International investment generates local returns

The impact of Virginia Tech-led agricultural research spreads far and wide from its original location such that research trials conducted in fields in Cambodia or India, for example, can have profound effects in not only those nations, but also at home.

When the United States invests in international agriculture research, the return on investment is 20 to 50 percent, according to George Norton, professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

That calculation includes direct benefits to producers due to higher productivity, as well as indirect benefits to consumers who experience lower food prices. Less tangible socioeconomic benefits include enhanced gender equality, which allows women farmers in developing countries to empower themselves.

“The United States is thousands of miles away from some of our research sites, but the impact of development research plays an important role in not just agricultural production research at home and abroad, but also in geopolitical stability,” said Norton.

International investment in agricultural research is more than humanitarian and geopolitical in nature, however. International research creates economically symbiotic relationships between the United States and its research partners. Globally, agriculture is an important investment because agriculture is the largest economic sector in many developing countries. When farm productivity increases, the nonfarm sector is stimulated as well; the spending power of the entire population grows, and markets open up for goods produced in the United States, including agricultural products.

“It’s no coincidence that our agricultural export growth rates have been highest in the developing countries with most rapid income growth,” Norton said.

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