Article / Capacity Strengthening / Knowledge and Information / Policy / Research

Publish or perish: Towards diagnosing, and solving, chronic underinvestment in developing-country research

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Figure 1. Gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) across regions, in purchasing power parity (UNESCO Institute for Statistics).

‘. . . In 2012, the share of the world’s articles with at least one African author was around 2.3%. Growing, but still incredibly low relative to the African share of world population of around 15% in 2015. Even in some big and rapidly growing middle-income countries, such as India or Indonesia, much of the research done is carried out by external academics or consultants.

There is a vicious circle of under-investment in research in developing countries, especially in the social sciences.

To make matters worse, expenditure on social science research is generally less than 20% of gross expenditure on R&D . . . .

‘Why does it matter? Because:

The very essence of a democracy with a vibrant civic culture rests on the assumption that citizens and decision-makers have access to reliable information; evidence on which to base policy and programmes; free and open debate; and a plurality of views. Social science research, by its nature, plays a critical role in this regard.

‘The current priorities on the global development agenda, captured by the SDGs [United Nations Sustainable Development Goals], need local research to be translated into national priorities and research agendas to be implemented and pursued. And for that, a more conducive and enabling local research environment is critical.

‘The current model of having development paths based on research primarily carried out in the top universities and research centres in the world or by external short-term consultants (in the absence of local capacity) is not sustainable or equitable. The way to mitigate this is to improve conditions for research in developing countries. . . .

‘This is why the Global Development Network has embarked on an ambitious project called Doing Research that aims to identify barriers to good, policy-relevant research being produced and used in developing countries and to benchmark these systems, with the ultimate goal of improving research policies and underlying conditions for carrying out research. . . .’

More information on the Doing Research project.

Read the whole article by Ramona Angelescu Naqvi, director of programs at the Global Development Network: Assessing research systems in developing countries—5 reasons why it matters and a teaser on how to get started, 14 Nov 2016.


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Strategic support for African agricultural sciences
Fortunately for Africa’s agricultural sciences, the African Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF), run by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute Hub (BecA-ILRI Hub), in Nairobi, Kenya, is designed specifically to support and strengthen capacities of individual scientists and institutions in Africa. The Hub is a shared biosciences research platform that enables African science leaders to advance solutions to some of Africa’s key agricultural challenges.

The high-end BecA-ILRI Hub facility supports ILRI’s mandate—small-scale livestock production—as well as Africa’s broader agricultural development as articulated in regional and continental agendas, including the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the recently developed Science Agenda for Agriculture in Africa (dubbed ‘S3A’) led by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). The Hub leverages both ILRI’s institutional capacities (scientific, legal, regulatory, institutional, managerial) and the political and convening powers of the Africa Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to build partnerships, conduct research, develop capacities, and raise financial and other support from investors.

The Hub’s African Biosciences Challenge Fund is strengthening agricultural science on the continent in four main ways:
(1) providing a visiting scientist program—the ABCF Fellowship—targeting scientists from African national agricultural research organizations and universities to undertake biosciences research-for-development projects at the BecA-ILRI Hub
(2) running annual training workshops to support the acquisition of practical skills in molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics, laboratory management, laboratory safety, equipment maintenance and scientific writing
(3) mobilizing national and regional capacities for joint action
(4) strengthening capacities within Africa’s national agricultural research systems to deliver on their research-for-development agenda.

Read more about the ABCF program here.

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BecA-ILRI Hub Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund Fellows at a bioinformatics workshop (photo credit: BecA-ILRI Hub/Tim Hall).

The main funders of BecA-ILRI Hub and its ABCF are Australia, via the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); Sweden, via the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation (Sida); the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); the United Kingdom, via the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

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