Bureaucracy holding back India’s huge agricultural research potential

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
India has one of the best-staffed agricultural research and development systems in the world and, with ongoing financial support, and is poised to lead the way in combatting hunger and food insecurity. Yet bureaucratic issues are still getting in the way of progress.

This is according to data from a programme run by the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) which focuses on agricultural research and development spending, funding sources and human resource capacity.

As [India’s] population grows and climate change advances, it's important for India and the entire region that the national agricultural and education system is adequately funded and works efficiently to face the challenges of today and the years to come​," said Kalpana Sastry, joint-director of the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), the programme’s Indian partner, which is co-ordinating the project.

The bodies found that India’s expenditure on agricultural research has nearly doubled since 2000, but that much of this increase paid for increased salary expenditures rather than research programmes. 

India’s goal in its latest five-year plan has been to invest at least 1% of its agricultural GDP in agricultural research and education by 2017. However this goal appears to be too ambitious, according to Ifpri’s data. 

India currently spends 0.30% on agricultural research, though this represents a much higher share than neighbouring Pakistan (0.18%), but only half the share invested by China (0.62%).

India has the potential to meet the global challenges ahead, but only if it makes the financial commitment to research​,” said Gert-Jan Stads, senior program manager for Ifpri’s Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators programme. 

Stable and sustainable levels of funding are critical to supporting effective research that yields increased agricultural productivity​.”

The project also found that India’s agricultural researchers are highly qualified, yet gender imbalance continues to plague the field—only 18% are female and very few women hold research management positions. 

Increasing women’s representation among agricultural researchers and managers will enable the country to more effectively address the priorities and challenges of all farmers, and female farmers in particular, Stads’ team learnt.

Long-term recruitment restrictions are also among the challenges affecting the country’s agricultural research, as are stagnating university budgets that have increased faculty workloads and reduced time available for research.

The private sector has a rapidly-expanding role in India’s agricultural research, making up an estimated 20% of the country’s agricultural research spending in 2009, but more recent data on private-sector investment are unavailable. 

These data are critical to facilitate an accurate assessment of the impact of government policy on private innovation and, in turn, on private innovation’s impact on food security, poverty, and other development goals​,” said Stads.

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