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Much of Africa Not Investing Enough in Agricultural Research

A breeder checks on the health status of conserved maize germplasm in Ibadan, Nigeria.
A breeder checks on the health status of conserved maize germplasm in Ibadan, Nigeria.

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Investing in agricultural research and development can help poor countries fight hunger and poverty. A new study says investments in sub-Saharan Africa increased by more than twenty percent between two thousand one and two thousand eight. But the study also found that just a few countries were responsible for most of that growth.

Nigeria was responsible for one-third of it. Ghana, Tanzania, Sudan and Uganda also increased their spending. But thirteen countries decreased their investments.

Nienke Beintema from the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute led the study. She says new technologies are needed to deal with some of the causes of hunger.

NIENKE BEINTEMA: "Food price volatility, growing population, water scarcity and climate change. There is more demand on better technologies or different technologies to address these issues."

She says some countries, including Nigeria, have increased their investments after spending far too little in the past.

NIENKE BEINTEMA: "It is a positive sign because it is more commitment from the government. But Nigeria had extremely low levels of agricultural research funding. I was there for the first time in two thousand or two thousand one. And I visited institutes that could not function. They even did not have a phone line, or they did not have gas for the cars, one computer that did not work."

Nigeria now has the largest agricultural research system south of the Sahara. That is one measure of progress. But Nienke Beintema says a better measure is whether a country is spending more than one percent of its agricultural money on research. And in two thousand eight, she says, Nigeria was not doing that.

Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Mauritania and Mauritius were spending more than one percent. So were Namibia, South Africa and Uganda.

Ms. Bientema examined levels of financing and employment at three hundred seventy research centers in thirty-two countries. She believes most countries depend too heavily on international donations to help pay for research. Many donations are short term, she says, and the research often ends when the money has been spent.

Ms. Bientema says countries must improve their higher education systems to get more qualified researchers. But the study found that new researchers are not being hired in some countries because of budget problems. At the same time, many older researchers are nearing retirement age.

Private industry may be able to help if governments cut their spending. Some cooperatives, for example, raise money for research into important crops.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson and Steve Baragona. For more agricultural news and to learn English, go to I’m Steve Ember.