Innovation: the next frontier?


Opening Ceremony of the 4th Global Forum of Leaders for Agriculture Science and Technology (GLAST)

Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Beijing, China
5 June 2013

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today for the opening of the 4th Global Forum of Leaders for Agricultural Science and Technology (GLAST) which this year focuses on the theme “Science Innovation, Technology Transfer and Agribusiness Development.”
This Forum is an excellent platform for us to exchange information and experiences, and of course to promote partnerships among the key actors in this area.

I would first like to address the broader role and the importance of innovation, before outlining the work of the OECD in this area and some policy avenues we see for future action, particularly in improving agricultural innovation.

Innovation is a key driver of growth

We know that innovation is a key driver of economic growth. In the last couple of decades, new technologies, new industries and new business models have produced impressive gains in productivity and GDP growth. Many studies have shown that R&D – a standard measure of innovation – has a strong effect on growth in real per capita GDP. Other studies have highlighted the productivity-enhancing impact of information and communications technologies.

But innovation is not just about investing in new technologies. It is also about undertaking complementary action to adapt these technologies. It implies changing our working methods and business structures, and improving our skills to fully reap the benefits of new technology.

To provide a concrete example, through its “Science and Technology Development Plan to 2020”, China has been pursuing an impressive strategic transformation, from an economy based on low-cost labour to one built on innovation and skills. According to national statistics, China is today the second country in the world by total R&D spending and the fourth largest filer of patent applications at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Innovation and agriculture at the OECD

But innovation needs to go beyond science and technology. At the OECD, through our Innovation Strategy, we aim to help governments build coherent and comprehensive innovation policies that reach across all sectors of policymaking in order to improve the lives of as many people as possible.

We therefore warmly welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussions among G20 countries on improving agricultural productivity and sustainability. This discussion was initiated under the G20 French Presidency in 2011 and accelerated under the Mexican presidency last year.

We are currently developing, with a number of international organisations, including the FAO, a framework for analysis of the best policy approaches to increase sustainable agricultural productivity growth. This framework has the potential for changing the way in which G20 economies work together on their shared interests in a strong and growing global agriculture system.
Upon the request of the Mexican Presidency, we co-ordinated, jointly with FAO, a report on “Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth and Bridging the Gap for Small Family Farms” elaborated by a consortium of international organisations and welcomed by G20 Leaders in Los Cabos.

The OECD is also an active member of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) and is providing support to the associated Rapid Response Forum. It has also been asked, by the G20, to pursue work on sustainable agricultural productivity growth, and water efficiency in agriculture.

Last but not least, we are currently developing a framework of analysis that will help governments identify policy incentives to enable increased innovation and higher productivity growth. This is a key avenue to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. Specifically, we are working with three pilot countries – Australia, Brazil and Canada – to test and refine this framework and to identify any early lessons learned that might be of interest to other governments.

Key actions to support agriculture science and technology

We are placing special attention to the areas of agriculture and innovation, because the outlook is worrisome. Today, it is estimated that over one billion people around the work live in hunger and poverty, and by 2050, global food demand is estimated to rise by 70%. This is a tremendous number which carries with it significant future challenges. Increasing the productivity of global agriculture will, of course, by key to feeding the world’s growing population.
How can we achieve this ambitious goal? The answer lies in innovation.
Let me briefly outline five key policy messages:
•    First, improving agricultural innovation systems is essential to achieving the required production of high-quality and safe food. And this must be done with good stewardship of natural resources, in particular land, water and biodiversity;
•    Second, we must invest more in basic agricultural R&D to expand the productivity frontier. This implies smarter ways of tackling environmental and climate challenges and developing more resilient, higher yielding crop varieties;
•    Third, innovation in agriculture is more than investing in R&D. For many smallholders in poorer countries, it means removing obstacles to access to inputs that they need – such as seeds, fertilizers, machinery and above all, knowledge – and connecting them to markets;  
•    Fourth, we must enable ideas and solutions to flow more freely across borders. Trade in goods is part of this story, but exchange of experiences and ideas is also critical. We can all gain from increased openness and international collaboration in research, education and skills upgrading: exchanges of teachers, students, data, and policy experiences offer wide benefits.
•    And fifth, eliminating, or substantially reducing, the loss and waste of crops and products (up to 30% - 40%) as a result of poor infrastructure or inadequate distribution and transportation facilities, would go a long way towards attenuating the needs.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The growing food security and poverty challenges that we face deserve our special attention. Experience has shown that only through sharing best practices and lessons learned can we develop more targeted policies and coordinate our efforts at promoting agricultural development through innovation.

As ever, at the OECD we stand ready to reinforce our cooperation with you in developing a sustainable future through “Better Policies for Better Lives”.
Thank you


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