Collaborative dividends huge

Australian farmers continue to reap enormous benefits from collaborations with international agricultural research agencies, set up in the 1960s to alleviate world food shortages.

NSW Department of Primary Industries economist, Dr John Brennan, draws this conclusion after evaluating the benefit to Australia of involvement in research centres set up under the auspices of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Fifteen CGIAR centres are credited with having a major impact on increased world food production per person since the 1960s.

Dr Brennan says research at the CGIAR centres not only had clear direct benefits to developing countries: there were also “spillover” effects to developed countries such as Australia.

“For instance, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico was responsible for developing high yielding semidwarf wheat varieties.

“These varieties had a huge impact on wheat production worldwide and contributed to large increases in wheat yields in Australia.”

Dr Brennan said that in Australia, farmers in all states had adopted semi-dwarf varieties from CIMMYT by 1988.

“Semi-dwarf varieties are now grown by more than 96 per cent of wheat farmers and have been directly responsible for a 6.1pc increase in wheat yields.

“Since the initial semi-dwarf varieties, introduction of improved semi-dwarfs to Australia from CIMMYT has continued, specially bred for disease and stress resistance and to produce greater yields.”

He said these were estimated to have provided a total direct benefit to Australian farmers from CIMMYT of a further 3.2pc increase in yields since 1988.

Dr Brennan estimated the total benefit to Australian farmers from investment in CGIAR centres in Mexico, Syria and India amounted to $50 million a year (mainly from increased yields).

“International agricultural research has been very successful in increasing world food production, despite an increasing world population; these changes have resulted in a significant fall in food prices in recent decades.

“Australia, too, has made direct gains from this research, aimed at developing countries through its collaborative links,” he said.

Dr Brennan noted Australia had provided strong financial support for the international agricultural research centres, at approximately $10 million per year.

“The benefits to Australia are far greater than what we contribute to the international agricultural research effort,” he said.

Dr Brennan also noted the importance to Australia of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria.

“This has been a source of germplasm for barley, durum, chickpea, faba bean and lentil varieties released in Australia.

“In fact, faba bean and lentil varieties grown in Australia are entirely based on ICARDA germplasm.

Dr Brennan is a principal research scientist in economics with NSW DPI at Wagga Wagga, where he has worked on the economic assessment of agricultural research, particularly plant breeding and the role of international research spillovers.

His work in this area has been funded by NSW DPI and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). He will retire shortly.