Unplanned but Well Prepared: A Reinterpreted Success Story of International Agricultural Research, and its Implications
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A recent study found that adoption rates of improved chickpea varieties were above 90 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, India. In this paper, we use a novel perspective to reconstruct and attribute how this outcome came about. The accepted success narrative is that the public international agricultural research system developed some excellent new chickpea varieties, which were well suited to local agro-ecologies, farming systems and cropping patterns, and highly appreciated by farmers. We argue that this narrative is incomplete, because it constitutes only a partial explanation of the confluence of factors that led to the outcome. We reconstruct the success story using a recent conceptual framework that decomposes the technological change process into four aspects: propositions, encounters, dispositions and responses (PEDR; Glover et al., 2019). We show that many of the factors which contributed to the spread of modern chickpea varieties in Andhra Pradesh lay beyond the control of the international agricultural research system, and operated across large spatial and temporal scales. In conclusion, we argue that the success of improved chickpeas in Andhra Pradesh underscores the value of basic plant breeding and research, which aim to produce public goods. We relate our analysis to current discussions about the future strategic direction of international agricultural research organisations and the CGIAR. Our argument implies a criticism of the drive to develop new varieties which conform to product profiles that are based on predictions of current and near-term demand. While that approach makes sense for product developers seeking to serve commercial markets, basic research is needed to create and diversify technical options, which anticipate a range of future needs that are hard to predict in the present.