An Assessment of the Impact of Agricultural Research in South Asia Since the Green Revolution
The post-Green Revolution period has seen profound changes in the economic situation in South Asia and evolving challenges for the agricultural R&D system. The priorities have changed from a narrow focus on the productivity of food grains to a need for more work on natural resources management and sustainability issues; increasing the productivity and quality of high-value crops, trees, and livestock; agricultural intensification in many less favored areas; more precise targeting of the problems of the poor, including enhancing the micronutrient content of food staples; and analysis of policy and institutional options for achieving more sustainable and pro-poor outcomes in the rural sector. This study draws on the available literature to assess how successful the agricultural R&D system has been in achieving these new goals in South Asia. Overall, it finds that the R&D system has responded well to these changing needs in terms of both budgetary allocations and the kinds of research that has been undertaken. Moreover, market liberalization has enabled a more diverse set of agents to engage in agricultural R&D, and private firms and NGOs have helped ensure that important research and extension needs have not been overlooked. Findings on the impact of this evolving research agenda are mixed. The economic returns to crop improvement research have remained high and well in excess of national discount rates. Public investments in crop improvement research have also given higher returns than most other public investments in rural areas. There is little credible evidence to suggest that these rates of return are declining over time. Agricultural R&D has also made important contributions to reducing poverty in South Asia, but it has done less well in reducing interhousehold and interregional inequities. The greatest impact on poverty has been obtained by lowering food prices, but this pathway might be less important in the future now that food prices are aligned more with border prices and food accounts for a smaller share of consumers' budgets. Also, given that agriculture now plays a relatively small part in the livelihoods of many marginal farmers in South Asia, questions arise about the efficacy of continuing to target agricultural R&D to their problems. Agricultural R&D has also been successful in addressing many of the environmental problems associated with agriculture, with a demonstrated potential for favorable impacts in farmers' fields. Yet the uptake of improved technologies and management practices that reduce environmental damage has been disappointing, particularly in intensively farmed areas. Finally, a large amount of policy research has been undertaken in South Asia since the GR, and case studies show favorable returns to policy research, though the conditions under which it leads to policy change are not well understood.
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