Wetenschap - 8 maart 2001

New research programme focuses on less-favoured areas

New research programme focuses on less-favoured areas

Designing insurance schemes for agriculture raises a number of problems. For instance, how can one check what damage is due to the earthquake or drought that has occurred, and how much is due to mismanagement on the side of the farmer?

A new initiative pioneered by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the World Bank uses a different approach: farmers can buy a ticket, rather like buying a lottery ticket. When the amount of rainfall is recorded as less than some actual amount (e.g. 70 percent of the average amount) farmers can cash their ticket for compensation through their local bank, regardless of the actual damage they have suffered. Research now needs to be done on whether farmers are interested in this form of insurance.

Response

This is just one example of the issues at stake in a new research programme set up jointly by Wageningen UR and IFPRI. The programme is entitled 'Regional food security policies or natural resource management and sustainable economies', more conveniently abbreviated to RESPONSE, and is one of five new research programmes being introduced at Wageningen UR to replace the former satellites of Wageningen UR in Costa Rica and Burkina Faso.

Dr Peter Hazell, director of the environment and production division of IFPRI and initiator of the research on agricultural insurance for developing countries, was in Wageningen last week to discuss the new programme with the Wageningen partners. Apart from senior researchers, ten PhD positions will be created, as well as opportunities for MSc students. The programme aims to study the effect of investments in agricultural technology, infrastructure and economic facilities in less-favoured areas in developing countries. Much agricultural research has traditionally focused on high-potential rural areas, on the assumption that these areas yield the highest returns to investment. However, recent research suggests that investments in dry, marginal and isolated areas have higher returns.

Participation

The new programme is innovative as it integrates different scientific disciplines more thoroughly than previously. The participation of anthropologists and biophysical scientists means that economists are forced to abandon their use of concepts such as 'the typical farmer' and 'average harvest'. Instead, the effect of heterogeneity of farmers and variability of harvests in time and space are central issues for research.

The cooperation between Wageningen UR and IFPRI is seen by both as useful. For IFPRI the link with Wageningen means it will be ensured of high-quality research. The Wageningen researchers gain access to the field through IFPRI. IFPRI's main aims are local capacity building, which will partly be achieved through the PhD programme, and encouraging the development of good agricultural policies. Professors Arie Kuyvenhoven and Herman van Keulen are the co-leaders for Wageningen University.

Joris Tielens

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