Livestock make a significant contribution to the world's supply of protein and energy. They occupy dry and cold areas where crop farming is not possible, as well as integrating with crops in warmer, wetter zones. In developing countries they play a major part in household dynamics and family social status. This implies that they should be given serious consideration when agricultural research agendas are set and resources allocated. This paper examines some of the processes used for research priority setting and comments on the likely impact of these processes in setting research agendas for livestock. One case study is considered in detail, that of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
Methods for prioritization of research range from the very informal, where priorities are determined by discussion in small expert groups, to the comparatively formal and quantitative estimation of economic surpluses. Between those extremes are a variety of methodologies for selecting and ranking research programmes and projects. In a liberalized economy, market forces will play a large part in determining the research agenda; in a centrally planned economy, the national research agenda will be determined by the government, although the trend is towards focusing on the needs of the end user. No one method can guarantee results, since effective research prioritization depends on accurate prediction of future demand. All methods have a degree of subjectivity and may be biased by the selection of stakeholders involved in the debate.
This paper proposes that more rigorous methodology will tend to make results more objective, more transparent and by introducing an explicit market orientation will facilitate the transition from central planning to competitive bidding, but users of any method should be aware of its limitations. The economic surplus method, possibly the most rigorous currently available for setting a national research agenda, is limited by thefact that it does not require measures of social or environmental impact, and to include these requires an additional weighting process. Any trend towards methodological rigour, whether quantitative or qualitative, has costs in terms of data gathering, time and the necessary training to carry out the analyses.
KARI has over the last 10 years moved through the full spectrum of priority-setting methods from informal to formal. It is at present engaged in setting priorities for the next 5-year span, using an economic surplus approach. Some of its experiences and lessons are described in this paper, with particular reference to livestock programmes. The authors conclude that a systematic process of setting research agendas will, on the whole, be favourable to livestock. There has in some cases been a tendency to exclude them because they are harder to work with than annual crops, research can be more costly, their value is harder to estimate and benefits take longer to accrue. A rigorous process of’ estimating benefits from research, with a reasonably long time horizon, should provide a realistic assessment of the value of livestock to an economy and is likely to encourage investment in livestock research.