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Every rupee spent on R&D impacts poverty

Per rupee of Govt spending on agricultural R&D has the largest impact on poverty, reports Preeti Singh Saksena.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2007 16:18 IST

An additional 100 billion rupees invested in agricultural R&D would increase productivity growth by 6.98 per cent. And every extra million spent on R&D would raise 91 poor people above the poverty line, says a 1999 report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). According to the authors, per rupee of government spending on agricultural research has the largest impact on poverty.

In India, shrinking landholdings, increasing demand for food, depleting natural resources and rapid urbanisation, require a focus on adaptive technologies that can help raise efficiency levels of water, fertilisers and land use.

But the initial euphoria that saw our well-funded public sector institutes delivering high-yielding domestic varieties during the Green Revolution, has given way to "second generation" problems. These include stagnating productivity levels, over-centralisation, mismanagement of human resources and a ‘wheat and rice’ bias in the R&D institutes.

New colleges are being added but they have been unsustainable due to a glaring lack of funds and manpower shortage. A 2005-06 Department of Agricultural Research and Education report found a shortfall of 1819 scientists, and 1966 administrative, technical and supporting personnel. Direct support to agriculture in the form of high subsidies continues to compete with R&D institutes for funds.

India spends 0.31 per cent of its GDP on R&D, which is far below industrialised countries’ spending, which ranges from 2.45 to 4.02 per cent. Overall public research funding grew at 3.16 per cent in the 1970s and 7.03 per cent in the 1980s, slowing to 4.61 per cent in the 1990s, and further declining with the shift in public expenditure priorities in the post-liberalisation period.

A 2006 IFPRI publication Agricultural R&D in the Developing World: Too Little, Too Late? finds that private research funding has grown at 7.5 per cent, compared with 5.1 per cent in the public sector over the same period, accounting for 11 per cent of the total spent on agricultural research in 2000. But almost all of this funding is for in-house research, and precious little flows into public R&D organisations.

The improved intellectual property rights regime under the WTO is boosting private research and patenting activity in India and recent breakthroughs in agricultural biotechnology have seen R&D funds moving into applied research. Though the entry of the private sector in R&D is welcome, such investment tends to favor higher-value crops and is concentrated in areas where agriculture is already quite advanced. But in India, the focus now needs to be on large-scale local benefits, with an even greater role for the public sector.

On the other hand, expensive technologies need to be adapted to regional and local priorities. Long-term planning is required but strategic research in India has declined over the years. To address this, a National Fund for Basic and Strategic Research was set up in 2005 with an initial grant of Rs 50 crore, as recommended by the Task Force headed by Dr MS Swaminathan.

Indian agriculture is poised at a juncture where, in an era of globalisation, feeding the poor needs to be reconciled with a growing market orientation of agricultural products.

This requires an increased public investment in R&D, renewed focus on basic research, adaptation of advanced technologies to meet local requirements, and robust public-private partnerships that can provide a greater interface with the two-thirds of India that depends on agriculture for its livelihood.