1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements (2000 - 2009)

Agrarian Research Institutes and Civil Society in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: In Search of Linkages

The issue of how civil society can work better with research and extension services at the local level is frequently raised in policy debates. Malcolm D. Childress explores this question with respect to the research programmes and agricultural production of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The questions and challenges surrounding the linkage between civil society and agricultural research in these two countries are similar to those faced in many parts of the world where agricultural development plays a key role in food security, poverty reduction and growth.

Because of privatization, farm restructuring, the breakdown of Soviet distribution channels and the severe capital constraints on farmers, there is a demand in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for research into the development of low-cost technologies that meet local and regional needs. But agricultural research systems still largely reflect the model instituted during the Soviet period. In many cases, on-farm trials, farmer-driven research and adapting technology to cost considerations remain new and foreign concepts to researchers. However, as the country case studies show, these systems are under pressure to change. The imperatives of farmers and the market economy are increasingly being felt in the agricultural research community.

Despite these pressures, and significant contractions in staffing and resources, the agricultural research systems—which still comprise highly trained scientists—are the nuclei of technology and contact with global institutions; but as the country cases demonstrate, the research priori­ties of these systems continue to reflect national geopolitical and economic interests, in many cases limiting their relevance to the immediate needs of farmers. These research institutions, how­ever, have great potential as mediators between state goals for agricultural and rural development, the new class of family farmers that has emerged since privatization, and the domestic and international markets that structure opportunities for these farmers. This potential will only be fully realized if research systems can shed their inherited institutional approaches to setting priorities and rewarding researchers, and adapt their basic research and diffusion activities to new demands from the farmers. Civil society has a large potential role to play in assisting the agricultural research community to adapt to the needs of the new agricultural sector. Interna­tional experience with civil society and agricultural research linkages offers compelling sugges­tions of the shape such a transformation might take.

This paper reaches the above conclusions through a descriptive “tour” of the activities and pri­orities of the large Kazakh, and smaller Kyrgyz, agricultural research systems looking to work with civil society. The tour reveals that the most important features of the systems are the dra­matic decline in funding of the research institutes; the battle for resources engendered by funding cuts; and the persistence of the Soviet-style, sector-specific division of research activities. At the same time, the immense scientific value of the research programmes being undertaken by the state agricultural research systems is revealed. The scientific capacity of these systems thus represents a significant public good in both countries, but this is under attack from both the top (through funding cuts) and from the bottom (through critiques of its relevance). The research systems can be helped to adapt in this difficult period by developing stronger links to the agri­culturalist population through connections with civil society. Whether this will happen smoothly or quickly remains to be seen and is difficult to predict. This paper therefore limits itself to sug­gesting potential areas of linkage, pointing out promising examples in Kyrgyzstan and the pos­sibilities raised by experiences elsewhere for promoting such linkages.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Nov 2004
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8178
    From: UNRISD