjustment programmes in these countries and economic crises. Unfortunately, no NARS has started to evaluate its research needs and tailored the inherited facilities and infrastructure to these needs. On the contrary with donor support, most of them expanded their NARS beyond real needs and budgetary capacity;
institutional development is a long-term process and actors involved should place their action into this perspective. Continuity in strong national leadership with a clear vision for the institutional capacity-building process is essential to its success;
institutional development is not an end in itself, its purpose is to build the capacity to effectively and efficiently execute what is of highest priority in relation to national policies and farmers' needs, and respond dynamically to changing internal and external environments. Therefore, it is a must for governments to develop, with proper priority setting, within a long-term strategic plan, its priority research programmes for their NARS/NARIs to execute, however, institutional long-term strategic planning is meaningless if resources to permit implementation cannot be assured;
all resources, national and foreign alike, should be geared towards the execution of the priority programmes of the strategic plan as indicated above. The setting up of a consultative group for agricultural research or alike with all donors interested in supporting agricultural research, is a positive move in the direction of coordinating donor intervention for the implementation of priority programmes and could lead in the long run to the Consolidated Funding Mechanism put forward by SPAAR within the Framework For Actions (FFAs) in 1990. Unfortunately, a recent evaluation of the implementation of the principles of the FFAs concluded that the least implemented principle was the sustainable financing that encompassed the CFM; donors are still very reluctant to move to programme financing and CFM, they are still attached to enclave projects. The use of an integrated sector approach to research where all research operating costs are considered as a capital good, a development expenditure with long-term results, as opposed to short-term, and the introduction of time-bound contractual arrangements for research funding, based on accountability for research relevance, is acceptable to research managers, but requires a long-term commitment from donors and government;
the responsibility for financing agricultural research by government and full ownership should be clearly stated at the onset and funding assured based on this; progress towards financial self-sufficiency/sustainability is a sine qua non for institutional capacity-building;
transparency and accountability should be the rule of thumb to gain confidence of all partners and clear mechanisms of independent evaluation for NARS/NARI development;
decentralization of research is essential for its development, as it facilitates more relevance and responsiveness of research programmes to the needs of the stakeholders who can participate in the decision-making process of programme formulation and evaluation. However, mechanisms must be in place, which allow them to effectively have an impact on priority setting, activity design, and implementation and evaluation processes of the research institutions. All NARS have responded positively to this demand. However, this need of decentralization of activities nearer to the users should not result in overextending the research implementations and facilities beyond the capacities of the institution to operate and maintain properly;
the development of well-trained researchers takes times and is costly; therefore, a long implementation period is appropriate for human resources development and institutional development type assistance. However, without an innovative and sustained effort to retain them through salaries, incentives and a proper work environment, massive training of well-qualified scientists can have a detrimental effect on the whole NARS that might become a training ground for other sectors of the economy or of the world market. It is reported that former NARS researchers from the selected countries today may be found in professional and management positions throughout Africa and in international organizations throughout the world. Donors, NGOs and private sector agencies looking for particular skills and appreciating the professional capabilities provided by the various training opportunities frequently seek their expertise;
the linkages within NARS have improved in all NARS. However, an imbalance among institutions and component parts of NARS exists. The relation between the constituent parts of NARS has not improved much and academic institutions still receive little attention from governments as well as donors. This is unfortunate given the potential for higher educational institutions to contribute to agricultural research. Some innovative initiatives such as the Agricultural Research Fund, in Kenya, can contribute to boost their involvement in applied research programmes. However, for the sake of developing pluralistic NARS, weakening NARI/NARO predominance through the creation of artificial structures, should be avoided. The pluralism of NARS is better obtained by involving all its components in the strategic planning exercises and allocating activities and resources based on comparative advantages of each of them. As regards the linkages with the outside world, they have also been enhanced, in particular with IARCs and regional research organizations. For the latter, they are given much attention nowadays as the panacea for strengthening NARS. However, "whether the proliferation of initiatives and agencies to coordinate the funding and, in some instances, whether the conduct of African agricultural research has had any substantive impact or has it merely served to increase bureaucratic overheads, is an open question" and "there may be few, if any, compelling reasons for countries and even bilateral donor organizations, who reflect the various priorities of their own governments, to subjugate, perhaps, some national interest for regional ones." (Roseboom et. al, 1997). One lesson of the SPAAR report cited above is that additional consideration needs to be given to the realities of collaborative regional research. NARS management, while appreciating the potential benefits of such activity, is conscious of the necessity to create stable, well-funded and self-confident national systems as a first priority, and to avoid the dissipation of scarce national capacity and funding. The regional research agenda therefore needs to be very carefully identified and relative comparative advantages fully exploited to mutual advantage;
overall, according to the criteria of analysis of institutional development against which this study is made, it can be concluded that for all countries, a sound basis for institutional development has been in place, after a series of expansion and restructuring and downsizing phases. Agricultural research management has been improved in all its processes (policy formulation, planning, organizing, evaluation and controlling, etc.). The adequate bodies have been established, although not all functioning properly. The human resource base has been developed in quality and quantity and most governments have striven to grant scientists with incentive schemes of service and to improve the research environment. This effort must, however continue, as staff attrition is still high. Strategic planning, priority setting and programme budgeting and management, are routinely performed in NARS research institutions. A 1995 SPAAR report on lessons learnt from the implementation of the Frameworks for Actions (FFAs), concludes that the master planning process "has had an important and significant effect in institutionalizing priority-setting mechanisms in NARS and in aligning agricultural research with national development objectives. The process has had a marked value in capacity building for planning in NARS". Despite the progress noted, the institutions of the various NARS remain fragile institutionally and the Achilles' heel is the funding, particularly of operating costs. The SPAAR report mentioned above came to the same conclusion "a universal and recurring problem is the shortage of operational funding. This persists despite the serious attempts by management to reduce staff levels and research sites to meet the requirements of the priorities and agenda.";
after four decades of NARS development through expansion, restructuring and downsizing, the time has come to consolidation or decompression (Eicher, 1998). Reliance on donor funding has proved not to be the solution although, it is still needed as some times, one solution might be to diversify domestic sources of funding through the resolute evaluation of all potential sources of funding mechanisms, as already recommended by the FAO/SPAAR/KARI expert consultation in 1993 on funding agricultural research in sub-Saharan Africa. It also requires African resolve, African political leadership and aggressive indigenous resource mobilization.