Most of the increase in global agricultural production over the past half-century has come from raising crop and livestock yields rather than through area expansion. This growth in productivity is attributed largely to investments in research and innovation (1). Since around 1990, there has been a decline in the rate of growth in yield per area harvested for several important crops (2). In parallel, the rate of growth in public spending on agricultural research and development (R&D) has also fallen, which may account for declining crop yield growth and may be contributing to rising food prices (3).
Absent from this picture has been the role of the private sector in contributing innovations for food and agriculture. There is evidence that innovations in some manufacturing industries (machinery and chemicals, especially) have benefited agriculture (4) but little systematic evidence on the level and trend in private-sector R&D investments targeting applications to the agricultural sector (5). There is little quantitative evidence of private R&D's contribution to agricultural productivity. Our understanding of how different factors may induce or hinder incentives for private R&D—like government investments in public research and policies concerning intellectual property (IP), taxes, and regulations—is limited by the lack of data.
To fill in this data gap, we surveyed global agricultural R&D investment by industries supplying inputs to agriculture, as well as R&D in biofuel and food manufacturing (6). We present some results of this survey and preliminary analysis of causes and implications of the observed growth in private R&D.