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Middle East, North Africa spending on agri R&D must increase to reach UN standards

Just two out of 11 countries researched in the region, Jordan and Oman, invest more than 1 percent of agricultural output in research, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Private sector funding of agricultural research and development remains limited in the Middle East and North African region due to a lack of private-sector tax incentives and the inadequate protection of intellectual property rights, according to new research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa will have to potentially quadruple their investment into R&D if they are to meet the targets recommended by the United Nations, the research claims. But just two out of 11 countries, Jordan and Oman, invest more than 1 percent of agricultural output in research – as recommended by the UN – the institute said.

“This region is the most water scarce and food import-dependent in the world,” said Gert-Jan Stads, senior program manager of the Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) program, which is led by IFPRI, in a press release.

According to the UN, the limited private funding in the region is not the only problem. For decades, many governments in the Middle East and North Africa region neglected to invest in agricultural R&D until the issue became a priority following sharp food price hikes in 2008 in the region. “Food demand in this region is forecasted to grow at a rate of 2.1 percent a year until 2050, while annual growth in agricultural productivity has averaged just 1.9 percent since 2000,” Stads said.

And the situation has been exacerbated by an exodus of highly-qualified agricultural professors and researchers from countries like Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, because they can command better pay outside of the region, according to the statement.

Stads noted that policy-makers must make sure that new crop varieties and agriculture technologies are released and effectively disseminated to farmers. Extensive research shows a strong correlation between agricultural R&D spending and agricultural productivity, food security, and poverty reduction, according to IFPRI. But other public sectors such as healthcare and education often take priority in spending, reads the release.

Founded in 1975, IFPRI seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. The organisation identifies and analyses alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world with focus on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries, according to its website.