- A new book looking at the history and effect on maize research in West and Central Africa reveals it is among the best spent funds to achieve poverty reduction. Every million US$ spent on maize research had lifted 35,000 Africans out of poverty, it claims.
Author Arega Alene of the new book "The Economic and Poverty Impacts of Maize Research in West and Central Africa" analyses three and half decades of maize research in African farming communities and he is finding big benefits.
A multi-country study in agricultural economics, the new book documents the significant role international maize research plays in reducing poverty. It finds that since the mid-1990s, "more than one million people per year have escaped poverty through the adoption of new maize varieties."
"Key economic benefits from maize research are primarily the result of the productivity gains farmers experience after adopting modern varieties," Dr Alene finds. While notably scant prior to the 1980s, the percentage modern varieties (MVs) adapted to the local environments by farmers in West and Central African maize areas grew from 5 percent in the 1970s to 60 percent in 2005.
The study results suggest that "without research to maintain or increase maize yields, poverty in the region would be substantially worse," Mr Alene indicates.
Dr Alene, currently working as a researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), states an example from West and Central Africa. "For every US$ 1 million invested in this type of research, at least 35,000 people were lifted out of poverty," his calculations had demonstrated.
The author further examines the relationship between variety performance and adoption patterns to estimate the benefits of maize research in West and Central Africa during the past three and half decades. Results were drawn from multiple surveys of research conducted between 1981 and 2005 by IITA and other research institutes. Social rates of return on public investments in maize research in the region were also found to be "considerable".
The countries surveyed account for about 85 percent of the total maize production in the region. Questionnaire surveys were conducted with managers, breeders, economists, and representatives of maize research institutes and seed production agencies.
Mr Alene concludes that "more must be done to enhance the impact of maize research. Affordability and accessibility for farmers to various complementary inputs, such as improved seed and fertilizer, are critical factors for sustainable poverty reduction," he holds.
While his study only covers research in maize and its efficiency in reducing poverty, several other recent studies have indicated that research in tropical agriculture - a much neglected area so far - generally have a great impact in developing countries.
Especially research in rice varieties adapted to African conditions have benefited from this new knowledge, but investments in such results still lags very far behind research to improve agricultural products grown in temperate zones.
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