Economists study the impact of international agricultural research at US universities

A study of the value of international agricultural research by the US Agency for International Development indicates a return of $8.52 in economic benefits for every dollar invested. Photo credit: Kansas State University

An economic analysis of the impact of international agricultural research and development conducted at US universities over 40 years indicates that every dollar invested generates a return of $8.52 in economic impact.

Timothy Dalton, an agricultural economist from Kansas State University, presents the results of a study of projects completed between 1978 and 2018 and funded by the United States Agency for International Development under its research support program collaborative and Feed the Future Innovation Labs.

The research focused on USAID projects representing an investment of $1.24 billion to support agricultural development and improve food security around the world. These projects generated an economic impact of $10 billion, according to Dalton.

Much of the work is done by agronomists from American universities who issue land grants.

“These university-funded programs are having a positive impact on the most vulnerable populations in low- and middle-income countries,” Dalton reported. “Those living in poverty on less than $5.50 a day receive 78% of research benefits, and nearly 30% of those who benefit live in extreme poverty with less than a net daily income of $1.90.”

Dalton and Keith Fuglie – an economist with the USDA Economic Research Service – co-authored a paper documenting the high returns to investment in agricultural research and development. Their report is now available online from Cambridge University Press.

“Agricultural productivity is one of the most powerful tools we have to promote food security and equitable economic growth in low-income countries,” Fuglie said. “When you increase agricultural productivity, you improve the incomes and well-being of some of the most undernourished and poorest people in the world.”

The authors found what they called “high return investments” in areas such as integrated pest management technologies; new varieties of cereals and legumes; and mitigating post-harvest losses through better storage practices.

“University investments in international agricultural research have brought significant benefits in reducing poverty and improving nutrition for these low-income populations,” Fuglie said.

Dalton said international research also benefits US taxpayers.

“We are currently dealing with insect pests in sorghum production in the United States that occurred in southern Africa in the 1980s, (and) in Latin America and the Caribbean in the early 2000s,” he said. -he declares. “When these pests appeared in the United States, we were able to hit them head-on because of the knowledge we generated for farmers in those other countries.”

He added that agricultural research targets two segments of the population in low-income countries: farmers who are barely getting by and consumers in urban areas who spend 70 to 80 percent of their budget on food.

“When we combine these two populations, we find that (agricultural research) lifts large populations out of poverty,” Dalton said. “That’s what makes agriculture so different from many other investment alternatives. Investment in agriculture affects the population as a whole through higher incomes or cheaper food. Investing in agricultural research and development takes time, (but) perseverance pays off.

More information about this USAID-funded research and its findings is available online at K-State’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Sorghum and Millet Research.

Lana T. Arthur