Beintema, Nienke; Pardey, Philip G.
(International Food Policy Research Institute(IFPRI); and International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR)
It is hard to distill a concise picture of Latin American agricultural R&D based on these new data and doubly difficult to discern what these trends portend for the future of agricultural R&D in the region. After the generally dismal decade of the 1980s, public investments in agricultural R&D rebound in some countries during the first half of the 1990s. But the recovery seems fragile and not shared widely throughout the region. Public research in countries like Brazil and Colombia that did better in the early 1990s suffered cutbacks in the later part of the decade, and many of the poorer (and smaller) countries have failed to experience any sustained growth in funding for the past several decades.
Neither has private research stepped in to fill the gap. Reliable estimates on private research spending are hard to come by, but the best (and most recent) evidence we have assembled suggests that in 1996 less than $100 million of the almost $1.6 billion of agricultural R&D spending in our 9-country sample was done by private firms. Evidently most of the private technologies used throughout the region are based on research done elsewhere.
The future of technical change in Latin American agriculture is heavily dependent on accessing technologies best suited to local markets and production constraints, cognizant of the everchanging trade prospects facing the region. This means generating technologies locally or tapping and, where necessary, adapting technologies developed in other parts of the world. Absent adequate investment in research to generate, screen, and test technologies Latin American agriculture will slip behind its competitors. Perhaps the most worrying indications in our data is an apparent bifurcation of research throughout the region. The richer countries may be making sufficient investments to stay in the race (although even here the trends are not entirely convincing, with investment slowdowns in many of these countries in recent years), but poorer countries seem to be slipping behind, both in terms of their ability to generate new technologies now and to continue doing so in the future.