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December 2005

Science for Agricultural Development: Changing contexts and new opportunities

The miracle of the past four decades is that today's farmers are feeding almost twice as many people with better quality food from virtually the same land base, according to a new publication from the Science Council of the CGIAR.

Science For Agricultural Development is the first of a biennial series that tackles current scientific questions, ranging from research and development to scientific opportunities in the context of a changing global environment.


Dr. Lisa Sennerby-Forsse (right) Science Council member, and Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, Chair of the CGIAR Science Council, launch Science for Agricultural Development.

The potential beneficial impacts of emerging scientific opportunities including genomics (the science which provides information on the function and location of genes), nanotechnologies that involve manipulating matter at the nanometer scale or molecular and atomic levels, and bioinformatics and e-agriculture are highlighted. In particular, the report outlines how agricultural biotechnologies can improve the efficiency of production systems.

In fact, genomics research has been able to unravel the genome of Oryza sativa japonica through the International Rice Genomic Sequencing Project led by Japan. This would mean improving future rice breeding programs and genetic engineering to meet the demand of some 4.6 billion people by 2025.

One of the other subjects discussed in the report is climate change, a major threat to the global environment, and projected changes in climate will have both beneficial and adverse effects on water resources, agriculture, natural ecosystems and human health. Unknown risks and limited flexibility caused by changes in climate might affect food production in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Sustainable land use for agriculture and forestry can however contribute to reduce human impact on the climate system

The publication also states that innovative partnerships and new funding for agricultural research and development must be strengthened to take advantage of these scientific opportunities for agricultural development. The good news is that in the past five years, worldwide investment by public agencies and private firms in all sciences rose by a third, to reach US$ 725 billion.

Furthermore, public investments in agricultural research alone increased by 51 percent; from an estimated $15.2 billion in 1981 to $23 billion in 2000. The downside is that investment among the regions is uneven. In 2000, France, Germany, Japan and the United States accounted for two-thirds of public agricultural research investments among developed countries, while Brazil, China, India and South Africa accounted for more that a quarter of all public agricultural research investments by developing countries.

To view the presentation, click here.

To read the report, click here.