Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The importance of investing in human capital for the reform of national agricultural research

I was recently browsing an interesting publication by The World Bank, titled Agricultural Innovation Systems - An Investment Sourcebook (you can find the full text as PDF here) and came across the really interesting use case of Brazil, and how its investments in human capital to improve its agricultural research sector took place through a long-term plan and by securing the necessary funds from various sources:

In 1963, the Brazilian government took a high-level decision to build a human capital base for a modern agricultural sector. With financing from the United States Agency for International Development, four American land-grant universities assisted four Brazilian universities in strengthening BSc level training for a decade followed by another four years of support for postgraduate education. In 1971–72 more than 900 Brazilian graduate students were studying agricultural sciences in United States universities. This experience with building human capital in programs in agriculture is directly linked to political decisions by the Federal Government and the Ministry of Education to pass the University Reform Act of 1968, which linked promotions to higher graduate degrees and required academic staff to work full time. 

In 1972, when the government established the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) to coordinate its national agricultural research program, EMBRAPA continued to invest in human resources. It launched a massive human capital improvement program that sent 500 agricultural researchers for PhD programs and spent 20 percent of its budget from 1974 to 1982 on training in Brazil and abroad (World Bank 2007a, 39). Today, one-third of EMBRAPA scientists have a PhD, half have an MSc, and the balance have a BSc or equivalent. 

The most important lesson from this experience is that Brazil did not reduce public expenditure on its core agricultural institutions some 40 years ago when foreign investment waned. Instead, by mobilizing high level political support, Brazil built a strong human capital base to sustain a globally competitive agricultural research and extension base.

The EMBRAPA network
The use case drew my attention because of my previous collaboration with EMBRAPA (in the context of a couple of projects) and because it clearly shows how a carefully designed and long-time plan can lead to important results - we all understand the importance of agricultural research in the development of a country's agricultural sector so I will not go into details.

Note: The text comes from Module 2: "Agricultural Education and Training to
Support Agricultural Innovation Systems" of the aforementioned publication and is authored by Charles J. Maguire, Senior Institutional Development Specialist at The World Bank.