Budget Cuts Jeopardize Discovery of Better Seeds the Industrial Nations Have Cut Back Contributions to Agricultural Research Right at a Time When It Is Most Needed

Article excerpt

AS the world's population balloons to an estimated 10 billion in the year 2050, experts warn that a major increase in food production is needed to avert serious famine. Yet the per capita output of grains in developing countries is slowing down. The developing world faces the greatest danger of food shortages. Developing countries will gain an average of 86 million people each year from now until 2050. Demand for food in these countries is projected to more than double by 2025, and by 50 percent more by 2050.

Already, more than 700 million people in those countries are malnourished, according to estimates by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

The key to increasing crop yields and enabling the world to meet its needs for food in the 21st century is agricultural research, according to experts. But the world's only major system for agricultural research, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is being crippled by a lack of financing, with funding cutbacks of 21 percent in real terms since 1992, says Michigan State University president M. Peter McPherson, a member of the Action Group on Food Security, which issued the report in April.

"The funding {for CGIAR} has been cut back so substantially ... it becomes questionable whether the basic {research} requirements can be met," Mr. McPherson says. As a result, "we don't have the crops, the various strains of grains to achieve the yields necessary" to feed the growing populations of the developing world, he says.

Budget constraints in the United States and European countries have led major donors to curtail financing for CGIAR. The largest donor, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), slashed contributions by $6.5 million in 1993 and by an estimated $13 million this year. It is considering a further cut of $10 million in 1995. "The downward spiral of aid for agricultural development is self-defeating, even perilous," the report warns.

The funding crisis has forced the 18 international research centers under CGIAR to lay off 10 percent of its senior scientists and nearly 20 percent of their local staffs, including laboratory workers, over the last two years. …