Thomas S. Walker

Institution: International Potato Centre (CIP)



Agricultural economist, Principal Scientist and Head of the Social Sciences Department at CIP since 1991, and formerly Principal Economist at ICRISAT. Responsible for leading institutional research on impact assessment, Dr. Walker is very active in priority setting for strategic and medium-term plans. He is also responsible for interdisciplinary research, largely among plant breeders and social scientists, for the sustainable potato cropping systems project in the rice-wheat systems-wide initiative, and has played an active role in shaping CIP’s natural resource management research.

Title: "Agricultural research and poverty: CIP’s experience in priority setting and impact evaluation."

Theme: 4D


The experience of the International Potato Center in priority setting and impact evaluation of improved potato and sweet potato technologies is reviewed from the perspective of poverty alleviation. The role of agricultural research in priming the pump for economic growth, which, in turn, sets the stage for reductions in the incidence, depth, and severity of absolute poverty, is emphasized. The expectation that the success of a well-defined research project will result in a large number of beneficiaries crossing a poverty line is unreasonable, but it is realistic to expect that a large share of project benefits will accrue to the poor. In general, poverty was not important as a modifier in priority setting. Project outcomes were only sensitive to the use of the lowest predicted poverty estimates in China, the largest global producer of potatoes and sweet potatoes.

The poverty content of ten CIP-related success stories of technological change was qualitatively assessed with a checklist of key questions. With this admittedly crude method, incorporating poverty considerations gave about the same picture of project outcomes as efficiency rankings based on net present value. The size of project net present value appears to be an informative guide to poverty effects. Hence, projects that generate widespread benefits to many people, particularly to net consumers of food crops, are still likely to be the most effective vehicles to contribute to poverty alleviation from public sector investments in potato and sweet potato crop improvement.

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