Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Wanted: Innovations to feed the hungry

12.11.2003


Columbia economist offers new way to compute prizes for agriculture research



After many decades of economic growth, the single most important cause of human mortality remains malnutrition. The World Health Organization estimates that food deficits cause about 6 million deaths per year, or 14 percent of the total. Surprisingly, most people who die from hunger are actually farmers – not by choice, but by necessity. They are born in rural areas, and have no other resources with which to earn a living. When a farm family’s production falls short of their own food needs, they fall into a downward spiral of malnutrition, ill-health, and even lower production.

In the November issue of AgBioForum, William Masters, director of the Earth Institute’s Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development, proposes a new way of fighting hunger: by giving cash prizes to innovators who develop sustainable techniques that the world’s poor can use to feed themselves.


Prizes have been used to solve many seemingly-intractable problems, from an 18th-century prize for determining longitude at sea, to the 20th century prizes for long-distance flight given to Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. These prizes work well when governments or philanthropists anticipate that a breakthrough would be valuable, but are unlikely to be easily sold in the marketplace or obtained from university laboratories.

Professor Masters’ approach proposes targeting any increase in the productivity of low-income farmers, using recently-developed measurement methods to compute what each innovation is really worth.

Professor Masters’ proposal is motivated by the magnitude and nature of global hunger. Because the poorest people are farmers, one of the most effective tools in the historical fight against malnutrition has been agricultural research, adapting seed varieties and production techniques to local needs. This type of research consistently pays for itself, often many times over – but the gains are spread over millions of very poor beneficiaries, so the costs of research can’t be recovered locally, either by private-sector innovators through product sales, or by local governments through taxes.

"This mechanism offers a way for philanthropists and foreign-aid donors to pay directly for demonstrated research achievement," says Professor Masters. "We know that people want to pay for good research. This offers a way to find which research is worth funding, using verifiable data from field experiments and farm surveys."

Right now, research achievements are rewarded in one of two main ways. The oldest approach is through universities and public laboratories, paid for by government grants or philanthropy – but these are difficult to steer towards high-priority targets. To make researchers more responsive to people’s needs, governments offer them intellectual property rights over their innovations – but these have value only when a technology’s users can be made to pay for it. Professor Masters’ proposal is intended to help fill the gap between these two methods, to reward innovations that are not now being rewarded through either kind of funding mechanism.

Although it would take some time for new research to generate results on the ground, Masters believes that offering prizes for research results would have an immediate impact, by attracting attention to the fruits of R&D. He said, "I have worked for ten years in West Africa on this issue, and I know dozens of agricultural technologies that are out there right now saving lives. No one rewards these innovators. Prizes would help them spread their ideas to more people, and to develop them further."

"Some of the best innovations come from individuals, often working in non-profits and NGOs – others come from people in universities and public laboratories, and some come from private companies like Monsanto. No one has a monopoly on discovery," said Masters. "This proposal is about rewarding innovation, wherever it comes from."



The Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development (CGSD) was established in July 2002 to research and craft solutions for the pressing international development problems of our time. CGSD manages the social sciences activities of the Earth Institute, such as economics, education, and urban growth. Its hallmark approach involves interdisciplinary collaborations with natural scientists at the Earth Institute, operating on the underlying principle that because development problems cross disciplines - from the environment to disaster preparedness to public health to economic planning - so must the solutions.

The article is:
William A. Masters (2003), "Research Prizes: A Mechanism to Reward Agricultural Innovation in Low-Income Regions" AgBioForum 6(1&2, November): 1-5.

Mary Tobin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.agbioforum.missouri.edu/
http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/cgsd/people.html

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Alkaline soil, sensible sensor
03.08.2017 | American Society of Agronomy

nachricht New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>