National agricultural research systems (NARS) are the backbone of an agricultural innovation system and include all public, semi-public, and private agricultural R&D in a country, including universities, government laboratories, private sector research, and NGO or producer-led research enterprises. The Feed the Future Initiative recognizes the importance of agricultural research as a critical input towards achieving food security in the long term. Success in the Feed the Future research strategy will require effective NARS to test and adapt technologies at the country level. However, little investment has gone into this area in recent years and national systems now see a wave of retirement of senior scientists trained abroad along with decline of programs and facilities. This leaves many open questions:
- Is collaboration in research execution adequate or is there need for focus support to research capacity development?
- Should a donor support global research programs, regional research networks, or national research institutions?
- At the national level, which types of host-country institutions represent the best investment: public research institutes, universities, private-sector firms, farmer organizations, or a combination of these? And how are national research programs best financed, governed, and coordinated?
Drawing upon outcomes from a recent expert gathering on NARS capacity development convened by the Bureau for Food Security’s Office of Agricultural Research and Policy, and a survey of USAID mission staff documenting recent NARS strengthening investments, speaker Dr. Jock Anderson presented key findings and lessons learned to guide USAID re-engagement in supporting national agricultural research systems. Panelists Larry Beach and Nienke Beitema offered complementary perspectives that will inform strategic decisions on scientific capacity development.
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International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)