Creating the state of the art for agricultural research in Latin America
In early February, Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) organized a technical review and outreach workshop for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), held at the CIAT campus. The workshop brought together ASTI’s national focal points: key contacts who have been coordinating national survey rounds over the last year or so to update agricultural research data on investment, human capacity, and outputs for nearly every country in the region.
This survey round, carried out with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Canadian government, depended on the involvement of nearly 600 governmental organizations in the LAC region. And—although the results will be formally delivered in April 2016, including a series of country factsheets, a regional synthesis, and the launching of the ASTI web site in Spanish—data are already available that reflect the diversity and dynamism of the region.
Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are the region’s biggest investors in agricultural research.
Lack of a critical mass of PhD
Many of LAC’s smaller countries lack a critical mass of PhD-qualified researchers. In Paraguay, Honduras, Panama, and Nicaragua, less than 10 percent of agricultural researchers hold PhD degrees.
Significant growth in agricultural research spending
The LAC region recorded significant growth in agricultural research spending and capacity in recent years. However, this region wide growth masks considerable cross-country differences.
Aging pool of scientists
Many countries are challenged by an aging pool of scientists. In Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Peru, more than half of all researchers are older than 50. A large number of PhD-qualified researchers, in particular, will be retiring in the coming years.
What good are all these data to a country?
For Cristian Zuchini, a participant from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology of Argentina (known by its Spanish acronym, INTA), the ASTI data are crucial for decision making and sharing lessons.
“It is necessary to add value to this information that ASTI generates and encourage our leaders to use it to make decisions and to assess and validate the policies that are being applied in our country.
It is also important to share this information with our neighbors in the region, and to find complementarities. Participating in ASTI is a way to look at the experiences of other countries and come back to our own country motivated to find ways to replicate them. Brazil and Ecuador have succeeded in including taking over indicators and monitoring their strategic institutional plans. This is an example of an action that facilitates, for example, institutional responsibility in answering information requirements and action follow-up. Another example is Colombia’s experience in achieving articulation among different organizations to collect information and achieve a sustainable system.”Cristian Zuchini
Steps to take
For Nienke Beintema, head of ASTI, the key word is dialogue: a process that leads to influencing the decision making of those who formulate national policies. Working as a team with partner organizations and focal points, ASTI can use this dialogue process to take the step from merely generating results to making concrete use of them for development.
That is why it is so important to carry ASTI’s messages to diverse audiences by means of distinct channels such as social networks; distribution of publications; participation in strategic events; and the continual forming of relationships with regional institutions such as the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Regional Forum of Agricultural Technology (FORAGRO), and the Network of PROCIs [cooperative programs of research and innovation]. These relationships will also help keep the data fresh, by encouraging agencies in the continual collection and analysis of the agricultural research information from each country.
Key national and social institutions can provide another entry point for policy influence by providing timely coaching and strategic recommendations to policy makers based on the results of current projects.
Lastly, and to guarantee the continuity of this detailed work, it is of vital importance to identify new financing mechanisms that would enable long-term data collection and analysis at the country level.
The role of CIAT
The longterm support and collaboration of CIAT is another essential piece in ASTI’s mission to use its data for development impact. Elcio P. Guimarães, CIAT Regional Director for LAC, described the center’s relationship with ASTI:
“We have always worked with ASTI in their efforts. During the last years, this support has become even more tangible. In the future, we can continue playing a very significant role such as liaison with the countries of the LAC region, and we can draw their attention to the importance of the data collected and processed by ASTI. It is specifically a matter of forming relationships with ministries, national research centers, and similar entities which clearly have much to offer ASTI and which can benefit from the data that are generated and the added value of their analysis.”
“It is very important to continue collecting data so that they will not lose their validity and to avoid losing credibility. In this respect, CIAT can find a way to motivate the countries so that within each one of them a continuous data collection mechanism may be generated.”Elcio P. Guimarães
With teamwork, relationship-building, and dialogue such as this, ASTI is growing closer to its goal of influencing actions to help the region, and its countries, develop and prosper.