‘While investments in agricultural R&D tripled in China and India over the past 20 years, it increased by barely a fifth in sub-Saharan Africa’. W.D. Report, 2008.
Global challenges requiring urgent policy attention are increasingly defined in the context of climate change, food and nutrition security, health, the environment, the economy and poverty alleviation. Success in agriculture is seen as essential to their resolution. The complexity of agricultural challenges and the globalization of the agro-food systems which lock out millions of small-scale producers, require differentiated strategies and action. Increased investments in STI and a convergence of policy, science and society, is necessary to reach sustainable development goals.
Since 2000, many global initiatives for harnessing STI for development have been launched. Key among them have been those of the UN Millennium Task Force on STI, the EU, the World Bank, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Technology for Development (IAASTD) and the InterAcademy Council. However, these initiatives have not necessarily resulted in substantial improvements in the circumstances of the poor in developing countries. To make significant progress, shared ownership of the global agenda as well as having the requisite STI implementation capacity, are essential. Interaction among governments, knowledge institutes and the productive/business sector must improve and the barriers - namely general mistrust, limited capacity, inadequate and restrictive funding and an inability of the research communities to convince decision-makers that past investments have societal relevance - must be minimized if not removed.
Since 2003, CTA has supported the scientific and academic communities in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, to articulate STI positions in support of agriculture and lobby for increased national investments and complementary international funding for agricultural research and higher education. Many emerging and priority issues - biodiversity, biofuels, biotechnology, fisheries, innovation systems, livestock, postharvest and water - were addressed through expert consultations and conferences. ACP policy positions and strategies were defined and inter and intra-regional and ACP-EU STI collaborations were forged or strengthened. ACP scientists including women scientists and young professionals were mobilized to engage in policy processes. However, while there is now greater ownership of the STI policy agendas, STI investments by national governments remain less than 1%.
As we move into the post MDG period, calls for STI to be used as an instrument for development are again being raised. At the same time, developed countries are increasing their investments in STI and providing the necessary funding to trigger collaboration within their borders and regional spheres of influence as well as trans-nationally for addressing issues such as climate change and food and nutrition security. Where does this leave developing countries, whose governments still have to make tough choices on which aspects of their economies should be prioritized for investing scarce national resources? The articles in this issue of Knowledge for Development provide no easy answers. ACP governments must have confidence to go against the status quo while ensuring that the global agenda is shaped and owned at national and local level.