I met Botir at the two-day Social Media Training Bootcamp that preceded the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus in Bishkek. Botir introduced himself as an agricultural researcher from Uzbekistan working on several international projects. He was just a nice and laid back trainee.
On the first day of the forum, it turned out that “Botir” was actually “Dr. Botir Dosov” representing the Central Asia and the Caucasus Regional Program of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
Dr. Dosov was one of the speakers at the conference and gave an excellent overview of research priorities and challenges related to agricultural development and food security in the Central Asia and Caucasus region.
Having no previous knowledge of ICARDA and its work, I became interested in speaking with Dr. Dosov and finding out more about the organization’s mission, its main challenges and the constraints in his work as well as the achievements made in the area of food security in the region.
I asked Dr. Dosov to state ICARDA’s goal in simple terms. In his words, the organization “aims at providing food security and improving people’s standard of living through agricultural research.”
Nevertheless, working for a research organization and being a researcher himself, Dr. Dosov believes that researchers (or representatives of any other sector for that matter) do not make a direct contribution into agriculture. Research certainly makes a difference through its findings and can improve production volume or the quality of crops, yet it is the farmers and only the farmers who actually produce and put food on our table. Others may play only a supporting role in the agricultural production process.
With ICARDA being a regional platform for agricultural research, it engages researchers and relevant stakeholders. The bulk of its staff are national level researchers who lead research in this field. It is well known that agricultural research is largely underfunded. In high-income countries, funding in this sector makes up between 2% and 3% of the gross agricultural product and in middle-income countries, funding ranges between 0.5% and 1% of the gross agricultural product. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, this figure varies from 0.1% to 0.4%.
Although small-scale investors are attracted to the region, there is an overall lack of funding for researchers. As a result, there is a major issue of professional interest by youth in these countries. Young people prefer to work in banking, IT and mobile services.
In the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, a decent living can only be earned in the agricultural research sector by working on an international project. Scientists working in national research institutions are hopeful that one day they will become linked to a foreign program with good funding. But how many of these opportunities are really out there? Not too many. Thus, there is a serious problem of ‘aging’ in the science and research sector. Science is clearly lacking an injection of ‘fresh blood’.
In addition, Central Asia and the Caucasus encompasses countries with transitional economies and they do not receive significant investments in the agricultural sector. The reason for that is that the standard of living in these countries is considered to be relatively high in comparison to some countries in Africa and Asia. But this certainly does not mean that there are no problems.
The region is very vulnerable in the light of possible future challenges, namely food insecurity and climate change. The latter is particularly threatening to agriculture. It is expected that the effects of climate change will have mostly negative consequences for the region.
Degradation of natural resources is another key issue. With each passing year, less water become available for irrigation purposes. At the same time, the population in this region continues to grow and requires more food. As a result, land is exploited more intensively and, requiring, again, more water. This is a very dire situation.
Taking into consideration above-mentioned issues, it becomes clear that there is a need for a more effective production process. This is necessary to provide a growing population with food on the one hand, and, for better management of resources to avoid resource degradation and maintaining the quality of water and soil, on the other hand.
Despite various challenges facing the region, the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus can boast a relative success in overcoming the difficult transitional period moving from a planned to open economies and adjusting to market conditions.
Another important achievement is gaining relative food security in the region, though the nutritional security is still to be achieved. As Dr. Dosov put it: “We can feed everyone with bread but it is not enough. People need vitamins, minerals, and microelements. This is especially true for women, breastfeeding mothers, infants, and children”.
I cannot agree more with Dr. Dosov. The nutritional value of food affects people’s health and productivity. Poor nutrition obviously leads to lower productivity. There is a need for food diversification, which can in turn be achieved through the diversification of agriculture. And this is where research and science, through knowledge, evidence, and technology, come on the scene.
Research in agriculture for development needs to aim at helping farmers to produce more with less: more food, more nutritious food, more production with less financial and human resources required, and with less impact on the environment.
Blogpost by Jarkyn Samanchina, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – Jarkyn.Samanchina(at)fauna-flora.org
Picture courtesy of Jarkyn Samanchina (Fauna & Flora International)
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Central Asia and the Caucasus. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.