Future of Public Research

As mentioned elsewhere, the private sector will only invest when and where a future stream of profits is envisioned. To the extent that private sector advances are to be captured for the benefit of the disadvantaged, public sector organizations must make the investments required to use, modify, or direct them to the crops, regions, and situations of the poor who largely operate outside of the standard market mechanisms. New types of public-private partnerships will be essential, ones that we are only beginning to explore and develop.

At the heart of the problem has been the growing separation between research and development in the public sector. While there is still considerable publicly funded research, the capacity of public sector institutions to deliver technology to farmers has atrophied considerably over the past 30 years. In the interest of efficiency, public sector production organizations (such as agricultural extension, seed and fertilizer suppliers, and grain marketing boards) have been greatly reduced or eliminated. The theory, often called the "Washington Consensus," calls for market-led development, and a shrinking role for the public sector in economic activities. International trade and the private sector have been identified as the engines of economic growth. While the logic seems compelling, market-led development has also led to a growing vacuum between publicly funded technology generation and the technology delivery dimension. National and international research organizations are producing research information and products with no obvious delivery mechanism to reach farmers and consumers.

Thus, new "contingency partnerships" with various organizations in both the private and public sectors are needed, along with the agricultural development roles that need to be played by governments and public goods research organizations. This is especially true in biotechnology. Public-private partnerships will be required to assemble the critical mass of talent, funding and access to technological components, plus the financial and technical resources to navigate the regulatory process, to address the difficult circumstances facing organizations with increasingly limited resources. Responsible public sector organizations will need to actively pursue such partnerships. One of the great challenges facing public goods research today is how to reconnect their scientific work with technology delivery, and particularly, how to take their research innovations to scale.

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