Why international agricultural research matters

International research and development in agriculture, fisheries,  forestry and natural resource management is an engine for economic  progress in developing countries whose communities are dependent on  local food production and resource management for their food security.

Agricultural research is a significant, benign and essential tool in addressing food security and natural resource management globally and in Australia; we should do more of it.

The delivery of inputs arising from  agricultural research and development is an important component in the  relief of rural poverty in developing countries through increased  productivity. The consequential growth of their economies can lead to  increased trade with other countries with prospects of benefits flowing  globally. A continuing major effort in international research in agriculture  and natural resource management is required to provide for the  continuing increase in world population. This effort must extend to the  underlying reasons for poverty in developing countries, and to issues  surrounding continuing environmental degradation and climate change.

Research into fish stocks in Vanuatu is helping villagers manage the resource (Photo: ACIAR)
Research into fish stocks in Vanuatu is helping villagers manage the resource (Photo: ACIAR)

The Crawford Fund encourages greater recognition of international  agricultural research and development in agriculture, fisheries,  forestry and natural resource management by Australians, and increased  support by Australian governmental and non-governmental organisations  for this research.

This research is conducted by Australian research organisations and  national research organisations in developing countries, supported by  our own Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research  (ACIAR), and the research centres of the Consultative Group on  International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other international  research centres. The Australian Agency for International Development  (AusAID), also supports the development component of the research. The Crawford Fund also supports international agricultural research  and development through its Training Program.

In international terms, Australia’s development assistance budget is  small. To have the most impact, we must focus its programs, linking the  needs of developing countries with Australian strengths and needs.  Because the majority of people in less developed countries live in rural areas and are dependent on the land for food and employment, support  for agricultural research is one of the most effective ways that  Australia can assist in their development. Given the range of social and economic returns on the small proportion of the aid budget invested in international agricultural research, it is the best single investment in growth, stability and  prosperity that Australia can make.

Sustainable future - boy with tomato plant (Photo: Oxfam)
Sustainable future – boy with tomato plant (Photo: Oxfam)

The Green Revolution of the 1960s averted a threatening world food  shortage. The Revolution highlighted the urgency for an ongoing effort  to undertake research in agriculture and natural resource management, in order to feed the ever-growing world population. This on-going effort  now aims to reduce poverty and minimise environmental degradation and  the new threats posted by climate change impacts.

The good news is that today higher yields per hectare have enabled increased food supplies from about the same area of land that was under  cultivation 30 to 40 years ago. This is partly due to increased use of  irrigation, but agricultural research can take much of the credit.

The bad news is that an overall solution to world poverty and food  security still eludes us. Natural resources in many countries continue  to deteriorate, we all face the effects of climate change, and there is a growing appreciation of the potential for world conflicts over access  to resources such as water and arable land. It is no surprise that  hungry people are more likely to become embroiled in conflict.

The Crawford Fund welcomes the positive response by the Australian  Government to the Crawford Fund’s report ‘A food secure world: how Australia can help’ and strongly encourages an increased commitment by Australia and its  partners to international agricultural research, with its vital role in finding answers to these problems.