New Chicago Council Report Finds Agriculture Innovations and Investments Critical to Meeting Future Food Demand

April 24, 2013
April 24, 2013 CHICAGO - The Chicago Council on Global Affairs today released a report that examines investment trends in agricultural research and development (R&D) worldwide and the substantial changes in the U.S. role in that agricultural innovation landscape. The report highlights the increasingly influential roles of Brazil, China, and India in global agricultural R&D, the changing private-public sector roles, and the limited national research capacity of many developing countries. It makes the case for an enhanced international orientation and generally increased investments in research to safeguard productivity gains made over the past half century and to meet future growth in food demand.

The independent study, Agricultural Innovation: The United States in a Changing Global Reality, is authored by University of Minnesota researchers, Philip G. Pardey and Jason M. Beddow. It shows that all countries can gain from research done elsewhere. In particular, most Sub-Saharan African countries could potentially tap at least 15 times (and, on average, nearly 600 times) their locally produced agricultural knowledge by adapting and adopting innovations produced in other countries.

“A new way of thinking about agricultural investments and innovation is needed to take full advantage of such opportunities to increase agricultural production and increase the efficiencies of investment at all levels, from the local to the international level,” said Pardey. “A more international approach is urgently needed, as the lag between research investments and commercial adoption is extremely lengthy.”

Pardey and Beddow present new measures of national knowledge stocks and the potential for this knowledge to “spill over” and benefit other countries. These new measures of global spillover potential can help guide research and development decisions in the United States and globally.

“The current approach does not take full advantage of the vast stocks of knowledge that exist around the world that could be adapted to local environments elsewhere,” said Beddow.

Agricultural research and innovation are pivotal to increasing productivity, but the global share of agricultural R&D investments made by high-income countries, and notably the United States, is shrinking markedly. Investments in agricultural research in large emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India are growing. Business investments in research play an increasingly important role. Investments have shifted to address a wide variety of new concerns, and in the process have undercut attention to maintaining and improving agricultural productivity growth, especially in staple food crops.

“The Chicago Council commissioned this report to assess how to better leverage scientific breakthroughs to benefit agriculture in low-income countries and get the most out of R&D dollars and activities worldwide,” said Marshall M. Bouton, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Taking stock of agricultural R&D efforts internationally is critical given the important role science will play in empowering the agriculture and food system to meet future food demand.”

The global food and agriculture sectors will be asked to increase production by 60 percent by 2050. The study notes that research and development will play a critical role in meeting this challenge, especially since production increases will occur in the face of changing climatic and economic circumstances and tightening land and water resource availability for agriculture.

This independent report was made possible by generous support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; DuPont; and The Quaker Oats Company, a division of PepsiCo.

New measures for global spillover potential presented in the report include:
  • Technological distances—identifying similarities among countries in their agro ecologies and patterns of agricultural production
  • Cumulative home-grown stocks of agricultural knowledge, by country and region
  • Spill-in ratios—the total amount of knowledge (measured in dollars of research investment) that could spill-in relative to each country’s own stock of knowledge

The following datasets contributed to this analysis:
  • Country level investments in public agricultural R&D worldwide, 1960-2009
  • Public and private investments in food and agricultural R&D for the U.S. and other OECD countries, 2009
  • Investments in international agricultural research, 1972-2010
  • Global spending on all areas of science, 2009 (looking beyond just agricultural R&D to other sciences, in recognition that there are spillovers from other types of R&D investments)


Since 2006, The Chicago Council has carried out projects on U.S. global food security policy, the role of women and girls in development, the nexus between agriculture and health, and the U.S. Farm Bill. For more information, please visit, sign up to receive the weekly news brief, Global Food for Thought, and follow @GlobalAgDev for updates.

CONTACT: Samantha Skinner | +1.312.821.7507