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1.1 Background

1.1.1 Agricultural productivity and development

Agriculture forms the mainstay of the economy in most developing countries. In 1997 it contributed on average to 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Production (GDP) and more than 60 percent to foreign exchange earnings in 1997. Agriculture provides the main livelihood, generating income and employment for the vast majority of people in developing countries. It also provides vital raw materials for national or international industry.

Agricultural production has increased significantly both in developed and in developing countries over the last three to four decades. Major progress in yields of cereals and other crops, increase in livestock and farmed fish has contributed to an 80 percent increase in global food outputs since the mid-1960s. Cereal yields, total cereal production and total food production doubled between 1960 and 1985. Production of important crops has also improved in many food deficit countries. Some net food importing countries have even become net exporting countries in less than two decades.

Overall, food supply has increased faster than population growth. Good results have largely been achieved through improved agricultural technologies. Adoption of high-yielding varieties has had a significant impact. Irrigation and use of fertlizers together with better resource management and a more appropriate agricultural policy have also been major contributors.

Some key developments globally and in sub-Saharan Africa have been:

Although the global picture of agricultural development shows significant progress and potential, it has and will probably be unevenly distributed for a foreseeable future. Without the green revolution a far greater proportion of the world population would today be food insecure. The benefits of the green revolution have, however, not reached farmers in sub-Saharan Africa as in other continents. Progress has been much slower in resource poor environments, even if new varieties have also been widely adopted. Despite success stories the prospects in sub-Saharan Africa are therefore much grimmer.

There are many reasons why Africa and other continents are not experiencing growth in yields. A significant and recognized yield gap exists between proven technologies in experimental plots and farmers' fields. At the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India, research scientists have been able to obtain 6 tonnes/ha per year of sorghum/maize plus pulse (chickpea/pigeon pea) in a double cropping system on vertisols. Traditional single-crop systems in the area typically yield only about 0.6 tonnes/ha of sorghum or 1.2 tonnes/ha of chickpea.

Similar yield gaps have been recorded in Latin America and especially in Africa. This occurs even if growing conditions between experimental plots and farmers' fields are almost identical. This shows that, not only access to inputs enhance yields, but also improvement in management skills. A major challenge is to find mechanisms that allow farmers to narrow yield gaps.

Increase in food production has come from sustained investment in the agriculture sector in the 1960s and 1970s. Although accurate figures are not always available, FAO data indicate that total net on-farm investment stood at US$26 billion per year between 1987 and 1992. Most of this has come through private investment. To this must be added public funding for research and extension estimated at US$10 billion per year (World Bank estimates). The investment in primary agriculture and public support in developing countries has, however, been fairly modest in comparison.

Investment in agriculture in many developing countries is largely dependent on foreign assistance. Decline in external agricultural assistance is largely attributed to a marked decrease in assistance from multilateral organizations. The contribution from multilateral contributions to total development assistance decreased from 13 to 8 percent between 1980 and 1990. World Bank lending to agriculture as a share of total lending alone fell from 30 percent in the 1970s to 16 percent in the 1990s. Bilateral organizations' share has been around 7 percent for most of the 1980s, but dropped to a low 6 percent in 1989.

The world food supply has more than tripled during the past four decades (1950-1990), but the green revolution-increased production has not solved the problem of chronic undernutrition for hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken people around the world. Dwindling of external assistance to agricultural development has exacerbated the situation. According to recent estimates, by the year 2030 world population will rise from 5.7 billion (1995) to 8.7 billion. As population grows, per caput availability of arable land will decrease further, heightening the need to intensify agricultural production and putting greater demands on land. If no action is taken to reverse the present trend, the number of chronically-undernourished will still be some 730 million by the year 2010 and not 420 million by 2015 as committed by the World Food Summit in 1996.

1.1.2 The challenges for agricultural research

Agricultural research holds a vital key to improving food security, reducing poverty and sustaining broad-based economic development. The importance of agricultural research is greater now than ever, in particular in developing countries where food insecurity is widespread. Without continued investment in agricultural research, there may be little impact on reducing food insecurity and poverty. Agricultural research addresses poverty by:

a) increasing productivity and income in rural areas where 83 percent of the world's poorest people live;

b) reducing food prices for all.

By 2020, two-third of the population of developing countries will live in urban areas and their living standard will be greatly influenced by availability and price of food and other agricultural products (Alex, G. 1996).

The agricultural research agenda must respond to these challenges. The choices made by governments and institutions now, both in developed and developing countries, will determine whether one will be able to rise to this challenge. The National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) are and will continue to be the cornerstone of the global agricultural research system. They alone can be responsible for addressing the range of productivity and sustainability issues in their own countries. Given the diverse nature of agro-ecological conditions, the location-specificity of small-scale production and the pervasive natural resource management problems, NARS must play an even larger role in the interface between the global agricultural research system and the producers.

The success of the global agricultural research system in responding to global challenges depends on a strong national research capacity to do productive research, complemented by effective technology transfer mechanisms. Strong partnership among NARS, between them and the regional and international research institutes, particularly those of the CGIAR, constitute the second condition for increasing the efficiency of the global research system (FAO, 1996).

The challenges faced by NARS are many. Taking into account past investment levels it is important to study and analyse the impact of foreign assistance on the institutional development of NARS.

1.1.3 Development of funding for agricultural research

Investment in agricultural research has more or less followed the same trend as investment in the agriculture sector. In the 1980s public agricultural research funding amounted annually to US$4.4 and US$4.8 billion in developed and developing countries, respectively. This represented a 260 percent increase (Anderson, Pardey and Roseboom, 1997). From 1965 to 1985 funding for agricultural research in less developed countries grew in real terms (constant 1980 dollars) from US$1.1 billion to US$3.6 billion. However, in terms of expenditure per researcher, levels fell by 16 percent.

Since 1985, there have been severe cuts in allocation to agricultural research due to decreases in national budgets. Countries have had to adopt fiscal austerity measures that have affected public spending. Fewer resources have meant downsizing institutions. This has had a detrimental effect on the amount of research it has been possible to carry out. Investment in the agricultural research sector slowed in the late 1980s and remained stagnant in the 1990s (Roseboom and Pardey, 1995).

Africa was no exception in this respect. Public spending stagnated in the 1980s and the 1990s at about US$970 million per year, slightly higher than the level reached in 1981 (Pardey, Alston, and Roseboom, 1998). This contrasts with the situation in the 1960s and 1970s when public funding almost trebled to US$1 billion. During the 1970s and 1980s, Africa's share of total expenditure on agricultural research in developing countries, slipped from 9.6 percent in 1971 to 6 percent in 1995. Agricultural research as a percentage of agricultural GDP declined from a peak in 1981 of 0.93 percent to 0.69 percent in 1991. By contrast, public spending in industrial countries on agricultural research amounted to about 2.4 percent of agricultural GDP in 1991.

Foreign assistance has played a key role in agricultural research in all developing countries and particularly in Africa. Funding in the form of loans and grants from international donors accounted for about 34 percent of total research expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1960s. African NARS have increasingly come to rely on foreign funding, reaching about 43 percent of their total funding in 1991 (FAO, 1995). Funding directed to NARS does not include funding of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) through its network of International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs). This stood at US$270 million in 1996.

Financial support to agricultural research from two major international actors (the World Bank and USAID) mitigates this trend. World Bank lending to the agriculture sector increased in the 1980s, but was reduced in the 1990s. Commitments to agricultural research and extension have been increasing since mid-1960. As a proportion of sectoral lending, it rose from 7.5 to 12 percent from 1977 to 1992 and increased further until the end of the fiscal year 1996. During the period 1989-1992, the annual commitment to research was equivalent to US$200 million. Within this total commitment to research, 61 percent was in the form of freestanding projects. The proportion allocated to research institutes has shown an upward trend, reflecting the Bank's increasing emphasis on helping countries develop the overall institutional capacity of their NARS.

As regards USAID a recent review (Alex, G., 1996) indicated that USAID support for NARS declined by 73 percent (including universities) in 1994-1996. The decline in support for research was also reflected in reduced support to the IARCs. Decrease in support to NARS naturally constrains their research productivity especially after intensive investments in institution building in the preceding decade. The downward trend reflects the widespread notion of "donor fatigue" and missed opportunity to follow-up on earlier investments in capacity building.

The role of foreign assistance has been and is still a prominent factor in the development of NARS in developing countries.

1.1.4 Impact of foreign assistance on agricultural research

Research might be considered to produce two kinds of technology: production technology and research development (R&D) technology (Horton, 1998). The corresponding impacts might respectively be called production impact and institutional impact.

Production technology refers broadly to all methods which end-users use to cultivate, harvest, store, process, handle, transport and prepare food crops, livestock, etc., for consumption. R&D technology refers to the organizational strategies and methods used by research and extension programmes in their work.

Production impact refers to the physical, social and economic effects of new technology on crops and livestock production, distribution and use and on social welfare in general. Institutional impact refers to the effects of the R&D technology on the capacity of research and extension to generate and disseminate new production technology. Impact on production

There is ample and well-documented scientific evidence on the impact of research investment on production. Rates of return to investment in agricultural research have been impressive and are estimated to range from 20 to 190 in developing countries (Evenson, 1993). Specifically for sub-Saharan Africa a 1995 SPAAR study (SPAAR, 1995) reports in a synthesis of 27 case studies, that quantified rates of return to African agricultural technology development were similar in magnitude to those found in other parts of the developing world. Some examples from West Africa are provided in Table 1 (from Coulibaly, Adesina, Folaang, Endamana, and Ndango).

Table 1. Recent estimated rates of return to technologies in sub-Saharan Africa (WEST AFRICA)





Rate of Returns (percent)

Schwartz et al.





Sterns and B.










Coulibaly et al.



Biocontrol (cassava)


Coulibaly et al.





Coulibaly et al.




104 Institutional impact

In contrast, records on institutional development impact of agricultural research are limited, particularly as regards foreign assistance. The importance of institutional issues is, however, reflected in the operational guidelines of different agencies (Brinkerhoff, 1994). In USAID, institutional development (ID) has long been a pillar in the agency's development policy. Institutional analysis (IA) is at the same time a component of USAID programmes. There is also often a gap between espoused ID policy and what has actually been done in the name of ID (Brinkerhoff, 1994). Some also attribute scarcity of institutional impact studies to lack of indicators for carrying out assessment (Nickel, 1996). There is also reference to definitional, attribution and temporal problems, which explain why foreign aid donors as a rule are reluctant to review and appraise their institutional ventures (Goldsmith, 1993).

Analysts of foreign assistance to agricultural research, particularly in Africa, are very critical of the role of foreign assistance. A flaw in external donor aid and assistance in the last two decades is noted to be of high tolerance for defective institutional structures, which were supported with loan and grant funds but yielded little dividend (Idachaba, 1991). The view is that many external donors have:

"massively funded fatally defective institutional structures on the faulty assumption that these institutions would be reorganized, revitalized, revamped, etc. Many years and many million dollars of donor funding later, African countries are still saddled with defective institutional arrangements that have continued to hamper the growth of institutional capacity in agricultural research" (Idachaba, 1991).

Others hold the view that the interrelated issues of the size, performance and sustainability of NARS are not being addressed by African policy-makers, NARS leaders and donors (Eicher, 1990). The view is put forward (Eicher, 1990) that:

"Today, most NARS do not have the institutional, managerial and financial capacity to absorb current levels of project aid "with integrity" and to sustain the project activities after foreign aid is phased out. The present donor-financed project-by-project and country-by-country approach to building African scientific capacity is seriously flawed."

Eicher goes on, and concludes:

"The challenge for donors in the 1990s is to move beyond the resource transfer model of financing the construction of buildings and purchasing equipment and vehicles for NARS and pursue a human capacity-institutional building model that is geared to the specific needs of the African nations at this stage of their development" (Eicher, 1990).

Many donors have not realized that research capacity in a country is not a simple sum of well-trained researchers, adequate buildings, and well-equipped laboratories. These are means not ends. The research capacity in a country depends upon how well these means can be made to function and fulfil the mandate of providing farmers with tools (improved practices and technology) that can lead to increased food production, and whether the political, economic and social environments (at national and local levels) allow these means to become effective (Murphy, 1983).

These are issues that plague NARS of developing countries, despite more than four decades of heavy foreign investments. This constitutes the background and rationale of the present study: to investigate to what extent institutional development has been truly and properly dealt with in foreign assistance programmes and projects.

1.2 Objectives

Building agricultural research capacity implies developing the capacity to design rules for organizations that will facilitate activities of people in organizing, supporting, conducting and monitoring agricultural research (Idachaba, 1991). Among the elements, which constitute institutional capacity the following can be singled out;

An FAO and UNDP review of some 790 projects (FAO/UNDP, 1984) on support to strengthening national agricultural research during the period 1970-1981 came to the following conclusions on institutional development:

These deficiencies in institutional development have not improved after two decades of continued assistance as the current constraints of NARS listed below show.

What are the present constraints that most NARS of developing countries face in the process of their institutional development? Constraints analyses are quite abundant and in general there is some sort of consensus on the following, presented according to their seriousness:

The current situation of NARS of most developing countries as described above and generally accepted, is in stark contrast with that which ought to be strong and sustainable. According to TAC (1997) "a strong research system is one that has the sustained capability to effectively and efficiently execute that it is of highest priority in relation to national policies and farmer's needs, and respond dynamically to changing internal and external information."

Given the sustained effort of government and donors for more than four decades, something went wrong. It has been demonstrated that research has had a positive impact on production technologies that have been developed and that have given high rates of return. However, most NARS are institutionally fragile. After more than 40 years of heavy investment they are not yet mature.

The objective of this study is to analyse the impact of foreign assistance on the institutional development of NARS in developing countries. To what extent have donors really taken into account the institutional development dimension in their assistance?

1.3 Methodology

The countries were chosen based on pre-set requirements. The study is based on analysis of 36 projects in seven sub-Saharan countries. The case studies of selected countries were prepared using the following criteria for the country selection:

A sample of 16 selected countries considered appropriate with the following regional distribution:

Table 2. Selected countries for case studies



Sub-Saharan Africa

Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Madagascar, Senegal (7)

West Asia, North Africa

Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan (3)

Asia and the Pacific

India, Malaysia, Philippines (3)

Latin America

Bolivia and Colombia (2)



For each of the selected countries, one well-experienced research scientist/manager was chosen in cooperation with the relevant NARS leaders. Each was granted an author's contract to prepare a national case study from a sample of key foreign assistance projects in the past 30 years. The recommendation was to select five to ten projects with clear stated institutional development objectives. A detailed guideline shown in Annex 4 was provided to each author for the preparation of each case. Each author was expected to collect data and information on the sample projects; analyse and interpret the collected data and information; and report on the findings and results. It was suggested that a sample of five to ten projects be selected for each country. Unfortunately none of the authors was able to comply with this suggestion. The size of the sample therefore varies from one country to another. Overall 36 projects were selected and analysed.

1.3.1 Key issues

A certain number of key issues have been selected for the study. The key issues do not cover all aspects, but point to key elements which NARS, both in the north and south, has dealt with in order to form a sound institutional framework within which research can take place. A major part of the study is devoted to looking at how donor assistance has had an impact on or influenced the following key issues/indicators:

1.3.2 Donor assessments

In the second part of the study, key donors that have been supportive of investment in agricultural research would have been asked:

(i) to make their own assessment of the impact of their assistance on the institutional development of NARS;

(ii) to provide a statement on their present and future strategies for investment in agricultural research.

The approach to be adopted was to be determined after identification and consultation with donors, during the process of the study, either locally in the selected countries or from the donor head agencies.

In terms of leadership of the study, a team leader was to be contracted on a part-time basis for supervision of the study and for dialogue with the authors of the national case studies and donors. She/he was to analyse draft case studies, look for complementary documentation, and crosscheck data with donor countries and institutions to ensure accuracy of information. Finally, she/he was given responsibility for preparing the final draft report with the major conclusions and recommendations.

A steering committee, composed of FAO and SPAAR and other interested partner representatives was vested with the responsibility for overall supervision of the exercise, to review drafts and endorse conclusions and recommendations.

This approach could, however, not be completely adhered to due to resources limitations. The team leader was not recruited and hence responsibility was assumed partly by an FAO senior officer. Despite thorough guidelines for the case authors, none of them complied with their Terms of Reference.

It is recognized that more adequate briefings were needed. There should also have been detailed explanation of guidelines and report format. Duration and cost of the study was also underestimated. The donor assessment part of the study will be made separately. The Steering Committee met once and has never been completed with interested partners such as IDRC, which contributed funding. Due to the delay in completing the study it has been decided to report regionwise starting with sub-Saharan Africa.

1.3.3 Expected outputs

Using the criteria outlined above the study should provide the following results:

1.3.4 Conclusions and recommendations

a) recipient countries (policy-makers, NARS governance, research managers/leaders)

b) donors (donor policy-makers, assistance planners/programme formulation; donor assistance implementation and monitoring, etc.).

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